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Katherine Sciver-Brunt and Anya Shrubsole played their last competitive matches within eight days of each other in 2023. Ebony Rainford-Brent’s piece on England’s contrasting new-ball opening pair appeared in the 2024 edition of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.

Anya Shrubsole and Katherine Sciver-Brunt were as different as they come. Anya bowled inswing, and didn’t say a lot; Katherine liked to shape it away, and never shut up. Anya would be the first to leave a party, Katherine the last. Anya is from Bath, Katherine from Barnsley. But it felt right that, last August, they played their final games of competitive cricket within eight days of each other – England’s two greatest fast bowlers bowing out together, making room for the new generation they helped inspire and nurture.

As part of the successful England set-up that won both World Cups in 2009, I was lucky enough to see them at close quarters, and had different – but equally strong – friendships with both. If Katherine was someone I idolised from the early days, even though I was 18 months older, Anya grew in stature as a person and a cricketer, becoming England’s vice-captain, bowling the spell that won the World Cup final against India at Lord’s in 2017, and finishing as a player youngsters gravitate towards. Between them, they appeared 442 times for their country, and took 562 wickets. It’s hard to think of a better partnership.

It’s fair to say I owe Brunty for accidentally helping me get my career back on track. I’d played a couple of low-key one-day internationals in 2001, but had spent a few years away from the game sorting out a back problem. I wasn’t originally in the squad for a quadrangular ODI series in Chennai in early 2007, but Nicky Shaw – her new-ball partner at the time – and Katherine both went down injured, and I had my chance.

What I remember more than the cricket – which didn’t go well – were my mixed feelings. Katherine, who by then had been playing for England for nearly three years, had been one of the most welcoming players in the squad, and definitely the loudest. She was the life and soul, the player I looked up to and wanted to be. Like her, I came from an environment where people spoke their minds. She was a proper working-class northern girl, and I could relate to that.

Now she was in agony on the dressing-room floor, screaming in pain because of her back. I was in awe of how hard she worked after surgery, but at the same time, it was my route into the team. She was a Trojan. I asked her then what would happen if her back never fully recovered. She just said she’d keep going “until my back breaks”. That was Katherine to a tee. She’d still be out there if her body hadn’t said enough was enough.

We played in a one-dayer against India in Bath in 2008, the year she returned to international cricket, and out walked their captain, Mithali Raj, wearing a floppy sunhat. Now Brunty was supposed to be easing her way back, but the sunhat stirred something inside her, and she absolutely roasted Mithali first ball with a bouncer. After swaying out of the way, she called for a helmet. I was watching from the sidelines,  where all the girls were in hysterics. I also remember thinking there was no way I’d have risked my body after what she’d been through: it’s partly why I channelled my energies into becoming a batter. Katherine, though, did nothing in half-measures.

It meant you had to be on your game when you were in the field. We were playing a T20 in the West Indies once, and I was running round the boundary trying to catch a top edge off her bowling. I got there, but dropped it – and she was not happy. I thought I’d done pretty well to make the ground, but she was properly getting stuck into me. She was still going on in the dressing-room: “Can’t catch for toffee!” Next morning at breakfast, I knocked a spoon on the floor, and she was straight on to it: “Dropped that too, did you, mate?” She wanted every wicket so much, because she put everything on the line, all the time, and she expected others to do the same. She was just as harsh on herself: if she messed up, she’d be the first to say so.

In that respect, she helped bring an edge to our dressing-room chats that hadn’t always been there. I’ve played in high-performance environments in both men’s and women’s cricket, and the men have always had more to say. The women have tended to be hesitant about criticising team-mates, but Katherine would come along and just put it out there: “We were crap. That wasn’t good enough.” It changed the dynamic, and it made me realise why the likes of her and Charlotte Edwards were that bit better than everyone else: their honesty had a ruthlessness to it.

When I mention honesty, I should probably qualify it slightly. During the 2009 World Cup in Australia, Katherine, Isa Guha and I decided to hold an impromptu party in one of our rooms, so we made playlists full of Limp Bizkit, jumped around on our beds and went nuts. Not long after, we all had to go and see the physio because our necks had seized up. Must be the beds, we said…

Anya was more chilled, but no less determined. If Katherine was the most competitive cricketer I ever played with or against, even more than  the Australians, then Anya – along with Lottie Edwards – wasn’t far behind. Six years younger than Katherine, she came into the England set-up four years later, and it was clear from the start she was comfortable in her own skin.

Plenty of newcomers try to make an impression by trying to join in with the banter, but Anya wasn’t interested in that. She’d basically tell you: “I’m here to play cricket, not crack jokes.” That’s not to say she didn’t have a dry, quiet sense of humour, all the more effective for being called on only once a week. And she had this withering look that could put you in your place without any need for words. I remember trying to put her off with a few cheeky observations when I was batting against her for Surrey against Somerset, but she just wouldn’t buy it. She ignored me, and bowled me next ball.

Her goal was simple: to become a top-class bowler. And because of that, she quickly won respect. Towards the end of her career, she developed as a leader too, a trait that hadn’t seemed obvious early on. After she captained Southern Vipers to the Hundred title last summer, I had a bit of a cry with her on the Lord’s outfield: I could see how she had softened, and was a bit more jokey, but also how she had maintained her robustness. She had evolved into a really good version of herself.

It wasn’t the first time she had moved me to tears. Six years earlier at Lord’s, she had snatched the World Cup out of India’s grasp with career-best figures of 6-46. I was up in the commentary box, and the thing that really got me was her celebration when she bowled India’s No.11, Rajeshwari Gayakwad. It was full-on relief, and it felt all the more poignant because I knew how controlled a person she was, and how much she’d had to focus during a spell that was England’s last chance of getting back in the game. It was the most animated I’ve ever seen her. What with the pride I felt for her and the team, and how momentous the day was for women’s cricket, I had to ask for five minutes off-air to collect myself.

Her dad, Ian – we used to call him “Mr Cricket” – put up this great tweet showing a picture of Anya, aged nine, peering out across Lord’s. She then recreated the shot 16 years later after lifting the World Cup. You could tell how much it meant to her and her family.

What made them so good as a pair? Brunty’s action was much more side-on, and she was always looking for the awayswinger, while sending down the odd bouncer. Anya was more chest on, her hand behind the ball, which meant big inswingers. Back in the day, we used the Readers ball in women’s cricket, which used to hoop around, especially at the pace we bowled. You just watched them dovetail as a pair, presenting the batters with different problems, communicating well and sharing plans. She was a fraction slower than Katherine, and that seemed to help her inswing – it would dip in so late. And when she got it to cut off the surface, she could be a serious handful.

But what probably set them apart was their dedication. In those days, bowlers didn’t offer much variety – there weren’t many change-ups or early bouncers. But they would try to add to their arsenal: Brunty would try to bowl more deliveries that cut back into the right-hander, while Anya worked on her slower ball and leg-cutter. It was as if, between them, they were completing the repertoire. Imagine facing them together.

They played during a transitional time for women’s cricket in England, and they were central to the team’s success. During that 2007 quadrangular – when Katherine was injured, and Anya had yet to play international cricket – we got thrashed in every game, until we managed a late consolation win over India. I was rooming with Isa, and we cried almost every night. But Lottie told us we had to play and live with pride, and to remember why we did what we did. Take That’s “Never Forget” became our anthem, and with the likes of Katherine, Lottie and Claire Taylor leading the charge, we decided it was time we started beating Australia. Anya joined the gang soon after. In the build-up to the 2009 World Cup, we won 12 ODIs in a row. We went from being battered, to battering everyone. It was a special time, and Katherine and Anya were at the heart of it.

As for their legacy, just look at the fast bowlers who emerged towards the end of their careers: Lauren Bell, Issy Wong, Lauren Filer, Mahika Gaur. They all wanted to be like their heroes. Without Katherine and Anya, we might still be producing a generation of medium-pacers. Instead, they have changed women’s cricket for the better.

Ebony Rainford-Brent played 22 one-day and seven T20 internationals between 2001 and 2010. She is a commentator, and chairs the African-Caribbean Engagement programme. She was talking to Lawrence Booth.