Back to her roots . . . Former English international cricketer Gill McConway, pictured with her dog, Freddie, visited Oamaru this month. Inset (left): McConway and former English international Isa Guha proudly show their caps at an English cricket dinner in 2019; (right) McConway and North Otago cricketer Russell Payne. PHOTOS: KAYLA HODGE/SUPPLIED

Gill McConway is an Oamaru girl who found her way to Lord’s. The former English international cricketer speaks with Kayla Hodge about her illustrious career both on and off the pitch.

Gill McConway fell in love with cricket as a ‘‘tiny tot’’. Growing up in Whanganui, McConway used to watch her father, John, play cricket with neighbourhood children in their backyard.

‘‘I’d run out and I’d have a bat, and when they bowled me out, I used to tell them that they were all bloody cheats — I was still in my nappies,’’ McConway laughed.

At age 7, McConway’s family moved to Oamaru. Her father joined Union Cricket Club, helping to build the clubrooms at King George Park, and later became a life member.

Through her father, McConway learnt more about cricket than she realised, and when Union hosted a game against players’ partners, she jumped at the chance to take her mother’s place.

Despite tripping over cricket pads that barely fitted her, McConway scored more than 100 runs against North Otago greats Russell Payne, Ted Tempero and Jock Sangster.

‘‘I was just so into it, and I never, ever, ever forgot it,’’ she said.

‘‘They were a lovely bunch of blokes. I think they were probably surprised this little girl was so fascinated and wanted to play.’’

At 15, she moved to Wellington and played secondary school and senior representative cricket for Wellington before moving to Dunedin for work at 21.

A colleague introduced her to Bill Boock, who took the left›arm spin bowler and right-handed batswoman under his wing. He helped train McConway and his son, Steven — a future Black Cap — together, teaching them the importance of ‘‘line and length’’.

McConway credited Bill for the ‘‘final shaping of my cricket’’ to become an English international.

‘‘I always think of Bill, and how proud he must have been we both made teams, albeit mine England,’’ she said.

Seeking a new adventure, and wanting to play overseas, McConway moved to England in 1972 and was immediately picked for Surrey, playing the ‘‘equivalent of three seasons of cricket in one’’.

‘‘I just loved it. I played for men’s teams over there as well — anywhere I could get a game I was there.’’

Eight years later, McConway received the call up to the English women’s team. After qualifying through her grandparents, and having lived in England for seven years, McConway played 15 tests —her favourite format — and 35 ODI matches for her adopted country.

In her debut season, she helped her team beat Australia at the Adelaide Oval. As she bowled the penultimate over, Australian captain Raelee Thompson knocked her for four on the second last ball.

‘‘I was nearly crying going back to bowl the next ball going, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to lose this test match for England’.’’

The final ball, a fraction wider and quicker, did the trick and McConway grabbed the wicket — finishing with seven.

She made history in 1987 as part of the second English women’s team to play at Lord’s Cricket Ground, and was later made a life member of Lord’s.

Later that year she retired from international duties, and played her final county match, for East Anglia, the following year. She went out on a high, bowling 11 overs and taking one wicket for one run.

‘‘I thought, ‘Well, the time is right’.’’

She remained in England for work, but was never far from the cricket pitch. After serving as an England team selector in the ’90s, McConway joined the England and Wales Cricket Board as the executive director from 2000 to 2007, and was part of the first International Cricket Council (ICC) women’s development committee in 2005, following the International Women’s Cricket Council merger.

It provided more opportunities for the women’s game, and after the merger, it ‘‘snowballed way beyond my belief’’, she said.

‘‘It was very exciting after all the hard graft I had to do when I was director of women’s cricket, to see it just automatically happening.

‘‘It was part and parcel of the structure of cricket worldwide and the ICC development programme for men and women, I think, is outstanding, and you see [teams like] Bangladesh playing in the World Cup here and they’ve got some exciting players.’’

Seeing the development in women’s cricket had been satisfying and watching the ICC Women’s World Cup, won by Australia, in the past few months showed the progression.

‘‘I’ve absolutely loved it. I think the standard has been outstanding, and the Australian team — although I have got to say I’m not one to praise an Australian side — but that team is so utterly professionally in their approach to the game.’’

McConway moved back to New Zealand, to Otaki, in 2007 and took up golf, but is always at Wellington cricket matches. Three years ago, she was invited to an English cricket dinner, where she was presented with a cap as the 91st test cricketer and 35th one-day player.

She returns to Oamaru at least once a year, and always makes a special stop where it all began — Union Cricket Club.