Evening Standard

Holly Colvin, women’s cricket’s answer to spin-king Monty Panesar, has never thought it a big deal to play against men.

This summer, England wicketkeeper Sarah Taylor is set to make history by playing second XI cricket for Sussex, having already held informal talks with the county. Colvin may not have gone as far as her old school friend and long-time colleague but the 23-year-old is thinking along the same lines.

She cut her teeth playing with men for Brighton College as a 15-year-old and Colvin insists: “For me and Sarah, playing men’s cricket made us tougher and it’s something I’d quite like to go back to.

“Women’s techniques, the shot selection we have, are just as good as the men’s. Yeah, it is true we can’t bowl as fast, we’re not built as big as men and we can’t hit the ball as far. We’re not going to hit 100metre sixes. But we will hit sixes, say 80m.”

Taking on the opposite sex does not faze her because, as she emphasises: “When I started playing, I just mucked in with the boys. I wanted to be as much part of the team as anyone. I didn’t think my gender made any difference. I was not scared of the hard ball.”

Her brother Patrick, who is three years older, brought Colvin into the game. “I really didn’t like the fact that he was able to play cricket and I wasn’t because I was a girl,” she says. “I felt it wasn’t fair and I joined in with the boys at my local club at Middleton-on-Sea when I was about seven. It just went from there.”

Laughing, she adds: “He’s the one now who gets sledged when he goes home: ‘Oh, your sister’s better than you!’”

Colvin, along with Taylor, was sledged by someone far more prominent when, in 2004 aged 15, they were in the Brighton College first XI talking part in the Lord’s Taverners Under-15 Cup.

The then MCC president, Robin Marlar, described their involvement as “absolutely outrageous” and went on: “If there’s an 18-year old who can bowl at 80mph and he’s been brought up properly, then he shouldn’t want to hurt a lady at any cost.”

Looking back at the controversy, Colvin, who is in India for England’s defence of the 50-over World Cup they won in 2009, says: “I actually would probably have been more offended if they’d slowed their bowling down. I was playing school cricket with the boys up until the age of 18.”

Smiling as she says this, there is also a note of weariness in her voice which is hardly surprising given how much of a pioneer she has been. Colvin developed her own version of reverse hitting, a method that even a Kevin Pietersen might seek to emulate.

“I did the Pietersen switch but in tennis. I’m a bit weird in that I’m left-handed in writing and everything. But, when my mum and I played tennis, I used to play right hand on the forehand and left on the backhand. My mum said, ‘You’re cheating and you must choose a hand,’ so I chose the right.

“So, for all my racket sports I play right-handed. I bat right-handed but I throw and bowl left-handed.” Even then, she might not have become a left-arm spinner but for an accident to her right hand. Playing in an Under-15 tournament at Ampleforth College in Yorkshire, aged 11, she found she could not bat, could not catch but could still use her left hand.

“I said I’ll give it a whirl and began bowling spin. Don Wilson [the former England left-arm spinner and head of coaching at Ampleforth] said, ‘Oh, you’ve got a lovely action, how long have you been bowling spin?’ ‘Two minutes,’ I replied and he said, ‘You should continue on doing it,’ and I got bowler of the tournament that week.”

That starting point may sound like a lucky turn but Colvin’s subsequent success shows how well she can surprise the world. In August 2005, with England worried about Australian left-arm spinner Shelley Nitschke, Colvin was called in to bowl in the nets at Hove to give the team some practice.

The next day her mother, Louise, received a call from Richard Bates, the then England coach.

“He asked mum, ‘Is your daughter free tomorrow?’” recalls Colvin. “Mum said, ‘Yes’, assuming it was just to run on with the drinks and be around the team but he said, ‘No, we want her to play.’ Mum could not believe I was in the team and asked, ‘What, to be the 12th man?’ and he said, ‘No, in the starting XI’.”

The selectors’ choice meant Colvin was making history. At 15 and 336 days, she remains the youngest of either sex to play for England and justified the selection by taking two wickets in consecutive balls and three for the match.

But, while she will always treasure that debut, the highlight of her career came at the World Cup. “You can’t beat that,” she says. “I was lucky enough to hit the winning runs. It wasn’t the fact that I hit the winning runs that was so special, it was that the rest of the girls and all the team management came running on the pitch.

“Everyone was crying, Lotte [captain Charlotte Edwards] was in floods of tears. It was the moment when you realise that you’ve done it for those 15 other girls in your squad who have been training for that for two or so years. And you have done it for your country. It was a very proud moment because it’s not just your performance, it’s the whole team.”

It is this sense of team bonding that Colvin took with her to India, where England begin their defence of the trophy with a match against Sri Lanka on Saturday. Colvin is aware that, like the men, English women have not fared well in one-day matches there, having never won a series in that part of the world.

She is hopeful there will be spinning pitches and get her wish as all of England’s group matches (the other teams in the group are India and the West Indies) are in Mumbai. That was the Test venue where, earlier this winter, having asked for a turning wicket, Indai were undone by England tweakers Graeme Swann and Panesar.

It is not Panesar but the former New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori whom Colvin most admires. “He’s fantastic the way that he’s so clever about his bowling and change of pace.”

Sure of her gameplan, Colvin readily confesses she does not have a magic ball but adds: “I just make sure that I can be as consistent in my action as possible, turn the ball, land it in the right place. It is very simple. I just try to be patient, plugging away, getting it in the right areas and getting them to make the mistake.”

While waiting for the mistake to come, Colvin will not panic if she gets hit. With sentiments that one of the game’s great left-arm spinners, Bishan Singh Bedi, would instantly recognise, she says: “If I am hit for six, I am not worried. I will flight the next ball as well.

“It’s a good thing to put even more flight on the ball because their eyes light up again and, well, they are not quite there. I’ve been known to bowl an even slower ball after I’ve been hit because a lack of pace means it is sometimes harder to hit the ball.”

Having toured India before, Colvin knows the country will present many problems.

“It’s going to be very hot, very sweaty and we have to make sure our fluid levels are up and we can be as fit as we can,” she says.

However, the team could not be better prepared for the challenge. “We’ve worked really hard over the last few months to get our fitness right up there,” she adds.

“We’ve got a really good team, a really good balance of experience and youth. We’ve prepared as much as we can for the trip. Defending the trophy just spurs us on to do better and make sure that we bring it back with us.

“If we play our best cricket, then I have no doubt that we will bring the trophy back.”

Her only regret is that she has not been able to persuade her parents to travel to India to watch England perform. For the first time in our conversation, a note of regret comes into her voice as she says: “They’re not going to make it. They’re getting a new kitchen instead.”

Holly’s so sharp


Matches: 5

Wickets: 13

Bowling ave: 29.38

Batting ave: 14.75


Matches: 59

Wickets: 79

Bowling ave: 22.45

Batting ave: 14.00


Matches: 43

Wickets: 59

Bowling ave: 13.94

Batting ave: 8.00

The ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup is part of the year round schedule of live women’s sport on Sky Sports


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