13 Jan

2021 will see Phoebe Graham, at 29, leaving her post as a marketing lead at Sky to become a professional cricketer. Graham is one of 41 women below the England team to have been handed a full-time professional contract by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). 

Graham is currently the eldest of the group. In that sense, she is bucking a trend that sees many women drift away from professional sport if they have not made the grade by the time they hit their early 20s. The last player to make an England debut past the age of 24 was Rebecca Grundy five years go. 

As well as growing the depth of talent in the English game, the new structure of professionalism means cricket can still be a career for those who have not reached international level by the time they would ordinarily be going into full-time work. 

At 18 she decided the path of professional cricket was too narrow, so Graham opted to play alongside studying at Exeter University. Club, county and university cricket may have been the extent of her career until she had a trial for Northern Diamonds and landed a spot in the squad for the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy in the 2020 summer. It meant juggling her cricketing dream with working responsibilities. 

"There were one or two occasions when I had the laptop in the dressing room," she says in an interview with the BBC. "I hated it. You're in a meeting, then you arrive at training, but you're still thinking about your to-do list. That is one of the hardest parts." 

There were the times when the different parts of Graham's world collided. Not only did she have her own blog on the Sky website, but she also played in the televised final of the Heyhoe Flint Trophy, "quivering" with nerves when she revealed to her work colleagues that they could watch her on Sky. Soon, the TV may be the only place that some of those work-mates will be able to see Graham, whose move into professional cricket comes only three years after she returned to the game, following a hiatus that began with a personal tragedy. 

"I took a break from the game after my dad passed away in 2015," says Graham. "He was a hugely influential figure for me”. Peter Graham, or 'PC' as he was known, was a legendary figure in Yorkshire cricket. After his death from cancer at the age of 60, cricket became "heavy" for his daughter. 

She was dragged back by an invitation to the 2017 World Cup final by friend and England batter Lauren Winfield-Hill. "I watched that and thought 'my god, I have missed this'. The game had developed so much in such a short space of time," she says. 

Graham played in a charity match the following week then spent the winter training with Berkshire, lining up for the county alongside England captain Heather Knight in the summer of 2018. Alongside training she has also found time to raise money for the Macmillan cancer charity by cycling from Ascot to Italy and setting up her own website, TipnFlip, aimed at improving perceptions of women's sport. 

At the beginning of her professional adventure, Graham has not reached the limit of her ambitions. There are spots in the women's Hundred up for grabs and players who perform in the new competition will be putting themselves in the shop window for international honours. 

"You have to dream big," she says. 

For now, though, the focus is the end of one chapter of her life and the start of another. 

John Stephenson 


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