Cricketer Issy Wong’s Winning Playlist
Al Greenwood talks to professional cricketer Issy Wong about the new tournament The Hundred, the power of music to bring fans together, and the songs that are close to her heart
By Al Greenwood
Illustration by Cat Sims
The summer will see the worlds of live music and sport collide, with world-class cricketers and musicians taking to stadiums across England and Wales for an all-new competition. The Hundred – so named as each innings will consist of 100 balls – marks a new type of cricket; shorter, faster and easier to understand. All of this, plus its affordable ticket pricing and free broadcasting on the BBC, makes it a perfect entry point for a new audience to the game. Each of the 64 matches will see a musical act or DJ – including my own band, Sports Team – play a live performance. This emphasis on entertainment and energy is a far cry from the traditional cricket Test-match format and has certainly ruffled a few feathers amongst traditionalists. Yet The Hundred’s undeniable merit – and, for me, its most exciting element – is what the competition represents for gender equality in sport.
Women’s and men’s games will take place on the same day (aside from the launch, with an all-female game on July 21st), and all those competing will receive the same treatment in terms of travel, logistics, broadcasting and prize money. At a launch event for The Hundred, Helen Falkus, Director of Multi Sports at Sky, spoke of the importance of the visibility of women in the game and in the press. She highlighted the normalisation of seeing women in sport, not just as athletes but as complete characters – as we expect of the men. Broadcast on terrestrial television, The Hundred offers a huge stage to highlight the greatest talent in the women’s game and an opportunity to demonstrate its commercial viability. It marks a historic moment in the world of women’s sport more broadly, and reflects a model that could be easily replicated beyond cricket. Organisers hope it will be a catalyst for young girls’ passion for the game, inspiring the next generation to pick up a bat and ball. Someone who shares that hope is 19-year-old rising cricket star Issy Wong, who I was lucky enough to catch up with at The Oval.
Despite being fresh out of school, Issy is already one of the most exciting names in English cricket – she is bowling at speeds of 70mph, and was one of only 41 women’s cricketers given a full-time domestic contract. As if this wasn’t impressive enough, she can complete a Rubik’s cube within seconds and her confidence and professionalism shine on and off the field. Given The Hundred’s emphasis on live music, I couldn’t resist including Issy in my playlist series – asking her to choose key songs that reflect her life in sport.
The first song Issy picked out was an unexpected one – Life Is A Highway from the Disney film Cars. She explained, “This is my favourite film of all time. I was four when it came out and I used to watch it every day. I pretty much know the whole thing off by heart. The song is massively underrated, and it just takes me back to my childhood.” We discussed the nostalgic power of music to transport you to specific moments in your life. I was intrigued to hear how cricket had initially come to play such a key part in her childhood. She explained how she had started at an after-school club at primary school, “pretty much by accident. No one in my family was that interested, but I just loved it and kept going with it.” Growing up, despite not having access to girls’ clubs, she experienced few challenges because of her gender.
“I think I’m really lucky. I’m grateful for the people who have come before me and paved the way for me to sit here today. At primary-school age, you’re not aware of your gender, and then I played club cricket and the guys didn’t mind me because I bowled well. At school I played with the boys and, if anything, they were enthusiastic to have me around as a go-between for their girlfriends.” As Issy explained the progression of her cricketing career, her song choice re-emerged unexpectedly. “When I first did Super League, they announced the squad numbers and I picked 95 on the back of my shirt. A journalist wrote that I was 24 because they assumed I’d picked it as it was my birth year – actually it was a reference to Cars’ lead character, Lightning McQueen, who has the racing number 95. He wanted to be fast, I want to bowl fast, so it works!”
“I think visibility really is the most important element – for young girls to see women being powerful in sport and enjoying sport, not because they’re trying to impress somebody, but because they love it. And it’s not necessarily that they want to play at Edgbaston or at The Oval: I think that’s another really important thing – sport is something you should enjoy, and not everybody wants to play international cricket. Some people want to play club cricket and have a laugh with their mates and go for a pint after the game, and that’s OK too.”
The second track that Issy chose relates to her second sporting love – football. You’ll Never Walk Alone, the iconic Liverpool football anthem, represents an important part of her life. She stated, “It’s a song that gives me goosebumps. It takes me back to being at Anfield and having that family of 50,000 people around you. I have so many memories and videos on my phone. That song means so much to me and represents that whole family. Sport has brought that many people together in love of a club. And it still has that power.” Having discussed the magic of a match day at Anfield, I questioned how the cricket contrasts.
“There is definitely a great comparison to be made with cricket. Our home ground at Edgbaston gets incredibly lively. I think the first test match I went to was fancy dress. I remember I was eight or nine and there was one guy dressed as a banana and 50 people dressed as monkeys and they were chasing him around for about half an hour. I barely watched the game, it was so fun. Overall, I think cricket is a bit more relaxed, but there’s that same energy.” One less positive comparison between the two sports lies in the gender inequalities. Issy considered that in football, “There is a massive gap between the men’s and women’s game, mainly because the profile of the Premier League is so high. But it is getting better, and I think the more people can see women in key positions in these sports, the smaller that gap will become.” This puts into clearer focus the significance of The Hundred, Issy reflected: “What a time to be involved in women’s cricket! But also women’s sport more broadly.”
The third and final song that we discussed was yet another departure in genre. Titanium by David Guetta is related to a very comical memory from Issy’s school days. She prefaced this anecdote with the statement: “I play the guitar – not very well”, before continuing, “We used to do house evenings at school, where they would invite all the parents and it was a big deal. My best mate at school, Laura, loved this song and really wanted us to perform it. I spent three or four weeks learning it with a loop pedal [a technique that enables you to electronically repeat a riff], and Laura practised singing along. On the night, I messed up the start the first time and decided to start again, so on the second attempt I got all the way to the second-last note and messed up, but it is on a loop. And this grew glaringly obvious. I feel like a lot of the parents didn’t understand the concept of the loop pedal, but it just kept coming round and was so painful. By the third loop, you could tell the whole room was anticipating it. I was in stitches, trying to keep playing and carry on for Laura, but giggling uncontrollably, she couldn’t keep it together. It was hilarious!
That song now just takes me back to that special memory with school friends. Today, having them come down to the games at Edgbaston and potentially to The Hundred makes it so much more special.” This brought us nicely back to the forthcoming competition and I couldn’t help but ask how Issy felt, mere days before the opening game of the new major tournament. She couldn’t hold back the grin as she replied, “We’ve spent the last two years getting excited about it and we move into the hotel next week. I cannot wait!” Finally, I asked Issy to sum up what The Hundred means: “Fast paced, exciting, family friendly. Trying to get more people watching sport, getting excited about sport, and hopefully trying it themselves.” I, for one, will be in the stands on July 21st – a new fan, there to witness the boundaries being smashed on the field, and in gender equality.