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Thursday, 23 November, 2000, 12:07 GMT
School's out for Harper
Life is hectic for England's Laura Harper. BBC Sport Online talks to the 16-year-old about playing in the World Cup and keeping on top of her schoolwork.
It seems that not even being an international cricketer is enough to get you out of your school homework these days.
While the rest of the England players enjoy the few moments relaxation that come their way during the Women's World Cup in New Zealand, Laura Harper will be catching up with her A Level course work.
But then ploughing her own furrow has always been Harper's way.
As a bored eight-year-old, she was encouraged by her mother to go along to indoor cricket and instantly took to the game.
There were no girls' teams in the area, so she mucked in with the boys, becoming a regular for her school, her county (Cornwall boys) and her club, Perran-ar-Worthal (boys again)
It got to the point where she was selected for England under-15 boys' trials, but chose to play instead for Somerset in the women's County Championships.
"I didn't even know that there was a women's England team until I was 13 and by 14 I was in the squad," she said.
Now 16 she finds herself the youngest member of England's World Cup squad.
"I was always into my sport, being a bit of a tomboy, and when I turned up as an eight-year-old - and I don't want this to sound arrogant - I found I could do everything naturally.
"All the things I saw on television, the way they hit the ball and the way they bowled, I could repeat easily. It was brilliant."
It is not hard to see why she made her international debut last summer in the fifth one-dayer against South Africa.
How many 16-year-olds would come up with this sort of observation on how to approach off-spin bowling?
"You watch how people bat and see their strengths and weaknesses, then you set the field and bowl to make them play their weak shots."
She bowled her 10 overs tidily enough against South Africa, conceding 39 runs, and taking one wicket.
That maturity spills over into her schoolwork at Truro College.
"I'm doing psychology, English history and Classical Civilisations which helps because, apart from psychology, I can take text books with me and do a lot of the work myself.
"I definitely don't want to fall behind. I'm going to be e-mailing them some work and they'll be sending tests back to me while I'm out there.
"I like to get things done, but I'm not too worried about school. They say that you should be aiming for C's and D's in the first year of A Levels but I keep getting A's and B's which means that I'm making the big step up from GCSE's."
The next big step will be to take make the transition from club to country - even if the real breakthrough has to wait until the series against Australia next summer.
For now, the experience of a lifetime (if that can be said of a 16-year-old) awaits in Christchurch.
"I've not toured with England and it's a long, long way to go. But I just can't wait to get started. There is such a mixture of personalities. It's just such a laugh.
"We were together for around two weeks when we played South Africa but apart from that this will be by far the longest period of time together. I'm particularly friendly with Arran Thompson, but to be honest we are a really close bunch.
"There are so many different ages and types of people - from me to Barbara Daniels and Clare Taylor, 36 and 35, who are the old ladies, or so I keep reminding them.
"They then remind me of my age - calling me baby and things like that. We all get on well."
Daniels and Taylor might well reflect ruefully that they are not 16 again and making their way in the game now.
The heights reached by Australia and New Zealand over the past few years have brought on the likes of England, South Africa and India.
With lottery funding and a greater slice of the ECB cake, England players now get £576 a month to put towards expenses, coaching and equipment. Against South Africa there were also match fees of £200 - "very nice", according to Harper.
A measure of the pure enjoyment Harper - and most women - get out of cricket is that, less than a week before setting off for New Zealand, she had no idea of what she was being paid for the tour.
Compare that to the unsightly squabble by the England players in Sharjah who delayed signing their contracts before the World Cup, saying that they deserved more.
"There has been such a change during the two years that I've been involved," said Harper.
"It's a 'professional' set-up now. There's more competition for places."
She added: "I like to think that I was always going to be selected. I'd performed well at important times during the season - taken wickets or scored runs when a selector was present. And I'm the fittest in the bleep test. There is such a big emphasis on fitness now.
"But everyone gets on so well. I was 14 when I first came into the squad but everyone accepted me immediately. They made sure I was included in things and supported me through everything.
"Whenever I go back to team I can't wait to meet up with everyone again."
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