Kate Cross and Alex Hartley have played for the England Women’s cricket team, will both play for the Manchester Originals in the Hundred this summer, and co-host a podcast which will now be available on BBC Sounds alongside Test Match Special.
And in an exclusive interview with Sportsmail‘s Cricket Correspondent Paul Newman, Cross and Hartley opened up on the podcast, in which they openly discuss mental health issues.
They also talked getting along despite being ‘complete opposites’, that World Cup-winning day back in 2017, and the infamous social media back-and-forth with England men’s opening batsman Rory Burns.
England pair Alex Hartley (left) and Kate Cross (right) gave Sportsmail an exclusive interview
Sportsmail‘s Paul Newman: Many congrats on your No Balls podcast. It’s great fun and is clearly going from strength to strength.
Now it’s going to be available on the BBC Sounds platform alongside the iconic Test Match Special. Tell us about that and your friendship.
Kate Cross: We grew up playing age-group cricket together in Lancashire but then Al moved to Middlesex to pursue an England career.
Then when she got involved in the England set-up our strength and conditioning coach said to me: ‘Will you do me a favour? You both live in the Manchester area. Can you make sure Alex joins a gym?’ He felt you were unfit.
Alex Hartley: I was fat!
Cross: It was around the time I was struggling mentally because we’ve always said you dragged me out of that black hole. We went on to become a massive part of each other’s lives.
Hartley: You were struggling and I needed direction. So I was the light-hearted one trying to encourage you to have fun while you were saying, ‘I think you should stop going out and come to the gym’. We were good for each other.
Cross: We’re complete opposites and I think that’s why we get on so well. I hate to say it but Al is like a breath of fresh air.
We call her ‘no filter Hartley’ because she just says what she thinks. She was like an excited puppy when she got in the England set-up. Our friendship developed from there but the podcast came years later.
Cross (above), 29, is a medium-fast bowler for Lancashire, North West Thunder and England
Hartley: I lost my England contract in September 2019 and then I was in a bad place mentally. One day someone said, ‘You two should start a podcast’.
And Crossy said, ‘It will give you something to get up for in the morning!’ So we just recorded it on our phones. It’s just taken off.
Cross: It’s two mates talking. And when one of us has a bad day we’ll address that. We don’t plan anything. We call it the village podcast. We’re not professional. What you see is what you get.
Hartley: It can be a shambles. We were so excited when 45 people listened to the first episode but now it’s thousands.
Newman: Where did the name come from?
Hartley: The original name was ‘The full tossers’ but we couldn’t do that. Then my brother said, ‘What about ‘no balls’?’ And we thought that will do. It’s apt for two women!
Cross: We’ve got merchandise now too. The more we’ve put into it the more we’ve got out of it. We’re not afraid to take the mickey out of each other and we do try to help people.
And it helps now that Graeme Swann has been on it. He’s really bought into it. He thinks we should go on tour!
Hartley: I don’t think we’re going to sell out Wembley just yet!
Spinner Hartley (above), 27, was a member of the World Cup-winning England side in 2017
Newman: And it’s helped with your media work?
Cross: Definitely. It’s made me a lot more natural on air.
Hartley: And I get introduced now as ‘No Balls co-host’. It’s not World Cup winner any more…
Newman: But you were a big part of that famous World Cup-winning day in 2017, Alex?
Cross: She only talks about that day at Lord’s every week in the podcast!
Hartley: I know how hard that final was for Crossy because ever since we were kids her dream was to play in the game at Lord’s that I played in…
Cross: I couldn’t get my head around what sort of person I was that day. I’ve always prided myself on being a team player but all day I didn’t know if I wanted England to win. I wanted my friends to do it. It was huge for our cricket. But I was envious.
When they did win I was screaming with the best of them but then I had to take myself away and thought, ‘You’re not involved in this. It’s not your day’.
Then I tried to get Hartley to eat some food because I knew she’d get blind drunk and wouldn’t remember anything the next day!
Hartley opened up on the threats she received after a Twitter spat with England’s Rory Burns
Hartley: It was one of the best days of my life. But the aim for four years was to sing the team song at Lord’s and I was so drunk I don’t remember doing it…
Newman: Where’s your cricket at Kate? You’re back in the England squad…
Cross: Before the World Cup got postponed I was convinced I would be a big part of that team. But when it was called off because of Covid-19 the wind got taken out of my sails.
I did all right in New Zealand on our last tour but it’s given me a kick up the backside because you can never take anything for granted in sport.
Newman: You will both play for the Manchester Originals in the Hundred this summer. How big is the tournament for the development of women’s cricket?
Hartley: It’s massive. There will be equal opportunity and prize money which is all we want really. We don’t expect equal pay. Not at the minute. Maybe in a few years.
Cross: It is a bold statement from ECB. The money won’t be anything like the men earn but will be significant for us. Not many women have earned six grand for four weeks’ cricket. It will also give far more people the chance to see women’s cricket.
We just weren’t visible when I was a kid. Now you’ve got Jos Buttler and me on the same poster.
Look at Australia. Ellyse Perry is an absolute superstar. We’ve got probably a better cricketer in Nat Sciver in our team. We need to make people realise that.
Hartley also spoke openly about her mental health struggles on the pair’s No Balls podcast
Newman: You’ve always been very open, Kate, about mental health issues and your struggles with anxiety and depression. It’s been a challenging year or so for everyone. You have helped a lot of people.
Cross: The podcast has really helped. We talk about it every week. If I can help someone, why wouldn’t I? I’ve got better at talking about it when I’m going through it.
Hartley: You said to me the best things for you are often the hardest. I sometimes have to force her to come out for lunch just to get her out of the house. But Crossy has helped so many people. She’s relatable…
Cross: I put a picture up on social media a couple of weeks ago of me when I was going through a bad time. I didn’t even realise I’d taken it. I just found it in my phone. It shocked me seeing myself like that.
It’s that uncontrollable crying sitting in your hotel room because you feel so lonely. It does wipe you out. My social media is like a highlights reel of good things that happen to me. Sometimes it’s good to show people the bad things.
Both Cross (right) and Hartley will represent Manchester Originals in the Hundred this summer
Newman: You experienced the bad side of social media, Alex, when a light-hearted tweet you sent promoting coverage of England women on BT Sport, the day the men lost a Test in India in two days, was criticised by Rory Burns. You received all sorts of threats after that?
Hartley: It got us a lot of new listeners for the podcast! My tweet was taken out of context and the onslaught after it is the reason why we all boycotted social media over the Bank Holiday weekend.
I didn’t mean to hurt the men because my tweet was sent when the game could have gone either way and Rory didn’t mean to hurt me.
Newman: Finally, where do you think you will be in 10 years’ time?
Hartley: I hope I will be commentating on cricket somewhere in the world. Commentating together would be good. They haven’t let us do that yet!
Cross: I’m doing a masters degree in sports directorship so I’m interested in working behind the scenes to push women’s cricket.
Hartley: I told the director of Lancashire cricket last week that Crossy will have his job in five years time! He was like, ‘Oh, brilliant!’
Cross: The one thing I can guarantee in five or 10 years’ time is that you will be seeing big, sold-out crowds in England for women’s cricket. It’s shooting up and it won’t slow down…