David and Kate Cross are the father and daughter duo who achieved victory in both the FA Cup and the Ashes.
On the 35th anniversary of her father’s FA Cup victory with West Ham, Kate Cross, who had just graduated from university at the age of 23, made her own mark in history with a remarkable bowling performance. Playing for Heywood CC in the Central Lancashire League on May 10, 2015, just weeks after becoming the first female to play in the league’s 123-year existence, Kate took eight wickets for only 47 runs against local rivals Unsworth. She bowled continuously for 15.5 overs and proved wrong those who believed that women had no place in the top club competition in the region.
Kate, an England international and Ashes winner, recalls feeling extremely anxious while on the cricket pitch. As the only female playing first-team cricket in her league, she was well-known and felt pressure to perform at her best. She knew that if she didn’t do well, people would question her selection based on her gender.
Before she took her position to deliver the ball at Clifton’s cricket field, her brother Bobby stood next to her at mid-off. He was also a talented cricketer and went on to play for Lancashire’s second XI. “He was the one who taught me how to play cricket, spending countless hours with me in our backyard,” Kate recalls of her older brother, who is eight and a half years her senior.
“He is the main reason for my current success. During my debut, he showed his support by standing at mid-off instead of his usual position in the slips, in case I needed to talk and release some nervous energy. Unfortunately, he ended up dropping an easy catch, depicted in a photo of him with his head in his hands.”
Bobby sadly remarks that the achievement was mentioned to everyone. It could have been her first successful dismissal in senior men’s cricket. Fortunately, she went on to take three wickets for a low score and bowled exceptionally well. Several games later, she achieved an eight-wicket haul against Unsworth. Locally, there were individuals expressing disapproval, stating that women’s cricket was acceptable but they should not be competing with men because they are not strong enough. However, her outstanding performance silenced those critics. A barrier was broken, leading to a positive outcome for Heywood and the cricket community as it opened doors for more girls to join. Now, playing against women in first-team cricket is completely normal and does not even receive any remarks.
Breaking down barriers has been a recurring theme in Kate’s career. At the age of 15, having two years earlier become the youngest cricketer to represent Lancashire Women, she was the first female to be accepted on to the Lancashire academy, a move that wasn’t universally welcomed.
“I have a distinct memory of people criticizing John Stanworth, Lancashire’s academy director, for choosing me,” she recalls. “At the time, there was a belief that women’s cricket was not a professional sport and therefore, it was pointless for coaches to invest in players like me. However, Stanny always believed that I had what it takes to be part of the team and having someone stand up for me during a time when support for women’s cricket was lacking, was incredibly empowering. I didn’t realize it then, but looking back, my entire career has been shaped by proving people wrong. Those comments must have fueled me to succeed.”
Kate was born four years after her father’s retirement from professional football. It wasn’t until she was around 10 years old that she truly understood and appreciated his accomplishments during his 18-year career. He played for teams such as Norwich, Coventry, and West Ham, all of whom paid record-breaking transfer fees to sign him. He was affectionately referred to as “Psycho” by West Ham fans for his passionate and unfiltered style of play, which resulted in over 200 goals. David was able to share his wisdom with Kate about navigating the ups and downs of being a professional athlete.
David shared that when his daughter was chosen to participate in the Ashes, he reminded her that being a professional athlete comes with its own set of challenges. He advised her to not let successes or failures affect her too much, as they are both part of the journey. He emphasized that professional sports require a lot of hard work and dedication, and it is not something that everyone can easily achieve.
Kate states that due to his experience and understanding, he is able to effectively communicate at the right time. In May 2014, following her first Ashes tour, Kate was among the initial 18 women to receive a professional contract from the ECB. Despite the small financial compensation of approximately £10,000 per year at that time, this marked a significant moment for women’s cricket in England, providing opportunities that were previously unavailable for past female players. However, Kate acknowledges that this also brought added pressure and expectations to a sport that she had previously played solely for pleasure.
“I had a difficult time with it. Suddenly, my hobby became my job. I felt pressure to be exceptional because I was being paid. I was already a perfectionist, but it began to affect even my interactions in social settings. I avoided spending time with friends because I didn’t want to take a break from cricket or be perceived as doing something wrong, like drinking or socializing. If I did, I would feel a lot of guilt. Trying to maintain perfection and constantly striving to excel is not sustainable. It can lead to burnout.”
During the summer of 2016, these pressures reached their peak. Kate had a breakdown prior to an England training camp in Loughborough and went back to her family’s home. She was unable to get out of bed for multiple days as she fought against what she would later recognize as anxiety and depression. “All I did was sleep and cry,” she recalls.
David, a parent, reflects on the challenges of parenthood. He believes that when you have children, your strength is determined by your weakest link, which is your children. When his daughter Kate experienced a breakdown, he and his wife did their best to support her. They were afraid that it might end her cricket career as she was suffering and in a bad state. However, with the help of advice and listening, Kate was able to overcome this difficult time and even grew in some aspects. David believes that this experience taught her that being in the public eye can make one vulnerable.
When Kate sought the help of a psychologist in understanding the root of her mental health difficulties, she discovered that a significant source of her anxiety was the expectation she felt to live up to her family’s reputation. Her perfectionism, which stemmed from this pressure to prove herself, influenced how she viewed herself as a person and as a cricket player. It wasn’t until she was 24 or 25 and discussing it with a psychologist that she realized the impact of this pressure on her.
I included my parents in the conversation. I explained to them that when they came to watch me, I felt pressure to perform well because I didn’t want to disappoint them. There was a touching moment where my father said, “We don’t care about your performance, we just want you to be happy. We are incredibly proud that you are representing England, regardless of your wicket count.” My father is from a generation where expressing emotions is not common, so hearing him say that was quite moving.
Unfortunately, Kate was unable to play in the 2017 World Cup due to time away from the game. She remembers watching England triumph over India at Lord’s, but it was a mixed feeling as she wished she could have been a part of it. However, the break proved to be beneficial for her and reignited her passion for cricket. Upon her return, she found joy in playing again and saw an improvement in her performance.
She’s been a fixture in the England setup since and a star of The Hundred, helping Northern Superchargers reach this summer’s final. But for all her achievements, David says it’s seeing his daughter take genuine pleasure from the game, just as she did when she first played in the back garden with Bobby, that makes him proudest.
“The main thing I tried to stress to her, and what I’m proud of her for, is that she goes out there now and I know she’s enjoying it. In my own career, it wasn’t until I was about 23 or 24 that my own attitude changed and I started thinking, ‘Get me on the field, I want to be on there’, rather than being anxious about playing at Old Trafford or Anfield. It made me a better player because I went out there more relaxed, and I tried to pass that message on to Kate.” She’s found other ways to take enjoyment from the game too, co-hosting the BBC podcast No Balls with her friend and former England teammate Alex Hartley, as well as commentating on TV and radio.
At the age of 31, with many more years left in her playing career, Kate is considering all possibilities for her future once she retires from the sport. She believes her knowledge and experience in the game could be valuable in an administrative role, specifically in addressing the challenges that female cricketers still face. This summer, she graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a master’s degree in sports directorship, timing it between the Ashes and The Hundred.
“I pursued a master’s degree with the understanding that working in broadcasting would not be my long-term career. While I thoroughly enjoy commentating and find it to be a great source of joy, I am concerned that it would lead to a similar lifestyle as my current one. The uncertainty of what the future holds can be daunting, as some opportunities may present themselves while others may not. However, I was motivated to pursue a directorship because of a previous mistake that led me to become the first woman to do many things in cricket. I do not want anyone else to have to go through the same challenges I faced, which is why I am interested in being more involved behind the scenes and making decisions that can drive positive change. My experiences have given me valuable insights that I believe can contribute to shaping the future of the game. I would definitely like to play a role in bringing about this change.”
At present, however, she is content and contented, at ease with herself as a professional cricket player. “I have had some setbacks in the past few years, but nothing as serious as in 2016 when I was considering giving up on cricket. I am now able to handle it much better and I am aware of my symptoms.”
David is satisfied with no longer being the most famous athlete in his family. He mentions that when they first started, his daughter was often referred to as “David Cross’ daughter,” but now he is known as “Kate Cross’ dad.”
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