Charlie Dean interview: England's secret weapon who could turn Ashes around

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Charlie Dean interview: England's secret weapon who could turn Ashes around - Getty Images
Charlie Dean interview: England's secret weapon who could turn Ashes around - Getty Images

It is no mean feat juggling third-year university life with an Ashes tour - just ask the youngest member of England’s squad, Charlie Dean.

“Currently, it’s not going too well,” the sociology student at Southampton University told Telegraph Sport ahead of England’s one-off Test in Canberra. “I’ve got a couple of essays due in which I’ve not really got round to yet. I always get a bit of stick from the older girls because I’m still at university - they’re always asking me for a fact of the day - mine are awful and I never have anything to give them!”

As England look to claim a foothold in the Ashes - which they currently trail 4-2 - many believe the 21-year-old off-spinner could be England's secret weapon to turn their series around.

Hunting down Australia’s tribe of left-handed batters is an area where England have fallen short in recent years, but everything about Dean’s fearless attacking style - not to mention her lack of red-ball cricket - makes her the perfect unknown quantity.

She was England’s breakout star during their victorious series in New Zealand last summer, finishing as her country’s leading wicket-taker with 10 in five games at 2019-20, but even that was shrouded in secrecy.

So muted Dean’s reaction to her first international call-up that even her flatmates didn’t know she was jetting off to the other side of the world for several weeks. “I told them I was going on this little cricket tour around the country and that I’d be back in a couple of months,” said Dean. “But they started looking on Instagram and were like, ‘What the hell, why haven’t you told us?’ I didn’t really want to make a big deal out of it because I didn’t think I’d play any games.”

Charlie Dean of England celebrates taking the wicket of Leigh Kasperek of New Zealand during the 2nd One Day International match - Getty Images
Charlie Dean of England celebrates taking the wicket of Leigh Kasperek of New Zealand during the 2nd One Day International match - Getty Images

One person who did know was her father, Steve Dean, a high-level club player who represented Warwickshire and Staffordshire in his heyday and who Dean credits as her “rock” in her burgeoning career. “I was dragged along to the games with my mum, we always wanted to watch him,” said Dean. “My sister and I were always on the sidelines and we ended up picking a random ball and would play on the side while he was playing. It feels nice to follow in his footsteps in a way.”

Her inclusion in Lisa Keightley’s 17-strong group was pounced upon by Heather Knight, who saw it as an opportunity to fire an early warning shot to Australia. “Charlie’s been a good find,” said the England captain. “She’s added something a little bit different. I think she’ll be good on Australian pitches.”

Perhaps a stroke of optimism can also be found in the fact that Dean grew up idolising Charlotte Edwards, the last England captain to steer England to an Ashes victory in the 2013-2014 series. In her early teenage years, she would run around the boundary to collect Edwards’ autograph as a spectator at England matches before being named, aged 16, in the Southern Vipers squad skippered by the former England captain.

While mindful of the role she could well end up playing in the latter end of the Ashes - particularly in the three ODIs - Dean is not fazed by the challenge that might fall upon her young shoulders. She distinctly recalls watching Ellyse Perry hit a double hundred when Australia batted England out of the only Ashes Test in Sydney in 2017, and is relishing the opportunity to pit herself against the likes of Australia’s talismanic batter.

Charlie Dean of England is beaten by the ball off her bowling watched by Georgia Voll of Australia - Getty Images
Charlie Dean of England is beaten by the ball off her bowling watched by Georgia Voll of Australia - Getty Images

"I remember thinking, ‘Gosh, how do you even bowl to that?'" said Dean, who said the mood in England’s camp has been “pretty optimistic” despite losing the only uninterrupted T20 by nine wickets.

“I’d really just love to get in among their top order batters and see how I’d get on against the number-one team in the world right now. As a kid, I’ve always wanted to play the long format, I’ve always been better at 50-overs than T20. It’s always intrigued me how I’d take that into a three, or in this case, four-day game.”

She offers a fearless response when asked how England should approach their crunch Test match at Canberra’s Manuka Oval tonight, which they will need to win if they have any hope of reclaiming the Ashes.

“There’s almost a win-at-all-costs kind of vibe," said Dean, "but at the end of the day, cricket is cricket. You can do all the practice in the world but if you rock up on the day, with a positive mindset and belief, crazy things can happen.”

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