TP TALKS TO... Jenny Gunn

by Travelling Peach

‘I CAN’T BELIEVE A GIRL IS PLAYING CRICKET’
I never wanted to play cricket; I wanted to be a footballer like my dad. Things were different back then: in winter you played football, in summer cricket. I was lucky to grow up around both; I could play anything I wanted to. One day my Dad needed some help at his cricket match. I was 11/12 years old, fielding on the boundary and the men were saying ‘I can’t believe a girl is playing cricket.’ That spurred me on and then I ran one of them out. They all teased him for getting run out ‘by a girl.’ Being competitive I thought ‘I like this. I want to do more.’ I quickly went from fielding to bowling, to playing on the same team as my dad and brother for a few years.

I never consciously chose bowling. Initially, it seemed easier, I felt more protected. You don’t know how fast a bowler’s going to be when you’re batting, but realistically I just picked it up quicker. I had a good arm so I enjoyed it. Looking back, it was quite random. Nowadays, the bats are so big that being a bowler in T-20 and trying to outsmart them is increasingly challenging; it’s a batter’s game



‘People don’t realize how fit cricketers are. Most players run 8km during a T-20 game (tracked by GPS); I run over 10km. It’s not constant sprinting, but interestingly it’s the same distance Messi covers during a match.’

 

CRICKET: A GREAT COMMUNITY
The best thing about cricket is the family atmosphere. With England Women, we’re lucky. We travel a lot, but it doesn’t get lonely because we always fly together, other teams aren’t so fortunate. That definitely helps us to gel and be successful. It’s a really sociable sport too. Our friends and families are allowed to visit us on tour and are welcomed into the community, our team, so they share the experiences.

‘I think cricket is taking over recreationally too. Where I live for example, there’s a nature reserve directly opposite and every weekend and every day in the summer this group of 20+ men cluster together from 6am onwards and they really go for it. You can hear them yelling. It’s great, but it also shows that, even in small groups, people have a lot of commitment to cricket.’ That’s what you want to see. In India, Sri Lanka… all they have is cricket; it’s the number 1 sport. Anywhere they can find some space, on concrete, a railway track, they’re playing it. It’s nice to see them playing your main sport. And in England it’s happening too. In my local park, there’s a little family and I always see the mum bowling at the kid. He hits it and she runs to fetch it. It’s nice to see kids wanting to play cricket and parents being supportive of that.


BREAKING GENDER BOUNDARIES
Getting women’s cricket to be seen as credible, a sport equal to men’s in its own right, is an ongoing battle. There’s an undercurrent of people who don’t believe women should play it or think we belong at home. Social media proves that. There are a lot of trolls on Twitter who hide behind their phones shouting abuse at us. That spurs us on. The same people change as soon as they have a daughter themselves. Suddenly they realise that we’re role models and start to support us. Times are changing though. At last year’s World Cup, we sold out Lords – that’s unheard of. 26,000 people watched us, and not just young women and families, young boys were there too. It shows that to kids today it doesn’t matter what gender or race you are, cricket is cricket.

WHAT INSPIRES ME
Guest coaching at a special needs school was one of the most enjoyable training sessions I’ve ever had. I went to teach them and they ended up teaching me so much more about cricket, about life. It will stay with me forever; they were brilliant. It proves that cricket is for everybody. Nothing ever stops them; they wanted to play and they didn’t complain once. I tried to adapt the session for them, but they said ‘No. We can do this.’ And they did. People complain far too much in life. One guy had one arm, one leg, but he could hop in and bowl. I was like ‘Wow! That’s impressive. I can’t even do that with my core stability, it’s not good enough.’ People are too quick to write people off, especially with disability. Why? They don’t think that way. ‘Yeah, I’ve got one leg less. So! I can still bowl at you.’

I LOVE PLAYING IN SOUTH AFRICA… BUT POLITICALLY THINGS NEED TO CHANGE
It’s completely different to anywhere I’ve ever visited. A beautiful country, yet they have so far to go politically. The racial problems between the blacks and whites highlight that. It’s crazy that it’s still happening. There are government-endorsed rules (not sport-endorsed) for how many blacks you have to have in a team compared to whites, not just in cricket but in many sports. To see things like that deciding the play is crazy. If you’re good enough, you’re good enough. Hopefully, one day it will change. South Africa Rugby has just appointed their first black captain so the views are changing. That was unheard of before so it’s really good moving forward, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s shocking that things like this are still happening.



‘Even fielding, there are so many different angles and techniques to pick things up. A lot of fine detail goes into our training so that we can see the ball better. Eye tests determine our dominant ‘tracker’ eye and special contact lenses balance minute vision discrepancies. One of the girls scored a 100 next game – imagine what she could have achieved if she’d had them years ago!’
 


BEST ADVICE: BAT FIRST, FIELD LATER    
Too many coaches focus on defensive coaching straight away, rather than getting kids hitting the balls first – even when I was a child they did it. If you want them to enjoy cricket (and stick with it), you need to teach them the other way around. It creates better players long-term too. If you know how to hit the ball, defending will come naturally because your hand-eye coordination will be better; it’s more fun. Constantly missing catches fielding isn’t and that’s when kids lose interest.

WHERE ARE YOU RUNNING? THE BALL’S THAT WAY
We were playing Australia on a field in Essex, the sun was setting and the ball went deep square (towards the boundary). One of our fielders started running right, but the ball had gone left. She ran completely in the wrong direction because the sun was so low. It’s one of those ‘What the hell!’ moments haha. It was a really big game so you shouldn’t laugh, but how can you not – the ball was going in completely the wrong direction.

TRAINING WITH MAN CITY
Manchester City FC’s women’s coach came to coach us the other day. Let’s just say he was surprised haha. Cricket is a totally different game to football. In football, you can play small-sided games and the players largely train together. In cricket, you can’t do that; everybody is different. The batters do their drills, the bowlers do theirs… sometimes if I’m with a batter I’ll be working on one area while they’re working on another. You also have to adapt the training wickets that are used depending on the weather, monitor wind direction, and then you have the pitch. Football pitches are pretty much just grass nowadays; completely flat, there’s no mud etc. whereas we have a lot more to consider. Even seemingly insignificant details are pivotal in cricket.



‘Cricketers get injured far less than other athletes. Our spines are much stronger, especially bowlers’. A bowler’s spine is stronger than a rugby player’s, purely because of the impact they incur when bowling through the ground.’

 

CHEATING OR SABBOTAGE
I naturally have a slightly strange bowling action. When I was young, I got caught for throwing a ball. They banned me, telling me that I was clocked quicker in a previous game and asking why I wasn’t bowling that quickly for testing. They thought I was lying. It’s hard to think that they banned me just because they didn’t believe me. At those times you feel really lost and alone.

‘How did you get through it?’ It wasn’t easy. It makes you doubt yourself, but I knew I was right. I got over it but the nicknames have stuck – I still get called Chucky, mainly from my team – and it’s still my action. I can’t change it. It was weird though. We were in Australia at the time and the World Cup was coming up there… It felt like they’d banned me to try to stir up our team. Luckily, I was banned in State cricket, not International, so I could still play in the World Cup. It spurred us on even more and we ended up winning, so if it was their plan it backfired.



‘Always play with a smile on your face and enjoy it. There will be ups and downs but the ups definitely outweigh them.’ Dad
 


PRE-MATCH BOUNCE
I try to stay as calm as I can before games. It’s one of the reasons why I love being part of a team. If I were alone, I’d be really nervous, but being around everybody helps. There are always some jokers, someone playing music, dancing. It means I can soak up the atmosphere and relax with the distractions. We always play 1 bounce before games - it’s tradition. It’s basically Pig, but we can’t flick the ball that hard (have to protect our fingers) so if you lose, everyone flicks your forehead – it’s such a big squad; that’s 20 flicks!! You don’t want to lose.

I LOVE COMPETING AGAINST…
England goalkeeper Carly Telford. She’s a close friend. We took her down to the nets and got her padded up for a cricket session. She’s always saying ‘Yeah, I can sweep. I can do this, that…’ so I’d love to see our team play football against her. She’d be saving all the penalties, but it would be really funny to get her in a net facing us properly. She’d show us up but we’d give it a good go.
 




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