England’s Sophie Ecclestone: ‘It’s exciting to be playing Test cricket again, I would love to see more’

It’s not hard to put a positive spin on Sophie Ecclestone’s winter, despite England losing out in an Ashes series and a World Cup final.

Now the 23-year-old is plotting a summer to remember, first in just her fifth Test match against South Africa and then in The Hundred – a tournament that she believes is transforming the women’s game.

Ecclestone currently sits at the top of both the women’s ODI and T20 bowling rankings but if you were concerned that success might have gone to the left-armer’s head, then you can rest easy. All she really wants to do is out-perform her brother.

“I was straight back to the local cricket club after the World Cup final,” she says. “I came back from New Zealand and then went to play for Alvanley. I played a couple of league games for them and it was great to see the lads again.

“It was great to play with my brother, James, too, that’s always something quite special for me – I got three wickets in each game and he only got a couple. I love going back there, and when I do go back to Alvanley, I’m just Sophie the person, not Sophie the cricketer.

“My dad was keeping tabs on the coverage of our progress in the World Cup and was telling how massive it was, but I don’t really get an idea of just how many people were staying up through the night to watch our games. People in the local village were telling me how much sleep they lost after that semi-final and final.”

Regardless of which persona she’s channelling, this is another big year for a spinner who took 21 wickets in nine World Cup matches for Lisa Keightley’s side. That haul included a match-winning 6 for 36 as England beat South Africa in the last four in Christchurch back in late March. Ecclestone will be attempting to repeat the feat in the longer format when the sides meet at Taunton this week.

Recent comments from the ICC chair, Greg Barclay, appeared to effectively spell an end to the future expansion of the women’s Test game. The Lancastrian, though, hopes that the longest format doesn’t just survive but flourishes.

“It’s really exciting to be playing Test cricket again this year,” she says. “It’s great for the women to be playing Test cricket and, for me, it’s a format I love. I would love to see it continue to grow so we can play more Test cricket in the future.

“It feels amazing to put the whites on, it’s still a relatively new thing for us as women’s cricketers. Hopefully, it will continue because walking out in white with the Three Lions on your shirt is always a special feeling.”

Ecclestone’s most recent Test – against Australia at Canberra back in January – saw her take just a single wicket in a thrilling draw. She was at the crease with Kate Cross as England frustrated Australia’s attempt to force the win, with the tourists finishing on 245 for nine. It was a match that demonstrated why Test cricket still holds a very special allure.

The ebb and flow of that particular match was a world away from the thrills and spills of the Hundred’s inaugural season last summer. When the competition re-starts in August, however, all eyes will again be on Ecclestone as she looks to further cement her reputation as one of the world’s most dangerous and consistent bowlers in white-ball cricket.

“With the availability of all the overseas players then I think the tournament will be bigger and better this year,” she says. “Hopefully that will continue to raise the standard, not just in women’s cricket this summer but for years to come.

“There were more than a few pinch yourself moments last summer. The number of people who came to watch us [the Manchester Originals] at Old Trafford and even the number of people who came to watch the Thunder in our game there recently – it’s a mad time to be part of women’s cricket and hopefully that continues this year.

“To get those kinds of crowds in was massive last year, and I’d like to think they would be even bigger this year.”

The chance to rub shoulders with the likes of Meg Lanning, Ellyse Perry, and Allysa Healy – players who have, up until now held the upper hand over Ecclestone in Ashes contests – can only help to further her development.

“You want to be playing best v best,” she says. “Bowling against the best batters in the world can only improve you.”

For now, though, that can wait. Ecclestone has South Africa firmly in her sights.

The spinner will return for the Manchester Originals in the second season of The Hundred

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