Weekend Interview: Katherine Brunt out to help inspire the next generation

NOW into her 15th year of top-level cricket, Katherine Brunt sees her position as a leading role model as more important than ever before.

SOUND ADVICE: Katherine Brunt chats to children during a cricket workshop at Headingley in 2015. Picture: Simon Hulme

With the one-year anniversary of England’s memorable World Cup triumph in front of a raucous Lord’s crowd only two days away, the last 12 months have represented the best possible time for the governing body to grow the appeal of the women’s game.

Tomorrow sees the return for a third year of the Kia Super League, the women’s domestic T20 competition which will see twice as many matches than before broadcast live on Sky Sports.

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Barnsley-born Brunt, however – a veteran of 112 ODIs for England along with 65 T20 internationals – will have to wait to make an impact in the competition for Yorkshire Diamonds as she continues her rehabilitation from a back injury.

LEADING ROLE: Katherine Brunt, in action for Yorkshire Diamonds against Lancashire Lightning at Headingley last year. Picture: Tom Shaw/ECB.

It will keep her out of the first two games at least – including Friday’s Headingley Roses double-header alongside the Yorkshire Vikings when they take on Lancashire.

It is hoped her likely return to action will be at Surrey Stars on July 29 and, with the competition having a longer group format this time around, Brunt is confident she will be able to make up for lost time.

“There are more games this year so you get two cracks at each team instead of just the one, so it will be more interesting in that respect,” said the highly-valued seam bowler, who has 136 ODI wickets at a cost of 23.58 apiece.

“We’d love to be in the finals, but we’ve had a bit a nightmare this summer in terms of injuries. I’m unfortunately having to do some back rehab so will miss the first two games, we’ve lost our opening batsman Holly Armitage to an ACL injury and Jodie Dibble, a left-arm bowler who came to us this year, is having surgery on her shoulder.

SMILE!! Katherine Brunt takes a selfie with the England team as they celebrate winning the ICC Women's World Cup Final at Lord' on July 23 last year. Picture: John Walton/PA

“But, because there are more games in the group phase, we have further opportunities to win and we need to try and steal enough wins to get us through to that Finals Day.”

Getting to that Finals Day on August Bank Holiday Monday would prove a special moment for Brunt and her Diamonds team-mates as it would be the first time of doing so, having failed to qualify in the previous two years.

Coming on the back of last year’s World Cup triumph and the recent ODI successes enjoyed by England against New Zealand and South Africa, Brunt sees the Super League as a further opportunity for the women’s game to impress an already-growing audience, as well as give youngsters coming through the opportunity to mix it with some of the world’s top players.

“The league is really good for us international players to bridge that gap between international cricket and our domestic game,” she added.

“We used to go into T20 competitions abroad for England having played no T20 cricket at all in this country because there just wasn’t a tournament – at least a tournament with a good enough standard. So it’s vital for us to gain much-needed experience and form.

“It is also a great way for our younger players to bat and bowl alongside some of the best players in the world.”

As has often been stated in the men’s game in recent years, a lot can be learned for domestic T20 cricket from Australia’s Big Bash – where Brunt has played for the last three years – and how that has so quickly grown to be the phenomenon it has become Down Under, for both men and women.

Free-to-air TV clearly helps, but investment is also key, admits Brunt, who wants this year’s Super League to showcase the best the women’s game has to offer.

“Now that we’re getting more of these games on TV, we want to show a good standard of cricket, not an average standard,” she adds. “We want to make a good impression and not put people off – so that is why we must get the best players here.

“You only have to look at what they do with the Big Bash out in Australia – they have the money and the means to invite these players over.

“There are a lot of girls coming over to play in Super League and, yes, they are being paid, but not to the same level as the Big Bash and that is where we miss out on the very best players, such as Australia’s Meg Lanning or Ellyse Perry.”

On an international front, the next big challenge on Brunt and England’s horizon will be this year’s World T20 tournament in the Caribbean, held from November 9-24.

Having emerged triumphant in the last global tournament, Mark Robinson’s team will go in, once again, among the favourites.

Just under 12 months on from that famous Lord’s triumph, Brunt acknowledges the stock of the national team has never been higher, even though she has been part of other equally-satisfying triumphs such as the 2005 Ashes win and the World Cup victory four years later in Australia.

“It was an amazing experience last year, but the one thing it has given us is confidence,” said Brunt. “Since I’ve been a member of the team, confidence, self-belief and playing with freedom have been the three things that have been hard to come by.

“Mark Robinson (head coach) gives us that as much as he possibly can, but then it is up to us to believe that.

“The World Cup win helped give us more of that confidence and then in the winter we were able to work on the little things we needed to improve on and we’ve just won three out of three series.

“So we are constantly gaining in those key ingredients that are needed in order to compete against the likes of Australia, India and South Africa – particularly when it comes to a major tournament, when those key things are needed the most.

“It has been a good year – but we’re constantly looking to learn and improve. I think in terms of where cricket is going for women, that kind of momentous occasion where there were so many people there to watch us and not just there off the back of a men’s game – it was a massive achievement.

“I’ve been a part of many great achievements with the England team, but it’s hard to pick out one above any other – but in terms of impact, last year is probably the one thing that has had the biggest.”

And with that impact comes a wider interest among youngsters looking to take up the game, something Brunt takes seriously in her role as one of the England set-ups most experienced campaigners.

“I am starting to see a lot more good youngsters coming through, so these are exciting times,” she adds. “But we’ve got to make sure we keep hold of these youngsters and that’s why if more of the Super League is on TV it gives them the inspiration to try and make it themselves.

“Ultimately, the biggest impact you can have is simply by being better at your own game. Even now with me at 33, if I can get better and I can inspire other people to be better, for youngsters to want to be like me … if I can keep doing that, that is the most important thing.

“Speak with your actions rather than your words – that is what will have the biggest impact.”