It takes a lot to stop Issy Wong from smiling but there is no doubt the teenager has a nasty fast bowler’s mentality. If she does fulfil her ambition to become the first woman to hit 80mph, English cricket will have a star on its hands.
When asked if she likes hitting batsmen, Wong does not hesitate in her reply: “Yes!" There is a slight pause. "Actually that sounds really mean. It is not always a wicket taking option but if you can hit them and they look hurt then they are going to be more tentative. I would not want to be a spinner when someone whacks me over my head and then have to bowl it back on a spot again.”
Wong turned 18 in May and is already operating at around 70mph. She bowled at the England women as part of their preparations for the series against West Indies and was considered for a call up but England decided to give her more time to develop and not rush her. If, or rather when, she is called up, Wong will become the first English cricketer of Chinese descent to play international cricket for England.
She is one of the first generation of women cricketers to grow up in the professional era increasing her chances of reaching full pace with more time to work on her game and more intense coaching. She was awarded a professional contract for the west Midlands team, one of 40 to be handed out by ECB, and was drafted by the Birmingham Pheonix for the Hundred. She has trained with the Warwickshire seamers at Edgbaston and pre-Covid was hoping to spend this winter in Australia having put off University after leaving Shrewsbury School, where she became the first girl to play in the first XI.
Pace has been the missing element in the women’s game but the increased number of professional contracts should result in better training, strength and conditioning programmes, nutritional advice and more time to work on skills.
South Africa’s Shabnim Ismail has been recorded at 79mph and New Zealander Leah Tahuhu just a touch slower at 78. For England, Anya Shrubsole is bowling at around the mid-to-upper 60smph against West Indies and it is a lack of pace that is used by critics of the women’s game to traduce it as men’s cricket in slow motion.
“Everyone talks about me reaching 80 miles per hour. It would be a really nice thing to do but at the same time if I am going to bowl better at 75mph then so be it,” says Wong. “Only time will tell. I have a lot of growing to do, a lot of strength to build and a lot of learning to do. I have age on my side.”
She left a good impression on England and Tim MacDonald, the team’s bowling coach, is excited by her talent and ambition.
“When I first met her I asked her what her goals were thinking she would say play for England but the first thing she said was ‘I want to be the first Englishwoman to bowl 80 miles per hour’. It was refreshing in a way and you just want to let her express herself. We are pretty keen to let her at it for a while and see what she can do. It is exciting to see a bit of pace. The women’s game is different. It is not all about raw pace but when it does come along it offers a point of difference. If we can harness her, keep her safe, her energy up and more consistent she is on the pathway to being a good weapon for English cricket. She has a way to go until she gets everything right, she knows what she needs to work on but the fact she has raw pace gives her a point of difference and somewhere to start and we are quite excited about what she can achieve.”
Wong’s father has Chinese heritage, and two of her great uncles played for Hong Kong. She took up the game at an after-school club in primary school before joining Knowle & Dorridge Cricket Club in Solihull, where she was the only girl, before progressing through the Warwickshire age groups. She credits playing cricket with boys as helping her development, something that could be lost if more girls take up the game and the genders are split.
“When I started to play there was only one girls team in Warwickshire so playing with boys was my only option. At a young age there is nothing to stop a young girl saying ‘if they (boys) can hit it that far why can’t I or if they can bowl that fast why can’t I?’ Boys cricket up to the age of 15-16 is really useful thing for any girls looking to push themselves as far as they can.
“From five or six I was not thinking I can’t do that because I am a girl and they are a boy. I just wanted to play cricket and beat them. I never viewed it as boys against girls. I just saw everyone as cricketers.”
But did the boys see it the same way? “Getting hit on the head hurts your ego a bit. It shouldn’t but teenage boys don’t tend to enjoy getting hit by girls or getting out to them. I suppose they would rather get hit than have their middle peg removed.”
That competitiveness took her down the path of wanting to be a fast bowler. “I remember my first winter session in under-11s. There was a girl called Molly. She was the established opening bowler and I was batting and she hit me in the head with a beamer. I remember standing there thinking ‘I’m going to get her back’. I like the pride of ‘I’m going to bowl faster than them’ and it came from that.”
The England team could one day be thankful Molly bowled that beamer.