Issy Wong on cricket, climate change and inspiring the next generation

Aged just 20, Issy Wong has been capped in all formats by England
Dates: 18, 21 & 24 September Venues: Hove, Canterbury & Lord’s
Coverage: Live text with in-play clips on the BBC Sport website and app, live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra and BBC Sounds and highlights on the BBC iPlayer

There is a lot to know about Issy Wong.

Her grandfather is Chinese and her uncles played cricket for Hong Kong. Her great-grandmother won a medal spying for the British.

She is a national champion at Eton Fives (a variation of handball) and was rejected for a sports scholarship at Uppingham School for “lacking speed and agility, and not being good enough at cricket”.

Wong can complete a Rubik’s Cube in about 30 seconds, but her record is 16. She is a committed Liverpool fan and flew back from Paris the Sunday after the Champions League final in order to play for Central Sparks later that day.

It says a lot about the growth of women’s cricket that pretty much all of this information was in the public domain before Wong made her England bow in the Test against South Africa in June.

With a fascinating back story, unique look and fun-loving approach to the game – she bowls rockets and hits the ball hard – the 20-year-old was probably the highest-profile female England debutant of all time.

Wong, though, is honest enough to admit there is a big difference between “Wongy” the cricketer and Issy the person.

“In my head, it feels like two personalities,” she tells BBC Sport.

“There is Wongy who plays cricket – I never get called anything else. That’s the extrovert that most people see. Then there’s Issy, who is not as outgoing, would rather stay in and is happy to keep myself to myself. That side doesn’ t come out as much because I spend 90% of my time playing cricket.

“One has gotten bigger the more I have played, but the other is not brought out as much so doesn’t really get seen. Not as many people know Issy.

“Sometimes when Issy is feeling not too sure about a situation, Wongy takes over. If you catch me as Issy, she would take feedback differently to Wongy. Wongy is that confidence I use when I go on the pitch: the hair, the earrings , the steaming in to bowl to knock your head off.”

If there really are two parts to Wong’s character, it was the extroverted side that said she was like the “Divock Origi of women’s cricket”, as a nod to the Liverpool cult hero during that Test debut against South Africa.

She has since played eight Twenty20s and two one-dayers, and is part of the England squad for the ODI series against India, which culminates in the first women’s international at Lord’s for five years.

Wong has worked as a pundit on the BBC and Sky, and is also one of the faces of We Got Game, a new platform looking to elevate the profile of the women’s game and highlight the role of community, togetherness and friendship.

Confidence hasn’t always come naturally, and the ability to put herself out there can be traced back to a prestigious competition at Shrewsbury School when Wong was 14. The Bentley Elocution Prize requires students to recite a poem and was once won by Michael Palin.

“I remember hating public speaking all the way through school. I wouldn’t speak in class, I hated reading out loud,” says Wong.

“I knew a silly poem from primary school called the Ning Nang Nong, so I thought I’d stand up, say that and get it over with as quickly as possible. I did it, but the teacher kept me behind afterwards and told me no-one would ever take me seriously doing things like that and I needed to buck up my ideas.

“So I walked out of the classroom, learned a really good poem called Repetition and ended up winning the whole thing for my year group. I got a prize on speech day and have never felt any more satisfied than I did when I shook the headmaster’s hand.”

Because of who she is and what she does, it is not an overestimation to place Wong as one of the most important young cricketers – male or female – in the country.

An all-action style is instantly attractive, but there is also no escaping her position as a role model in an England women’s team historically poor at reflecting the diversity of the nation. She is only the fifth non-white woman to play for England.

Throw in a magnetic personality and there is the potential for a serious amount of her life to be played out in the public eye.

“It’s a little bit scary,” says Wong. “Only recently has it gathered pace. I went to Ikea with my dad and got stopped by a man and his baby for a picture.

“I was holding a plant we got for mum, a few bits of storage and was having a picture thinking ‘you know what, this is a bit strange’. If I want to play cricket, this is what it looks like.”

With high profile comes high responsibility and also an opportunity to do good beyond cricket. Wong is well aware, already thinking where she can make a difference.

“I look at Marcus Rashford, who as a Liverpool fan I have every reason to dislike, but I have nothing but respect for him,” says Wong. “The other example is the NBA and WNBA, how they support their players having a voice about important matters.

“Sport in England is always ‘don’t be controversial, be grateful’, but there are so many things I look at in the world that could be better. We need to sort out climate change for a start.

“I sometimes get myself a bit sad. In 15 years will the girls I am trying to inspire even be able to play cricket? Will it be too hot, will we have enough water to manage pitches?

“I need to work out what I’m passionate about and what I’m going to do about it.”

England are hitting a period of transition. Anya Shrubsole has retired and Katherine Brunt’s career is winding down. As Wong makes her way in international cricket, she has the opportunity to become a spearhead on and off the field.

“There’s a quote that says ‘don’t be the best, be the only’,” she says.

“That’s quite cool, isn’t it? That’s not being someone else, that’s being authentic. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

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