One of the ways for a player to get better, is to play against better teams.
Another, is to play in a better team.
As a 20-year-old, I joined Western Railway as a cricketer through the sports quota. One of the reasons I chose Western was that they were the best team. Most of the players I would be training with were or had been India players. It wasn’t a coincidence that a year later I earned my own India cap.
Eight female players from around the world are currently having a similar experience. They are part of the Women’s Big Bash League rookie programme, which allows deserving players from Associate and Affiliate countries to spend two weeks training with the eight WBBL clubs. The initiative is a collaborative effort between Cricket Australia and the International Cricket Council.
For the inaugural WBBL season, the rookies were selected after the ICC Women’s WT20 qualifier 2015, by a panel comprising Cricket Australia’s women’s youth coach Cathryn Fitzpatrick; former England player and ICC women’s cricket officer Holly Colvin, former Bangladesh Test cricketer Aminul Islam, and ICC head of global development Tim Anderson. This year, the ICC’s development and CA’s high performance staff were involved in coming up with the shortlist of players. WBBL clubs were then given the opportunity to nominate their preferred player.
It was thanks to this initiative that Rubina Chhetri, Nepal captain, could watch as Melbourne Renegades’ Grace Harris singlehandedly turned a game around against their cross-town rivals, and Scottish teen Kathryn Bryce could see the best batter in the world, Meg Lanning, in action.
“It’s been a really good experience,” said Bryce, the 19-year-old, who looks 16. The youngster from Scotland is relishing the chance to spend time in the Australian summer, as opposed to frigid Loughborough in England, where she in pursuing a degree in sports science. “The intensity here at the moment, and the level of cricket, is a lot stronger.”
History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme, said Mark Twain. Five years ago, the biggest challenge facing women’s cricket was the lack of an international schedule, the lack of games. Today, thanks to the ICC Women’s Championship – effectively a future tours programme – the top eight teams are guaranteed a fixed number of games. Some proactive boards even organise extra fixtures, even whole tours, outside of the Championship.
It is now the turn of the Associate nations to gripe. In 2016, Nepal played just 11 international games, and that was because there was an ICC and ACC tournament in the year. Scotland played just three international games the whole year, though they did play in the English county set-up.
Few international games, especially against quality opposition, means brushes with top cricketers are few and far between. So, for these women to get a chance to pick the brains of the best in the business for two whole weeks is like a chance to plug straight into cricket’s Wikipedia headquarters.
“It’s like a dream come true,” said Chhetri, who is the first Nepal cricketer, male or female, to take a hat-trick against another country. “I get to see some of my idols like Meg Lanning and Danielle Wyatt. I can see how they play, and that experience will help me throughout my future.”
Chhetri, a Renegades rookie, got her first taste of Australia – and professionalism in sport. She soaked in every aspect, from the pace of the pitches to how the players train. And she picked the brains of the coaches as well. “I’m asking my coach to teach me yorkers and bouncers. I’ll be working on that in the next training session.”
It is a big deal for Chhetri to have access to former Bushranger Lachlan Stevens (head coach) and Hall of Famer Karen Rolton (assistant coach). In her home town of Jhapa in Nepal, there are only two cricket academies, one of which she and her brother have opened. So what she learns in Australia will benefit not only herself, but the next generation of cricketers in Jhapa.
Strikers rookie Ravini Oa, who plays for Papua New Guinea, is no stranger to Australia. Her mother lives in Townsville in Queensland, though home for her is Hanuabada in Papua New Guinea, with a population of just 15,000. Among those 15,000, though, are the members of the PNG women’s team, half the members of the men’s team, and Oa’s husband and two-year-old son. But she would not be anywhere other than at her current stint in Adelaide, where she gets to rub shoulders with Charlotte Edwards, former England captain and women’s cricket legend.
Emma Lai (Hong Kong): Perth Scorchers
Gaby Lewis (Ireland): Hobart Hurricanes
Kathryn Bryce (Scotland): Melbourne Stars
Kim Garth (Ireland): Sydney Sixers
Konio Oala (PNG): Sydney Thunder
Li Yingying (China): Brisbane Heat
Ravini Oa (PNG): Adelaide Strikers
Rubina Chhetri (Nepal): Melbourne Renegades
Cricket is Oa’s bread and butter, her source of income. “We have a contract (with PNG), so through playing cricket I get paid every month,” said Oa, who also plays netball. She is nonchalant about the fact that she continued with her career in cricket after having her son, a practice that is still far from common in India, be it in sports or other fields. Indeed, eight PNG players who played in the Women’s WT20 Qualifier in 2015 had young families. To put that in perspective, only one Australian player, Sarah Elliot, has recently played for the country after having children.
Oa also played in the Australian Country Cricket Championship in Woolongong, as part of the East Asia Pacific team, which also had players from Japan and Samoa, as well as seven other players from PNG. Oa’s team defended their title this year. She is one of the few rookies who gets a chance to both train and play in Australian conditions.
“I will share my experience of how I trained with international players from England and New Zealand, when I go back to my team-mates,” she said.
Most of the rookies are among the best players in their respective national teams, and it often falls on them to pass on their knowledge to the less experienced players. Here, they have what could be a once in a lifetime chance to learn off some player with years of international experience. They are living the cliché, ‘surround yourself with people better than you’.
Besides the Associate rookies, each WBBL team also has an Under-18 rookie from the club’s own catchment area. The men’s teams also have community and development rookies, as do some WBBL teams.
“Last year’s rookies had a really positive impact on both their clubs and local communities and we are excited to have a new crop of players for WBBL02,” said Anthony Everard, head of Big Bash Australia.
This year too, the likes of Chhetri, China’s Li Yingying and Hong Kong’s Emma Lai will take dual benefits back to their own teams. When they share what they have seen and learned from their two weeks here, they will help lift the standard of cricket in their country. And when they sport the jerseys of their WBBL clubs back home, they will serve as role models, inspiring more female cricketers to vie for the next eight spots in WBBL 03.