Kate Cross: England's rising star on lucky pigs and making boys cry

By Amy LofthouseBBC Kick Off reporter
Kate Cross
Kate Cross played a crucial role in England's Ashes campaign in Australia over the winter

Meet the secret weapon of the England women's cricket team - Kate Cross's lucky pig.

It may seem a strange superstitious symbol but pigs have been bringing luck to the Cross family for more than three decades.

Ask her father, David. A former West Ham striker, he kept a tiny porker clutched in his fist during his side's 1980 FA Cup final win over Arsenal.

"He had a running superstition with the physiotherapist, Rob Jenkins, that every time they saw a pig in a field, my dad would score and they would win," 22-year-old Cross told BBC Sport.

"Rob then bought my dad a porcelain pig, just as a lucky charm. They got to the FA Cup final that year and my dad thought 'it's not enough just having the pig there in the changing room'.

David Cross
Striker David Cross played for several clubs, including Norwich, Coventry and West Ham

"He took it out on the pitch with him and he held it in his fist for the whole game.

"Eventually, he did lose it so my mum bought him another one and it's become a family charm."

Pig number two - a metal version of its predecessor - has found a home in Cross's kitbag since her England debut last year, and it seems to be working its magic on her international career.

After impressing in limited-overs matches against the West Indies last October, the Lancashire seam bowler was selected to tour Australia over the winter.

In stifling 50 degree heat in Perth, Cross bowled fast and consistently swung the ball late to help England to a 61-run win in a memorable first Test outing that helped the team retain the Ashes.

All about Kate Cross
Born: 3 October, 1991 in Manchester
Right-arm medium-fast bowler
Teams: Lancashire, England
Took 4-51 in first ODI against West Indies
Finished with match figures of 6-70 on Test debut against Australia

She continued: "I'm not massively superstitious, but I do remember that the day I got my four-for and man of the match against the West Indies, I did take the pig out of my bag, looked at it for a bit and then put it back in."

It has been quite a rise for Cross, who is set for her first experience of international cricket on home soil against India this summer.

With a father who played First Division football, a county-level opening batsman for a brother and a netball-mad sister, sport was a big part of family life.

Analysis by Alison Mitchell, BBC commentator
"Cross came to the fore in the second one-day international in the West Indies, when she took 4-51 in a rout of the home side in her first bowl in ODI cricket. A highly impressive performance in the Ashes Test in Perth meant she was retained for the T20s as well as the ODIs, taking Katherine Brunt's place when she withdrew through injury. Crucially, Cross kept herself fit and injury free - the result of a lot of hard work the winter before. She might not have had great penetration in the ODIs down under but she bowled with great control alongside Anya Shrubsole, and with Brunt's future uncertain due to long-term back problems, Cross, as she becomes stronger still, could yet take the new ball regularly for England."

After watching Cross bully her brother and sister in back garden games of cricket, her dad encouraged her to join their local club, Heywood CC, and she soon attracted the attention of Lancashire Academy coach John Stanworth.

Yet she struggled to live up to the hype that appeared when, aged 15, she became the first girl to be admitted to the Lancashire cricket academy.

"It was mad because there was so much publicity around it," she said. "Obviously it was 'oh, there's a girl taking a boy's place, this isn't right, blah blah blah'.

"I was thrown in at the deep end a little bit with that. You're always going to get people who are set in their ways with women's and girls' cricket but I think that's massively changed.

"I think that's what's made me so competitive, growing up and playing with boys. They hate getting out to you so much.

"There's so many times that I turned up to a game when I was younger and it was like 'oh, they've got a girl on the team, I'm going to hit her for six'.

"Then I'd get wickets and there'd be tears in the boys' changing rooms!"

Charlotte Edwards lifts the Ashes trophy
The England team, led by Charlotte Edwards, received professional contracts for the first time in May

With the recent introduction of professional contracts, England's top female players can now make a living from cricket.

The players will receive a pay increase and take part in an increased number of training sessions with the England coaches and support staff.

Cross's arrival on the international scene was therefore timely and she is one of 18 centrally contracted to the England and Wales Cricket Board.

But it has been a long road back after she spent five years in England's academy set-up, only to be dropped after some disappointing performances.

England fixtures in 2014
13-16 August: Test v India, Wormsley
21 August: First ODI v India, Scarborough
23 August: Second ODI v India, Scarborough
25 August: Third ODI v India, Lord's
1 September: First T20 v South Africa, Chelmsford
3 September: Second T20 v South Africa, Northampton
7 September: Third T20 v South Africa, Edgbaston

Outside pressures affected her on-field displays - she was studying for a degree in psychology at Leeds University alongside her cricket commitments - and forced her to question whether or not the game offered a sustainable career path.

"It's not a problem the guys have, balancing cricket and university," she added.

"That's always been the case with the guys. They know they can make a solid career out of cricket and the money has always been good for them.

"I've always had to balance - it started at GCSE, then through A-Level and up to my degree but I really struggled with it at university.

"I had a lot of problems through university and I didn't enjoy it. As soon as I finished I felt like this weight completely lifted off me and that was the summer that my cricket really improved."

Kate Cross bowling at the WACA
Performance manager Paul Shaw says Cross could become one of the best fast bowlers in the world

With her love of cricket reaffirmed, Cross impressed the new England Women's high performance manager Paul Shaw enough to be taken on the tour of the West Indies.

She has hardly looked back since and in less than a year has become a key member of the bowling attack.

"What struck me about Kate was she had raw pace, a real, strong desire to improve and is a really good individual from a really good family. I think that's really important," said Shaw.

"I think she's going to be a serious contender to be one of the best fast bowlers in the world in a few years' time."

England squad for India series
Charlotte Edwards (capt), Heather Knight (vice captain), Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt (ODIs & T20s only), Stephanie Butler (Test match only), Kate Cross, Natasha Farrant (T20s only), Lydia Greenway, Jenny Gunn, Danielle Hazell, Amy Jones, Sonia Odedra, Natalie Sciver, Anya Shrubsole, Sarah Taylor, Lauren Winfield.

Cross has set her sights on the very top too, adding: "I'm very ambitious. I know I've got a lot of work to do but at the same time it's exciting.

"I'm only 22 but I've been on three international tours with the girls and I've still got so much to learn which I find really exciting.

"A 10-year career would be ideal. I'd hope that I could play for England as long as I can."

Listen to radio commentary of England women's cricket fixtures on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra or at www.bbc.co.uk/cricket.