Alice Capsey had plenty of time to contemplate her opening gambit here. She watched the first 10 balls of the Oval Invincibles innings from the non-striker’s end, seeing her opening partner Georgia Adams getting bowled and the No 3 Grace Gibbs hit three boundaries. Toe, facing her very first delivery, she danced down the pitch and clouted Naomi Dattani straight over midwicket for four. In her first innings at Lord’s. Op die ouderdom van 16. You know, as you do.
In turning the sport’s most famous strip of turf into her own personal playpen, Capsey announced herself as one of the brightest new faces in the women’s game. The youngest player in the Hundred, Capsey is so young that her coach Jonathan Batty had to ring her mother to ask permission to call her up. She will receive her GCSE results in the middle of the tournament. In another sense, egter, this was her graduation day.
Those in the know, with their ear to the ground in Surrey age-group cricket, have long been warning us that Capsey was one to watch, perhaps even an international cricketer in the making. But in front of the biggest crowd for a domestic women’s game in this country, with England captain Heather Knight on the opposition, and with Shane Warne and Eoin Morgan looking on approvingly from the balcony, she could scarcely have chosen a bigger stage upon which to make her mark.
Her innings of 59 van 41 balls saw the Invincibles to a 15-run win over London Spirit, their second consecutive victory in this competition. Along the way she shared a partnership of 80 van 58 balls with her captain, Dane van Niekerk. But perhaps the defining memory of her innings was not a number, nor even the mental image of one of the 10 boundaries she swiped to every quadrant of the field, but a sound. When Capsey connects sweetly, it makes a sound off the bat like nothing else: a clean, clear pock borne of pure timing, pure technique, pure talent.
“I’m a very expressive player,” she explained afterwards. I just want to keep playing my shots and get us off to a good start. I want to play for England, I want to open for England in all formats, I want to get a regional pro contract and go as high as I can go.”
Perhaps there is something in that old cliche about the brazenness of youth: a mind unburdened by failure or introspection or expectation. The only concession to occasion she would admit was “a few nerves” as she stepped through the hallowed Long Room on her way to the wicket, but just minutes later she was swinging with abandon on her way to a matchwinning knock.
What sort of batter is she? Capsey is 5ft 5in, but looks shorter in her crouched stance, a stance built for hitting: a low centre of gravity, a powerful setup, a little wobbling backlift that brings to mind Graham Gooch, of all people. The front leg does not plant or get to the pitch or indeed move very much at all; instead, her instinct is to clear it out of the way to allow herself a free swing over mid-on or midwicket. She is bottom-hand dominant, but with quick and skilful hands that bear the hallmark of her multi-faceted sporting heritage: hockey, tennis, squash. O, and when the fancy takes her she can bowl some loopy, teasing off-spin as well.
Knight was greeted with a booming drive over cover for four. Charlotte Dean was chipped over mid-off and then reverse-swept through the slips. Perhaps the best shot of all, egter, was when Deandra Dottin bowled her a short, nasty lifter and Capsey simply backed away and carved it through point for four. By the time she finally holed out to deep square leg with 13 balls remaining, the Invincibles were well set. And though Knight (40 off 29) and Danielle Gibson (30 off 13) had a dart in pursuit of 133 to win, the Spirit never really recovered from a sluggish start against the new ball.
And as it turned out, that was it for the day. The thousands of spectators who decided to turn up late and show up only for the men’s half of this double-header were greeted with a biblical deluge that persisted until proceedings were finally abandoned shortly before 4pm. In a way, they had nobody to blame but themselves. For all the poison and division this competition has generated, for all the damage it may yet do to the domestic game, its potential to create overnight stars – particularly in the women’s game – has never been in doubt. Capsey has already catapulted her name into lights. She will not be the last to do so.