Cricket interview

Danni Wyatt, England's Women's All-rounder

With the women’s World Cup now well underway we’re delighted this month to speak to one of the key members of England’s side, talented batter Danni Wyatt.

We caught up with Danni ahead of the tournament as she and her team mates were away preparing in the warmth of Abu Dhabi. This year's competition will be the eleventh women’s World Cup and it’s fair to say this year’s tournament will be the best yet, given the growing popularity and strength of the women’s game world-wide.

“We’re desperate to win the World Cup this year,” remarked Danni. “But, there’s some strong teams. Australia and India are always going to be strong, but the West Indies have come on leaps and bounds in recent years, South Africa are really good at the moment, New Zealand have recently gone professional and Sri Lanka and Pakistan are coming on. It’s going to be a really good tournament.”

The popularity of the women’s game has never been so strong. As well as the World Cup this summer we also have the Women’s T20 Super League here in England, and that’s not to mention an Ashes tour this winter and the women’s Big Bash. It’s an exciting time for women's cricket. But more of all that later. It’s time to learn more about England’s explosive batter.

Danni began playing cricket for her local side Whitmore Cricket Club in Newcastle (Stoke), a club she remains registered to, to this day. “My Dad played cricket for Whitmore Cricket Club and that’s how it started for me. My brother also played but he quit after I started getting better than him! I grew up watching the Ashes on TV and my Dad and Grandad were always cricket mad, so it’s always been part of the family.”

I asked Danni how difficult it was starting out in the game when cricket wasn’t regarded as a mainstream female sport. “When I started playing I was the only girl at the club. In fact, I was probably the only girl in the area, but it shows how far the game has come that’s there now a local girls league. I always played boys cricket and then on to men’s cricket. It was quite daunting when I first went into bat as all the fielders would come in because they didn’t think I could hit the bowlers off the square, which I couldn’t back then! But they accept me now - I’m now just one of the lads!”

Danni’s path to international recognition was rapid. She made her debut for Staffordshire as a 14-year-old in 2005 and made her ODI and T20 debuts for England in 2010. A rapid rise. “I got spotted playing boys cricket for Whitmore, when the Staffordshire coach saw me at one of the games and he invited me for a trial and I got picked the day after when he told me that he’d like to put me in the under 13’s squad. I scored three hundred’s in three games and they picked me for the full Staffordshire side!”

The funny thing is despite three successive tons, Danni described herself as “more of a bowler back then”!!! “Don’t laugh, it’s true! I started off bowling seam but I was told I wasn’t going to grow much more so I was advised to take up off spin – some back issues now mean I’m more of a batter but I still bowl a few darts now and again!”

Danni’s performance with the bat (and ball!) saw her get selected for England Under 21s, at the age of just 15. “We went on a European tour to Holland and I was named player of the tournament and I then went straight into the England Academy, which is similar to England Lions, now.”

At just 18 years of age Danni was making her full international debut. Her immense promise as a youngster had been recognised by the national selectors.

So how did she hear about her selection? “I was on a beach, on holiday in Sydney! Mark Lane, who was England coach at the time called and said they’d like to take me to India. I couldn’t believe it! I’d never really been away before, apart from holidays with my Mum and Dad! I’d certainly never been away to anywhere like India!”

It was a memorable first tour for the talented youngster. “India really opened my eyes and it’s now my favourite country to tour. Everyone is so passionate about cricket. I turned up not expecting to play and just thought I’d be carrying the drinks for a while.”

But Danni got the call for the last game of the series. 3-1 down, the management decided to give her, her debut. “We’d lost the series but I was told I was going to make my debut in that last game. I was so nervous. I was picked for my bowling but I can honestly say I have never been so nervous in my whole life! I managed to get the ball down the other end so that was the main thing. I didn’t really bowl that well, if I’m honest. I was 0-20 off 4 overs. But, I remember coming into bat at number 8 and just had the biggest smile on my face. I scored 28 not out and won us the game. Typical Dad though, he was on a flight over to India at the time, so he missed the whole thing! He was chuffed to bits though with how I did. I then got picked for the first T20 game a few days later and I got run out for a duck. So, I’d pretty much went from Don Bradman to Donald Duck in the space of a few days! It was a valuable lesson though that you can go from big highs to big lows, very quickly.”

Despite that T20 duck the tour had shown that Danni belonged at the highest level. Her first major tournament followed in 2012 where England went all the way to the Final, only to have to endure a heart-breaking defeat to arch rivals Australia. “2012 was my real break-through year. I batted at six throughout that tournament. I’d gone to the World Cup in the West Indies in 2010, but I just carried the drinks. It was big for me to play in every game. It was fantastic that all my family came out, but I was gutted we lost the final on the final ball of the game. I cried my eyes out after that one. I remember getting home and I was properly gutted for a couple of weeks but it was a massive learning experience and to this day has given me the drive and motivation to win a World Cup. Playing in World Cups are always career highs but that particular tournament will always be a big one for me personally.”

England’s next global tournament was the 2013 World Cup and again England fell agonisingly short. “We didn’t even make the final that year.”

England lost to Australia again, this time in the semi-finals. “That was another tournament that stood out for me. I’d been in and out of the 50 over team, but in that tournament, I was given the chance to play as a pinch-hitter at the top of the order so Lottie (Charlotte Edwards) could play her natural game. Giving the ball a whack – great team player me! - has always been a part of my game so it was great to be given that responsibility. Things didn’t go our way and it’s always difficult to play in India and Sri Lanka with the heat, but the Aussies were on fire in that tournament.”

Like the men’s side the rivalry between England and Australia is fierce and while the women’s team may have come up short in World Cups, when it’s come to the Ashes Danni has seen victory in two Ashes series. “It’s always really close between us and the Aussies. I’ve been fortunate to be involved in two Ashes wins which have been incredible so we know we can beat them. But I don’t know what it is they just seem to beat us in World Cups. We’re determined to turn that around this summer and beat them again this winter in the Ashes.”

Australia reclaimed the Ashes in 2015, but don’t bet against Danni and the team reclaiming it this winter.

The format of the Ashes is different to the men’s game. Each winner of a Test, ODI and T20 is awarded points and whichever side has the most points at the end of the series, wins the urn. “The format is brilliant. It adds something more to every game, especially with the Test match worth 4 points. The Test match is big one if you win that.”

Test cricket is the one format Danni is looking to break into, having yet to make her international debut in the longest format of the game. “Hopefully I can this winter as the Test is under lights, so it’ll be very exciting.”

And Danni is no stranger to cricket in Australia. In 2016, she made her debut in the inaugural Women’s Big Bash, signing for the Melbourne Renegades. I asked Danni what the Big Bash experience was like and with her and several of her team mates building good friendships with several of the Aussies would that have any impact on the competitiveness of future England and Australia fixtures.

“The Big Bash is incredible. I love it. I love the Melbourne summer, it’s become my second home. It was a big honour and privilege to be picked for the Renegades. We finished second bottom this season so that’s an improvement on the first season! It’s great to play with and against the best players in the world. But for me it’s made the rivalry with Australia even more intense. When you play against friends, you want to beat them even more. There’s nothing better than getting your mate out!”

Last year saw the launch of our own version of the Big Bash, the Women’s Kia Super League, which this year will start on the 10th August and will consist of six teams. The competition was a big success, with strong attendances throughout. Danni represented Lancashire Thunder last year, but this year will be playing for last year’s champions the Southern Vipers. “I can’t wait to get started with the Southern Vipers. It’s a new challenge for me and it will be nice to be back playing again with Lottie. They’ve got a really good team so it should be a good challenge to try and win it again.”

With the World Cup, the Women’s Kia Super League, the Ashes and the Big Bash the women’s game is on a crest of a wave. The national team is now fully professional, crowds are growing at a rapid rate and I’m not sure there is a sport that has strengthened itself so quickly. A good gauge of how fast the game has developed is the support the women’s game has got from Sky Sports. Internationals are now shown live and this year’s Kia Super League games will be broadcast live for the first time. “We have had a lot of coverage on TV and that’s what is going to get more girls playing the sport and into the England cricket team. The more we keep winning as a national side, the more we will keep being on TV and the bigger the game will get. We also shouldn’t forget the fantastic job Charlotte Edwards did as England Women’s captain, a lot of the growth is down to her.”

Danni is only 26 but what a journey she has had already. With many years of pinch hitting to come, I asked her what has been her most memorable performance to date? “It has to be against Australia in a group game at the T20 World Cup. They hit 200 and we needed 10 over when I came in. I was batting with Sarah Taylor. Ellyse Perry was bowling and mid-off was up and I just thought I’ve got to play to my strengths so I’ve just gone bang and hit her for six. I don’t know what happened but I just had this energy in my body and I was hitting it everywhere. After a few overs, Sarah and I walked off and we’d beaten the Aussies, despite needing 10 an over from the last 10 overs.”

But, it’s not about the past, it’s all about the present and the future. Here is a someone who is living her dream as a professional cricketer, loves representing her country and has a real determination to help her side right the wrongs of recent World Cups. Her big hitting and sharp fielding will be invaluable this year. It’s going to be exciting to watch.

As England fan’s we are lucky to have her. Danni - bring that Trophy home!

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