World Cups, Podcasts and Panesar: The Sportsman Interviews Alex Hartley

We caught up with Hartley to discuss her career, new podcast and her future plans
16:00, 07 Aug 2020

So you think you know your cricket? Well answer this. When did England first win the Cricket World Cup?

Nil points for you if you’ve suddenly got misty-eyed over Archer, Stokes, Morgan and Co, the Super-Over, and 2019, because the girls beat them to it by a full two years when England’s ladies took out India in front of a sell-out crowd at Lord’s on July 23, 2017. 

One of the main instigators in that victory was Alexandra ‘Alex’ Hartley, who has now taken her talents to the microphone with her partner-in-crime Kate Cross for a brilliantly entertaining, down-to-earth podcast, No Balls.

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Alex played an important role in England’s World Cup success; her ten wickets, including two vital wickets in the final, were just two less than Anya Shrubsole’s team-leading twelve. Following the 2017 World Cup, Alex became regarded as one of, if not the, world’s best bowler in the sport. It’s a long way to come for the Clitheroe cricketer who just wanted to be one of the lads.

How does a girl born in Blackburn become one of the best bowlers in the world?

It was growing up on an estate full of boys! I was the only girl in the group, playing football after school, and following them up to the local cricket club every weekend. That’s where it started. I played all age levels with the lads, progressed to Clitheroe Cricket Club and then got picked up by Lancashire at 13. I moved to Middlesex when I was 19 and played for them for four years, and that’s where I got the England gig.

Do you come from a big cricketing family ?

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I’ve got quite an active family but none of them are professional athletes and none of them have ever even played cricket! It wasn’t until I made my international debut that I knew 100% that cricket was what I wanted to do for a living. I had to take little jobs just to support myself but it wasn’t until I walked out for England that I knew I could make a career out of it.

What do you consider to be the finest performance of your career? 

My first ODI in the West Indies, and the second ever of my career. I played terribly, so too in the warm-up in the Caribbean, but then something just clicked, and in that second game I bowled well and more importantly for the first time ever I realised I was good enough.

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Were there any particular cricketers who inspired you in those early days?  

Like most people, I vividly remember the 2005 Ashes (in which England won the tournament for the first time in 18 years) on the television, and I started to follow Monty Panesar in particular. He was really relatable to me in being not the best batter nor the best fielder in the side but having something extremely important to contribute.

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We have to talk about 2017 and the Cricket World Cup. How did you cope with the pressure?

I think I was very naïve to the situation which probably helped me in a way. Everyone kept saying that it was a home World Cup and there was so much pressure, but in fact we were quite a new team; our head coach [Mark Robinson] had only been in the position for a year and we thought as a team we were going into the tournament as underdogs and had a ‘what will be will be’ attitude.

The final was at Lord’s. At what point did you start to think, ‘we could win this’? 

A few months before the game actually. We went to Lord’s in the April and sat in the dressing room as a squad. The coach said to us: ‘If everything goes our way, we’ll be sitting here again, July 23, 2017 singing songs in celebration.’ And that’s exactly what happened.

That’s a lot of confidence considering you only won by nine runs...

Despite that score line, it had actually felt like we were in control the whole time. India were in such a strong position, but as a squad we never believed we were out of the game.

Women’s cricket will hopefully make a full return soon. What does it offer to the fan on the street?

I think fundamentally what cricket offers especially to fans now is that it is a relatable sport. But also, females, women, girls they can be professional cricketers, particularly with the regional contracts that have come in. Kids can grow up not thinking that they have to play for England in order to make it as a pro. It’s a sport that you can play everywhere and anywhere. You walk down a street in India and every kid is playing cricket. I don’t see why that can’t happen in England.

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Last year you unfortunately lost your England contract. How do you bounce back from that? 

To be completely honest, once I lost my England contract I found myself a bit lost with life. Cricket had been my be-all-and-end-all. It’s what I played, what I lived, what I loved. And it hit me quite hard that maybe I wasn’t good enough to do that anymore. I felt quite depressed so I took a year out of the game. I travelled to America and while I was there I received a phone call asking whether I wanted to commentate on the Women’s Cricket World Cup in Australia. I took the opportunity and found that I loved it, but when the England cricket team got kicked out of the competition in the semi-finals due to rain, that was the moment I knew I had to play again as I wanted to be in that dressing room rather than the commentary box. Now I’m happy, playing for Lancashire, playing professionally, loving training and just enjoying myself. I know I’m happy when I’m enjoying bowling in the rain!

Tell us about your podcast ‘No Balls’ with your collaborator, teammate, and pal Kate Cross. 

Crossy is my best mate and has been for years. We do think we are funny, but we were listening to the podcast Sh**ged Married Annoyed by comedian Chris Ramsey and his wife Rosie. We thought if Chris Ramsey’s wife is funny enough to do a podcast, so are we! We like to jokily dig at each other, and give each other a bit of sh*t. I had just lost my England contract and I think Crossy felt a bit sorry for me, so we did a kitchen trial run recording, sent it out, and here we are, 25 episodes and 40,000 subscribers later! We’re taking it week by week and enjoying ourselves, and hopefully projecting that rapport we have both as friends and female athletes.

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Do you keep one eye on the men’s game? And if so, why should they keep an eye on yours?

If I’m completely honest, I think England’s men can support the women’s game a little better, whether they’re actually interested in that side of the sport or not. In Australia the men really get behind the women’s game.

And finally, the age-old question - hopes for the future? 

Before the commentary career comes calling, I want to play professionally for Lancashire, setting an example for other girls on how to train and how to play. I hate to say it but I am likely one of the most experienced players on one of these contracts. I want to inspire the next generation of girls but equally I want to enjoy myself! And of course, keep on with the pod!

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