Photo Credit: ICC
An England side without Sophie Ecclestone is hard to imagine but five years ago, when the hosts lifted the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup trophy aloft, the star spinner was watching from the stands.
The then 18-year-old had made the trip down to Lord’s to feature as a net bowler for England as they prepared for the 2017 final, not available for World Cup selection as she finished her exams.
Now, Ecclestone is leading the bowling attack as England look ahead to a semi-final against South Africa at the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2022 and she is topping almost every table you can put her in.
“I actually only went to the final, I went down to train the day before at Lord’s because they needed a few net bowlers,” the left-arm spinner said.
“Me and my boyfriend and [domestic teammate] Ellie Threlkeld went and watched the game together from the stands, which was pretty cool.
“I’m much happier now to be on the field playing than watching in the stands.”
Ecclestone currently leads the wicket-taking charts at the World Cup, having taken 14 wickets across seven group games.
She is three wickets clear of her closest challengers, South African pair Ayabonga Khaka and Shabnim Ismail.
The seam duo will come up against Ecclestone on Thursday as South Africa take on England in the second semi-final, with Australia and the West Indies squaring off the day before.
And while Ecclestone says it was always her goal to be the leading wicket-taker in the tournament, she has reached another personal milestone sooner than she expected.
During the early stages of the World Cup, Ecclestone climbed back to the top of the MRF Tyres ICC Women’s Rankings for ODI Bowlers, overtaking Australia’s Jess Jonassen.
She is now the No.1-ranked bowler in both ODIs and T20s, and with both achievements sewn up in her early 20s, Ecclestone’s attention has now turned to building a legacy.
She said: “It is amazing, it is an honour for me and my family to be number one. I think it was a massive milestone for me to reach at some point in my career and to reach it this early, I’m quite proud of that.
“With it coming about in this World Cup, I think I’ve been bowling well, it’s quite nice to know that now I am number one in both formats.
“For me, I want to be one of the best spinners that has ever played for England. I want people to look back in 30/40 years’ time and say: ‘do you remember Sophie Ecclestone that played that long ago.’
“I want people to remember my name and just be one for the history books.”
To understand where Ecclestone is going, you have to know where she has come from, and that is playing in the garden with her brother James.
Cheshire-born Ecclestone showed a talent for football and cricket from a young age, but with England calling she chose wickets over clean sheets, making her ODI and T20 debuts in 2016.
And it is her family that Ecclestone often thinks of when she walks back to her mark ready to bowl another spell-binding delivery.
“My brother James taught me any sport that I knew, he taught me football and cricket – they were the main ones we used to play outside on our road all time,” Ecclestone explained.
“In the back garden it used to be World War Three, so he’d get me out or I’d hit the ball over the fence but it would all be his fault somehow.
“I don’t really know what goes through my head when I’m bowling. Maybe I’m thinking about people watching back home or that my mum and dad will be watching now and I’m just thinking about them and playing cricket for my country.
“It’s quite an honour to do that with the girls on the field. I’m taking it all in, it’s surreal really. I’ve got one of the best jobs in the world.
“I just concentrate, I want to hit the stumps, to be honest, that is all I am thinking about, to hit the stumps and you can’t go too far wrong.”
It is fair to say that Ecclestone hasn’t been going too far wrong in a career that has already seen so much but is just getting started.