Mady Villiers: England offspinner the next big thing in women’s cricket

Who are cricket’s emerging talents, the next greats of the game? Every Wednesday, we will focus on ‘the next big thing’ in the sport, beginning with emerging offspinner for the England Women’s team, Mady Villiers…

A semi-final washout in Sydney at the start of March ensured England would fall short once more in their quest to win the Women’s T20 World Cup.

The team are still the defending Women’s Cricket World Cup champions, and few who witnessed the team’s triumph back in July 2017, in front of a sell-out Lord’s crowd, will ever forget it; Anya Shrubsole’s devastating spell of bowling, taking 6-46 as India lost their last seven wickets for 28 runs in collapsing to a nine-run defeat.

But, sadly, that England side has somewhat stalled since, losing out to Australia in two T20 World Cup tournaments (2018, 2020), while they suffered a 12-4 hammering at the hands of their old foes in the 2019 Ashes, winning only one game – the final, dead rubber T20 international of the series.

It was a defeat that prompted change, with World Cup-winning coach Mark Robinson stepping down, replaced by Lisa Keightley.

Keightley, appointed in October, led England into the T20 World Cup last month and, though their tournament ultimately ended at the hands of the weather, there were plenty of positives to suggest the team were ready to win silverware again.

Nat Sciver and Heather Knight were the tournament leading run-scorers before Beth Mooney’s match-winning 78 in the final saw her past both, but it was England’s spinners who really stood out.

The double-act of slow-left-armer Sophie Ecclestone and legspinner Sarah Glenn were the envy of the tournament – taking a combined 14 wickets from their four games – while they turned into a triple-headed monster, one that tore through the West Indies in their final group win, with the addition of offspinner Mady Villiers.

Villiers is an Essex girl. Born in Havering, Villiers stood out as a sporting talent from an early age and, much like her South African male namesake, that talent wasn’t just limited to cricket.

Villiers attended Shenfield High School, a well-respected state school for cricket in the country and soon joined the ranks of the Essex Women’s team, though it was actually with Surrey where the offspinner first made a name for herself.

Villiers alerted the wider world to her talent when, in the 2018 Kia Super League final, the then 19-year-old – who had thus far only taken two wickets in the five prior games she had bowled in – returned 3-22 in clinching a massive win for Surrey Stars over Loughborough Lightning.

A year later a maiden England call-up would come and, again, Villiers reserved her best for when the pressure was at its greatest.

Against a rampant Australia team that had defeated England at will over the 2019 Ashes, Villiers, making her T20I debut in the final clash of the summer, earned the hosts their first win, taking the key wickets of Alyssa Healy and Ashleigh Gardner in the same over.

Villiers has played three more times for England since, the last of which was that T20 World Cup win over the West Indies, having to bide her time, wait her turn before finally making her World Cup debut.

She was worth the wait. England’s spin trio combined for six wickets as the West Indies were bowled out for just 97, serving notice to the rest of the world of their immense potential, only for the weather to deny them the chance to win England the tournament.

Ecclestone is maybe the standout of the group. Her figures in that game against the West Indies, a staggering 3-7 from her 19 deliveries bowled, taking her to 50 wickets in T20 international cricket, to go with 37 in ODIs, and she’s still just 20 years of age.

The same age as Glenn. Arguably the find of the tournament, having only made her England debut two months earlier against Pakistan in December, Glenn is that most precious of commodities in cricket – particularly the shortest format – a wrist spinner.

On the face of it, Villiers’ return of 1-30 from her four overs would appear the least impressive of the bunch and, despite her fresh-faced appearance, she is actually the oldest, at the grand old age of 21, but she demonstrated a lovely, repeatable action in her spell, got good revs on the ball and deserved more reward.

She could well be the final piece of England’s tournament-winning jigsaw. Filling the void left behind by Laura Marsh.

Marsh was part of England’s 2009 T20 and 50-over World Cup-winning teams, let alone the 2017 team that lifted the trophy on home soil, but she announced her international retirement in December.

Marsh, also an offspinner, is England’s most successful spinner of all time, with 129 ODI wickets to her name – placing her behind only seamers Katherine Brunt (150) and Jenny Gunn (136) – in 103 games for her country. She is also one of only six women to be capped 100 times by England.

In 2017, Marsh was one leg of a similarly successful England spinners tripod; Marsh, fellow offie Danielle Hazell and slow-left-armer Alex Hartley returned a combined 22 wickets in England’s run to the final, though the trio were often rotated with just two playing at any one time.

Marsh got the nod for the final, alongside the impressive Hartley and, though she went wicketless in her 10 overs, she was economical in conceding only 40 runs and added a more-than-handy 14 herself in England’s innings, especially when you consider the nine-run margin of victory.

With Marsh and Hazell now both retired, and the ECB choosing not to renew the 26-year-old Hartley’s central contract for this year, a changing of the guard has been necessitated.

Ecclestone, having made her debut as far back as 2016, is expected to lead England into that new era, with big expectations already placed firmly on her shoulders, but the emergence of Villiers and Glenn in Australia have helped ease that heavy burden.

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