England cricketer Maia Bouchier: “It’s been a long time coming”
April is Stress Awareness Month. And the stress that comes with being a professional athlete is well documented, with mental health in sport becoming a major talking point in recent years. 22-year-old Maia plays for the Melbourne Stars and England, having turned professional in 2019. She talks to us while on tour in Australia, touching on everything from the psychological challenges of playing sport on television to the recent rise of women’s professional cricket.
Maia grew up in northwest London, where her family shared a garden with Peachaus CEO, Gillian. One of Maia’s earliest memories of her neighbours is playing football with her brother and breaking one of Gilly’s windows. “We had to apologise to them,” Maia says, laughing. “They were really good about it. They weren’t angry or anything.”
When the time came, it was Maia who taught Gilly’s kids sport for the first time. Before that, Maia was an active kid herself, playing cricket, football and rugby with her two older brothers and friends from the area. She thanks her dad for getting her into sport, while her mum’s job was making sure she and her siblings kept up with their school work. To begin with, Maia played cricket with the boys’ team at the club her dad had set up, but when she was about ten, she persuaded him to start a team for the girls. From that point on, she played with both the girls and the boys.
At that young age, Maia knew she was a talented cricketer, but didn’t know if it was a realistic career choice for a girl. “I grew up watching men’s cricket,” she says. “I didn’t really watch much women’s cricket, so I didn’t really see that it was possible for me at the time.” As she grew older, the women’s game gained popularity. She remembers seeing players like Charlotte Edwards, Katherine Brunt and Lydia Greenway playing on TV. “Once I began to see [these women] playing cricket professionally, I started to enjoy playing and wanted to go further.” She adds, “The women’s game has come a long way. And it’s been a long time coming.”
Since around 2014, an increasing number of women cricketers have turned professional. Maia points out that, when she was at school, girls were taught rounders when the boys played cricket. Now, more and more schools have started teaching cricket to girls too, meaning that it’s no longer inconceivable for them to aspire to play professionally, like Maia. “I love inspiring girls to play cricket,” she says. “When they see us playing on TV and they say ‘I wanna be like you’, that’s the best feeling—seeing that these little girls, and boys as well, can get to be where we are.”
Maia was a high achiever in school, enjoying English, Latin, PE, drama and music. “I’m a massive fan of Ed Sheeran, The 1975 and Panic at the Disco. They’re amazing.” She goes on to list a few Australian artists that she’s discovered since living down under, mentioning Tame Impala while confessing that she has been known to sing herself on the rare occasion when she enjoys a drink. By the age of 15, she was playing for England Cricket’s development team, giving her the encouragement and coaching to one day turn professional.
After she left school and took a gap year, Maia was preparing to start a sports coaching and business management degree at Loughborough—a university synonymous with sports. But at the eleventh hour, she changed her mind, deciding to go to Oxford Brookes instead. “I actually wanted to experience uni as uni, not just as cricket,” she says. “Obviously I wanted to play cricket, but I didn’t want to have just that. I wanted to play other sports and experience other things.”
The course was a mix of analysis, coaching philosophy and lots of playing sport outdoors. She signed her first professional cricket contract just as she was entering her third year of study. But training sessions every morning meant she missed most of her lectures and had to spend three hours a day catching up. “That was a bit difficult,” she admits. “But I don’t regret it at all.”
She graduated from Brookes in May 2021. Less than six months later—last October—she made her debut for England against New Zealand. “That was a pretty special moment”, she smiles. “My parents came down to watch me get my cap. And I’m hoping for many more.”
Yet, in spite of having represented her country in the sport she loves, Maia confesses that it’s an ongoing effort to stay in tune with her mental health. “It’s a huge topic right now, and it’s been an issue in a lot of sports”, she says. “Actually, I have a lot of friends who have been through a lot with anxiety, depression, just their mental health in general. Specifically with athletes, that level of dedication can take over anything else that you’re doing in your life.” The upspin is that mental health awareness in professional and personal settings is much better now than it ever has been.
That said, Maia admits that learning to talk to people about how she’s feeling on a regular basis is still something she needs to work on. “Which is what’s so good about this platform,” she adds. “Gillian’s probably one of the loveliest people I know. She’s always asking me how I am and how cricket’s going. But, specifically, how I am in myself. It’s such a simple question, but it’s so good to ask. Like, instead of just ‘How are ya?’, asking: ‘How are you?’”
Sam Davies is a freelance writer, born and raised in London. His writing has been published by the BBC, the Guardian, the Financial Times, the i, Condé Nast, Vice, Dazed & Confused and many other outlets covering all areas of culture, including music, TV, fashion and photography.