After a record-breaking summer with the bat, Tammy Beaumont is the toast of English women’s cricket. Phil Walker talks to an overnight sensation seven years in the making.
So yeah,” says the new star of the English game, between bites of a sarnie and slurps from a mighty cup of tea (two bags) twice the size of her. “We had a week off last week, so I went to catch up with an old uni mate in London…”
After 484 runs in seven games for England this summer (56 fours; four sixes), we agree it was a break well earned.
“And we’d gone swimming or something – you know, Jacuzzi, chilling out – and I had wet hair, no make-up on, nothing. So I’m getting the train home…” Home being Loughborough, “the hub” as she calls it, where she shares a flat with teammate Alex Hartley.
“So I’m walking through St Pancras, and I’m going up one of those travelators. And I’m in London, so I’m checking that my bag’s shut, you know? So I’ve turned around to check it, and there’s a guy behind me, so I smile. I’m a nice girl, I’ve not quite adjusted to being a Londoner yet – I still smile at strangers…
“So I walk up to look at the board to see how to get home, and I realise the guy’s followed me. And now I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, this is a bit awkward’. And then he turns to me, and he goes, ‘Hey Tammy, keep up the great runs!’ I was just: Oh. My. God. Somebody recognised me!”
Ladies and gentlemen: Miss Tamsin Beaumont.
You’ll have probably heard the name before. She’s actually been around the scene for a while, first touring with England in 2009 as an 18-year-old back-up wicketkeeper to Sarah Taylor. And if you’ve heard the name you’ll probably know the face, because Beaumont’s brand of bubble and exuberance is the kind that gets her places. But for much of the time since that early debut, the numbers haven’t quite matched the hype. For a while, as she flitted in and out of the England set-up, she appeared more known for her personality than her cricket – letting her talking do the cricket. Now, after a spectacular breakthrough year, the cliché can be flipped back again.
“It was an education,” she says of those early experiences with England, and that chastening first tour to the West Indies. “We’d just won two World Cups and the Ashes, yet here we lost to a team that I think was seventh in the world at the time. It was quite a tough welcome to international cricket. Sarah got injured in the first game against India in the next series. So as back-up keeper I played. I remember coming off the pitch in a later game thinking that I would never play for England again. I was probably not ready for it, but I came away wanting more. As Sarah Taylor is probably the best wicketkeeper in the world, probably ever, I realised I had to work on something else.”
She praises her coach at Loughborough, the late Graham Dilley, for steering her on the right path through university, when for the first time her commitment to cricket, nurtured down in Kent as a kid playing with the boys, threatened to wobble. The talent was always there, and no shortage of good people to recognise it. But the scorebook proof remained elusive.
“The year after uni,” she recalls, “I got into the side as a batter in a series against India, and didn’t really do that well.” But the worst was yet to come. Beaumont’s moment of realisation came via tears shed from the top of the Lord’s pavilion. “It was the 2013 Ashes, and I played at Lord’s going in at No.6. While I was at the wicket there were two run outs, and the required run-rate increased greatly. I thought: ‘If I don’t win this game from here, I’m going to be dropped for the next game’. That’s what I was thinking when I was out there. A few balls later I was out and we lost the game.
“I went and sat at the top of the pavilion, crying with Carl Crowe [the assistant team coach], and we made a decision there and then that we were going to give it everything, in terms of being free and playing my best. At this point I thought it couldn’t really get worse, so I might as well give it everything.
“That was the moment, but it still took about 18 months to really kick in. At the time, cricket was my life, my only focus. It took me those months to relax my attitude, and learn to rely on the cricket gods a bit more, and to learn to care a little bit less, and just to see where my career goes.”
A year is a long time in sport (and, hell, politics). Less than 12 months ago, despite impressing for the England academy side and scoring good runs for Kent, Beaumont was still on the periphery, and doubting her chances of playing for England again. “I knew that I was improving, and doing what I could do, but I still didn’t feel there was a chance, as Lottie [Edwards] and Heather [Knight] were opening, and I didn’t want to force myself to become a middle-order batter.”
But last September, under new management, she toured Sri Lanka with the academy, and impressed the coach Mark Robinson sufficiently to get the nod for the upcoming full series against South Africa earlier this year. Robinson said he wanted her to be a T20 specialist. “Sri Lanka felt like a clean slate, and I think I showed glimpses of what the coaches wanted. I hadn’t thought that I was [a T20 specialist] beforehand, but as it had got me into the team, in the following months that became my sole focus.”
Women’s cricket has moved out of the shadows in recent years, and not before time. The advent of professionalism for England’s top players, allied to increased media scrutiny, has helped not just to establish the game as a credible force but consequentially, and probably for the first time, afford it the same exclamatory tone of press coverage as that given to the other lot.
It began at the World Twenty20 in India, after England were left for dead against Australia in the semi-final, and Robinson – his credentials burnished by success at Sussex and England Lions and still quite fresh to the women’s game – told his team to “get fitter and toughen up”; and toppled into the summer with the startling news that Charlotte Edwards, against her will, would no longer be leading the England side.
Beaumont, meanwhile, had been showing some ticker at the top in the World Twenty20, not least in clearing the ropes in four of her five innings. As Pakistan arrived for the summer series, she suddenly appeared to be holding the senior opener’s slot reluctantly vacated by Edwards.
Was she aware of the pressure going into the series? “Oh yeah, we knew how built-up this series had been in the press. This was really the first time that it wasn’t just the cricket that was being talked about. It was probably the first ‘scandal’ in women’s cricket, you could say – it got the most publicity I’ve ever seen and obviously we were aware of this. But we remained really grounded as a group and didn’t let that in, as nothing matters apart from what our teammates, coaches, and captain thinks, and anything that comes external from that, you choose to read it, acknowledge it and use it to help motivate you. We mainly wanted the points for the ICC Championship, not to prove a point.”
Points were proven nonetheless. At Taunton on June 27, 2016, Tammy Beaumont became the first English woman to hit back-to-back ODI centuries. Her 168* was the third-highest score in women’s ODI history; one more maximum, and she would have leapfrogged Edwards to claim the best for any Englishwoman.
A week later she clattered a 53-ball 82 in the first T20I. “That was the one I enjoyed the most,” she says. “I felt like I middled everything from ball one and could take on every ball. But I think the one I’m most proud of was my 168, as I was on about nine off 10 overs, and I showed how I’ve come on as a player that I didn’t let the scoreboard pressure get to me, kept going, and did the job for the team.”
She’s suddenly the biggest star in English women’s cricket. “I don’t know about that! I’ve come out of nowhere really, but it’s nice to play to the potential I feel like I’ve had for a number of years and to finally contribute to an England team and show the world what I can do.”
Does she feel a responsibility to take it on now? To be the poster girl for this new era of women’s cricket? “Yeah, maybe. Even by the end of the series, because I’d got three scores in a row there was the expectation that I was going to keep scoring the runs. And keep hogging it, as some of the girls were saying! Yeah, but it’s a nice pressure, as we have this new era now and it is great to be a key part of it. Although a few months ago, I still had to work my socks off to keep my place in the team. It’s crazy how it works out.”
This summer, when she’s not tied up with Kent, Surrey Stars in the inaugural Kia Super League and all that England stuff, she’s turning out for Hinckley Town in the Leicester & Rutland Premier League. For Beaumont, men’s cricket is no culture shock. “I went to a grammar school. Obviously we didn’t have a girls’ cricket team, as no one did, so I turned up to boys’ cricket trials, and up to my second year the PE coach wasn’t too keen on picking me, but he left and by the third year I was captain. The thing with most of the girls in the England team at the moment is that we couldn’t just be as good as the boys; we had to be better, and stand out for the good things.”
Hinckley Town is simply more of the same. “Yeah, you get a few remarks that are closer to the mark,” she says, smiling. “I’ve heard a few funny comments, but it’s really fun. I’ve forgotten to cover up my England badge a couple of times and some have tried to hit it – one successfully! – but it’s rewarding playing it. They want to get me out more. There is a bit more bounce in men’s cricket but you learn quickly how to play it – my ego’s probably got to me, wanting to show them that women can play bouncers just as good as men. And after that I think you earn quite a lot of respect from the players.”
It helps when you can peel off an unbeaten 91, as she did recently. “Yeah, as we walked off for tea, some of the opposition were going [adopts caveman accent]: ‘We didn’t know women could bat like that…’”
Well, hold the back page fellas, because women can bat like that. She‘s 25 now. It’s been a tough few years full of strain and sacrifice but she’s hung in there, sustained by a love for the game, to emerge as England’s most purely watchable batting talent since Sarah Taylor. And now she’s got her eye in, it’s not immediately obvious what can stand in her way.