IF AUSTRALIAN players survive long enough to pass a decade at international level they are generally well into their 30s. When Michael Clarke did it in January at 31 it was anomalous given how rarely players are given their debut when just out of their teens.
For Alex Blackwell that milestone came on Tuesday as she made a brisk 47 in the Southern Stars’ final practice match before the World Cup, against tournament host India. In terms of age she is even more unusual than Clarke as her 30th birthday is still seven months away – a legacy of debuting at just 19.
If the Stars play to expectations and reach the World Cup final Blackwell will join Karen Rolton, Belinda Clark, current coach Cathryn Fitzpatrick and current teammate Lisa Sthalekar as the only women to reach 100 50-over international matches for Australia.
”These [women] were idols of mine,” she explained incredulously. ”It’s been an absolute honour to represent Australia in one match, let alone for 10 years.
”I played my 100th for New South Wales this year [too] … so, it’s been a good season for me and the Breakers.”
For most of Blackwell’s first decade with the Stars she has been a top-order batter whose lack of flair was more than offset by her reliability. This is reflected in her one-day batting average of of 32.59 and strike-rate of 59.76. In the past four or five years, though, she has become more aggressive – admittedly as a means of self-preservation, particularly in Twenty20, the now-dominant women’s format.
”I was groomed as this opener [at a time] where you’d get a hundred off 140 balls and be doing your job – but that’s probably not doing your job these days,” she said.
”There was a clear moment for me, and that was in the first T20 world cup in 2009. I was a top-order batter for Australia [in ODIs], but I was coming in at eight for T20s, and I thought, ‘There’s a problem here. Next step is the bench, or I do something about being able to offer more in this shorter format’.”
Having spent the past few years practising new shots such as the reverse sweep in training, Blackwell is now prepared to play it in matches, while teammates Sthalekar and Alyssa Healy have gone even further by developing switch hits. She insisted both shots were ”all a part of the cricket textbook now”.
When Ricky Ponting, another early starter at international level, retired earlier this summer he was financially set for life, given his cricketing earnings and smart use of endorsements and investments. While Blackwell is one of the few Stars players to benefit from a part-time Cricket Australia contract – and she is grateful for that – her financial future is more conventional, as it will require her to work for many years after her retirement.
Many of Blackwell’s former teammates had departed the game by the age she is at now because of the competing demands with work or family. She has not been immune to such pressures but has – and continues to be – able to resist them.
”Everyone’s got a different journey in the game. I’ve been fortunate – but I’ve worked hard as well. I was picked when I was 19, I’ve been lucky with injuries – just one major injury where I missed one tour for Australia – and have been able to maintain my fitness and form well enough to still be a part of the green and gold,” she said. ”You also need to make some choices, and I’ve done that. In 2007 I decided to not pursue my medical degree and … go into genetic counselling, a fairly new career path.
”The most important thing is understandable employers. I’ve got a really understanding boss at Sydney Ultrasound for Women and they’ve been supportive of cricket, and it’s a job that seems to work OK part-time.
”Without the support from your bosses it’s hard regardless. Even if you work part-time you need to be able to get four to five weeks off [with unpaid leave] at times.
”I’m turning 30 this year but I’m really enjoying the game. As long as I feel I can contribute and I’m not just blocking paths for younger players I think I can keep going. Work and other things can happen later.”
While Blackwell is hopeful of a longer-term move towards more playing contracts, as her English counterparts now benefit from, she is not seeking sympathy about the greater hurdles faced by elite women players. She instead wants women’s cricket to receive greater public acknowledgment, which she insisted was helped by Clarke and his teammates conspicuously supporting the Stars in person during their World Twenty20 win in 2010 in the West Indies.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.