It will take something incredibly special for Danni Wyatt to out-do her last innings in an England shirt – an astonishing 56-ball century against Australia at Canberra in November. But, she says, she’s got a secret weapon as England’s women prepare to take on India and Australia in a T20 tri-series later this month.
“I’m using Virat Kohli’s bat now,” she says, grinning.
The bat was a gift, given when the pair met at Derby during India’s tour of England in 2014. It was a somewhat awkward encounter. Earlier that year, having watched Kohli make 72 in the WT20 against South Africa, Wyatt had taken to Twitter with a now-infamous proposal: ‘Kholi [sic] marry me!’
“Ten minutes later,” she recalls, “I picked my phone up and I’ve got 1000s of favourites and retweets, it’s all over Indian news, they’re emailing my dad at home.
“When we met, he said to me: ‘You can’t do things like that on Twitter! They take things seriously!’ I was like, ‘okay. Sorry!'”
Nonetheless, aware of what a big fan Wyatt was, Kohli handed over one of his own bats – Wyatt describes it as “a beast”. And now, for the first time, she is preparing to use it when she opens for England in this month’s T20 tri-series.
“The bat I hit the century with broke not long ago,” she explains. “So now I’ll be using Virat’s.”
That century, the first by an England women’s cricketer in T20s, was a stunning performance that enabled England to square the Ashes rubber at eight points all, even though Australia had confirmed they would hold onto the trophy following their victory in the second T20 two days earlier.
Victory had seemed an unlikely prospect when England slumped to 30 for 3 in reply to Australia’s hefty 178 for 2. But Wyatt, promoted to the opening slot, responded with an onslaught of boundaries – 19 fours and a six – as England raced to victory with an over to spare.
For Wyatt, the hundred was the last thing on her mind that day. “I felt really ill,” she says. “I had a really bad cold, so I’d been training and going straight back to bed. I remember face-timing my Mum and Dad back home and I was like, ‘I’m so ill! But I’ve got to get up for tomorrow!'”
“On the day I didn’t even think about it – I just went out and batted. And everything just started going my way. I couldn’t really hit the ball cleanly until I was on about 30-odd, and then all the boundaries started flowing. And before we knew it, we only needed 10 to win.”
“Ellyse Perry came on, and I was like ‘please don’t bowl straight!’ because I was so nervous at that point. And then she bowled me a wide one outside off, and I don’t know what shot it was, I just stuck my bat out there and managed to get a bat on it!”
England won the match, were triumphant in the T20 leg of the series, and drew the multi-format points series overall 8-8. While Australia retained the Ashes, the final scoreline provided an element of satisfaction for the England players: “It dampened the Aussie celebrations,” says Wyatt.
Overall it was, truly, a coming-of-age series for a player who has oodles of talent but had somehow never managed to translate that onto the pitch when wearing an England shirt. Starting off batting at number 7 for England back in 2010, she has been moved up and down the order, as well as being dropped from the side on multiple occasions. In 70 T20 internationals prior to the women’s Ashes she averaged just 12.
It was only last November that something seemed to click for her. In the first match of the Ashes T20 series she hit her first international half-century. Two matches later, she went one better and hit the hundred.
What has changed? Like so many of the players, she attributes her recent success to coach Mark Robinson, as well as batting coach Ali Maiden. “To know that Mark and Ali believe in me helps me believe in myself,” she says. “I can go out there and smash it.
“In my career I’d come in and been a pinch-hitter and got myself out, so it was also about being a little bit smarter.” One key technical change has been a focus on playing much straighter: “Before I had a tendency to fall across and then I’d get out bowled or lbw, so now I’m working more straight and hitting the sight screens – there’s no fielders there!”
Another thing that seems to have changed is the hardening of Wyatt’s ambition. “Before, as long as I was playing, I wasn’t that bothered about where I was batting,” she says. “Maybe I should have been a bit more selfish.” Now, her aim in the tri-series is to help answer Robinson’s call for a solid opening partnership, ahead of the WWT20 in the Caribbean in November. “Now is my chance to nail down that opening spot.”
She firmly believes that England, following on from their triumph at Lord’s last summer, can do the double and add the WWT20 trophy to their collection. But, having missed out on the 2017 World Cup final – she was 12th man – her personal ambition is also apparent: she wants to be the one opening for England in that final.
Has she cracked it as a player now? “There’s always things to improve on,” she concedes, “but I’ve shown the world what I can do now. I’m ready to go out there and score another hundred.”
England supporters will be hoping that Virat Kohli’s bat can do the trick.