January 2018 - Melissa Story

The Kia Super League, the first major women’s cricket competition in England and Wales, has been running since 2016 and has steadily grown in competitiveness and interest, now featuring some of the best players in the world. It’s the kind of stuff that young girls dreams are made of in terms of providing inspiration and female role models.

For one of Wiltshire’s young female players, her own dream of playing in the Kia Super League has taken a step forward this winter with her selection to the Southern Vipers Young Vipers regional development centre. It was a fairly meteoric season for Melissa Story in 2017 and this is the icing on the cake for a young woman who was named Wiltshire Cricket Player of the Year, and Bath CC Wanderers Players Player of the Year, in her first season for the club.

Cricket runs in the Story household and with a childhood spent immersed in cricket, it’s easy to see how Melissa became hooked.

However, the saying goes that hard work reaps reward and her keen desire to improve and progress is evident. Wiltshire Cricket’s Ali Goddard notes that she would often tell him that she had completed a practice session before she met with him for coaching, and then had further practice planned later in the day. Bath CC’s Jan Godman, a former England women’s cricketer herself, observed at first hand her desire to learn from senior players around her, experiences that yielded a strong second half to the season with more competitive opportunities available to her at Bath.

Now, enrolled in the Vipers development centre, Melissa is thriving on the challenges of an environment that is a step up from anything she’s been involved in before. Looking to make the most of this opportunity and develop her skills, it’s possible to sense the excitement and passion through her words.

Yet there is recognition from those around her that many of the psychological qualities required to improve are there in abundance too. Helen Dolman, her team manager at county level, describes her as ‘thoughtful, self-reliant, intelligent,’ while Goddard identifies a freedom in her performances that comes with being more at ease with the game. The reluctance to play shots and contribute ideas has been replaced with an inner confidence, an enjoyment on the field and a willingness to be less hard on herself and others. Melissa herself attributes some of this change to advice given to her by the overseas player at Corsham last year, who advised her to play her own game and believe in her own ability.

A sense of belonging is also evident too. There are friendships at age group cricket that have developed over a number of years and have been central to Melissa’s growth as a cricketer and as a young person. She cites her partnerships with Lucy Farrant in 2017 as examples of highlights – personal success in the context of team achievement, completed with someone she knows well, and who knows Melissa well also. The pair able to combine well in high pressure situations to build partnerships through a good knowledge of each other’s game and the ability to keep each calm and focused.

The growth of women’s cricket, domestically and internationally, has undoubtedly created a more conducive environment in which to develop as a young female cricketer. There are more female role models, more cricket available to watch live, and on TV, and more competitive opportunities to test yourself. Seeing international players play with so much freedom and intent in recent years has rubbed off on Melissa. Naming Ellyse Perry of Australia and England’s Nat Sciver as influential cricketers who can dominate a game with bat or ball, she’s motivated by a belief in more assertive cricket and starting to impose herself on games of cricket much like her idols have been on the international scene.

Thus 2017 was somewhat of a watershed year. A year in which Goddard saw her delivering the kind of performances that he, as a coach, always believed was possible. Leading from the front.

Her technical strengths come from her ability to produce a consistent outcome with bat and ball.  She has developed a repetitive batting and bowling action, both of which are smooth and less susceptible to breaking down. She has worked on generating pace through her run up, however in reality her pace comes on the whole from the metronomic path of the bowling arm. With great shoulder strength for a female of her stature, she simply beats the batter with raw pace.   

In batting, she looks to keep things pretty simple.  She has her key scoring areas and she knows when to play her most effective run scoring shots. Historically she has set herself limited batting targets, met them easily and perhaps lost concentration which has resulted in her losing her wicket. However in recent years, she looks like she has lost the nervousness that most cricketers exhibit when batting, a reluctance to play shots in case she gets out. For the second half of the 2017 season, she batted joyously, looking comfortable within herself, enjoying spending time at the crease, hitting the ball to the boundary almost at will.

The maturity that she possesses when reflecting on her cricket is highlighted by her experiences at Loughborough in the national school games this year – competing in four T20 games against some of the very best players in the country. ‘Being exposed to such a high standard of cricket has shown me what I need to do to succeed at this level and motivates me even more to improve and show that I’m capable of performing,’ she said. It’s clear that her fellow players and coaches believe in her too with the awards that came her way in 2017.

There is humility there too: ‘The support, encouragement and respect which I’ve received from all cricketers I’ve played with, and against, has also been a key factor in my development so far.’ For a young player, she has a lot of skills across a wide spectrum.

‘During 2017, we saw a player with potential, blossom into one of high quality performance,’ said Goddard. So what of 2018? Melissa herself states a desire to play for one of the Kia super league teams, in due course, and is aware of the climate around her. ‘The growth in women’s cricket has been amazing over the past 10 years and the support provided by the ECB, the counties and by so many clubs has been fantastic.’ She’s definitely in the right place, seems to possess the right attitude, has turned in the kind of performances and shows the eagerness to improve to suggest that technically she will continue to get better.

As with all young players embarking on their winter programmes, be that regional development centres, county age groups or indeed club programmes, we wish Melissa the very best for 2018 and beyond, and of course, look forward to seeing more and more emerging female cricketers flourishing on the coat-tails of locally developed role models.