Interview: Issy Wong on Bowling Quick and Going Pro
Issy talks to AOC about her cricketing journey, plans for The Hundred, and her England ambitions
Cricket has always been in Issy Wong’s blood. Her great grand uncle Donald Anderson was a batting all-rounder who made his debut for Hong Kong in 1929 at the ripe age of 17. 12 years later, he was killed in the Pacific theatre of World War II, just minutes away from where the Hong Kong Cricket Club is currently located.
Far away from the battlefields of East Asia, and after the passage of many generations, Wong admits: “It was all unknown to me when I started playing cricket.”
She first picked up the sport at an afterschool club when she was around six years old. From then to the age of about nine, she’d often play with boys on the playground.
“In my head, I was just trying to be better than the next kid. It didn’t matter if they were a boy or a girl, so I kept trying to push myself like that.”
Wong didn’t watch a lot of cricket in her pre-teen years, preferring instead to participate in a whole range of sports. She played tennis up to the age of 11 in addition to being a goalkeeper in both football and hockey. Yet, it soon became clear to her that cricket was her calling.
“I’ve never wanted to be anything other than a cricketer apart from when I wanted to be an astronaut when I was five,” she says with conviction.
Growing up, the Warwickshire and Birmingham Phoenix quick idolized James Anderson who was entering his prime just as Wong was approaching her teenage years. Yet, it was the exploits of Katherine Brunt that inspired her to continue pursuing her dream of someday representing England.
“If you look at someone like Katherine, you think ‘Oh! That’s a woman doing what I want to do.’ You know? That was pretty cool.”
When Wong turned 13, she was admitted to the famed Shrewsbury School, which has a history of churning out talents such as James Taylor and Worcestershire all-rounder Ed Barnard. Ed’s father Andy is the Head of Cricket at Shrewsbury, and Wong credits him with having a big influence during her formative years.
“Absolute legend of the game,” remarks Wong. “He’s upfront, but tells you what you need to hear, which is often a really good thing especially at 14 or 15… He was always up for having those [tough] conversations with me and keeping me on the straight and narrow.”
The support she received from her parents was equally invaluable.
“In terms of my parents, they were fantastic,” says Wong with a grin emerging on her face. “Driving three hours to Buckinghamshire to watch me [on more than one occasion] I probably got a duck, bowled a pile of rubbish, then got in the car and was really moody with them on the way home, but we’d do it again two days later.”
Working closely with her coach and fellow Sparks teammate Gwen Davies — who was promoted to Shrewsbury’s Head of Girls Cricket in December of last year — and through more playing time in club cricket and the age-group levels, word about Wong began to spread beyond the West Midlands. In late 2018, she was called up to train with the England senior team.
While news of the then 16-year-old being earmarked for national honors was a hot topic in local papers, it also coincided with a bout of glandular fever which kept her out of action for close to four months.
“It was hard to see everyone else cracking on, playing cricket, having fun, but also getting better. I was sitting on the sidelines thinking ‘oh I wish I could do that.”
“My mum calls me a ‘human hurricane’ because I’m always trying to do everything at once. To not do anything was really difficult.”
Fortunately for Wong, she was able to regain her fitness in time for the 2019 season, where she made her KSL debut for the Southern Vipers. She played three games and conceded upwards of eight runs an over, but she looks back to her rookie season with nothing but fond memories of the bonds she formed with her teammates and everything she learned by being part of the set up.
The 2020 season, in contrast, was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and got off to a late start. Whereas players would usually begin training for the domestic season in March, pandemic restrictions meant that Issy only resumed training in June.
She graduated from Shrewsbury in July of the same year, and on the day she turned 18, she received a call informing her that she was one of 41 female cricketers who’d earned a regional retainer contract. The timing, as Issy admits, could not have been any better.
“It’s all evolved just in time for me…two years ago I’d have to go to university to give myself the time to study or get a job. Now I can actually just focus on cricket and work everything else around that.”
“You look at girls like Eve [Jones] and Marie Kelly, even though they’re older, they’ve come on so much. We all have from having that freedom… You can train [as much as you need to] and it’s okay because you have the financial backing for it.”
Soon after, the speedster was called up to train with the national squad yet again, although this limited her appearances in the Rachel Heyhoe Flint Trophy, where she only played three games for the Central Sparks, her new team.
She’d go onto spend more time with the national team prior to the 2021 summer when she was picked as a non-playing member on England’s tour of New Zealand. This gave her the chance to rub shoulders with none other than childhood idol Katherine Brunt.
“You look at someone like Katherine, she been there for so long. She’s got so much experience to tap into and learn off”
“We [Katherine and I] spoke a lot about [setting the] field and approaching different areas of the game tactically, but also temperament off the pitch and how she goes about her business.”
Wong returned from her trip to New Zealand eager to put everything she had learned into practice.
“That’s what I’ve enjoyed this year: I’ve played so many more games and that’s allowed me to show off my new skill sets that I’ve developed recently, but also [allowed me] to make mistakes.”
Despite the Issy Wong brand being synonymous with images of speed guns, the 19-year-old is adamant that there are other strings to her bow. Indeed, changes of length and more variations have helped her pick up wickets both with the new ball and in the second half of the innings. Four games into this year’s RHF Trophy, Wong is leading the Central Sparks’ wicket tally with nine scalps.
This includes figures 5 for 49 against the Northern Diamonds. However, it’s her spell of 3-18 away from home against reigning champions Southern Vipers that stands out to her as the high point in her career thus far. Fellow new ball operator Emily Arlott, who was recently called up for England’s home series against India, took 5/29 in the same game as the duo reduced the Vipers to 17/5 inside the first 7 overs of a 225 chase.
Wong enjoys bowling in tandem with her taller, medium-paced teammate who is also likely to share the new ball with her for the Phoenix in The Hundred.
“Me and Em [Emily Arlott] complement each other really nicely, but there’s no competition. We’re different bowlers. We have different roles.”
Wong doubles down on the fact that she’s more than the girl who wants to hit the magical 80 mph mark. She does not train with a speed gun, and at this stage of her career, she isn’t trying to beat her personal best speed. Instead, a big part of her training is to work on the feel of her action, focusing on whether it feels repeatable, and if she has rhythm. Strength and conditioning is also something she is able to work on extensively given the freedom that comes with a professional contract.
“Can I get fitter? Can I do it for longer? Can I bowl a 10 over spell? And is ball number 60 at the same intensity as ball number one?”
“With that continuity of training three, four, five times a week, you can get so much more volume in. That’s not been there in the past.”
Along with being a professional, she’s also excited for the opportunity to play with some of the best players in the world when she turns out in The Hundred.
“Look The Hundred is massive,” she says as she throws her arms up in the air to mimic an explosion. “For the women’s game especially it’s so big because of the parity with the men’s game.”
In spite of being criticized for, among other things, undermining the traditions of the county game, the Hundred will be a stage for uncapped female cricketers like Wong and Arlott to show global audiences what they’re capable of.
The stage is set for Issy Wong. And it would take a brave person to bet against her grabbing a headline or two in the next few weeks.
Header Image: The Hundred Official Twitter
Watch this space for our full chat with Issy releasing later this week on all major podcast platforms!
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