The tributes that have poured in after Alex Blackwell announced her retirement from international cricket on Monday (February 19) have reaffirmed her status as one of the most likeable characters in the circuit.
In a career spanning 251 international matches for Australia across three formats in 14 years, she always looked out for a compatriot, even if from the opposition. She gifting her jersey to Harmanpreet Kaur after the latter’s unbeaten 171 helped India beat Australia in the 2017 World Cup semifinal was a wonderful act. Jhulan Goswami too had been impressed by Blackwell’s magnanimity after Australia defeated India in the 2010 World Twenty20 semifinal in the Carribean.
Low on morale after the five-wicket loss, Goswami was waiting for the press conference to start when Blackwell, Australia’s captain and also the player of the match for her 49-ball 61, comforted her with soothing words.
“She consoled me saying, ‘Jhulan, you tried your level best, but unfortunately it did not click. It was not your day.’ I had never expected an Australian cricketer to come and speak about the opposition’s game,” Goswami told Wisden India. “It was quite a touching gesture from her. She spoke of how one always felt the pressure while playing against India. Obviously, my mood was not good after the loss, but those words cheered me up.”
Blackwell’s highest scores in One-Day Internationals and T20Is are against India. She has two centuries and seven fifties in 25 ODI innings against them. Goswami rates the World T20 half-century as the best of all because of the circumstances it came in.
Appointed captain for the tournament less than two weeks before the start after Jodie Fields failed to recover from injury, Blackwell led from the front. Chasing 120 in the semifinal, she walked out in the first over after Goswami bowled Elyse Villani. Whatever hopes India had of a fight were quashed after Blackwell hit three fours off Priyanka Roy, the legspinner, in the fourth over.
“When we picked up a wicket in the first over, we thought we were in the game. But the way she counter-attacked, she took the momentum from us to her side,” Goswami remembered. “It was a tremendous mind-battle. I would rate it as her best innings against us. With a wicket down early and they needing more than six runs an over, it was not easy with the old rules. We thought if we bowled a couple of good overs, then definitely we would be able to restrict them, but the exact opposite happened. She countered our bowlers in such a way that they struggled to bowl to her because in every over, she got eight-nine runs easily.” Australia went on to lift the title, beating New Zealand by three runs in a thrilling final.
ALEX BLACKWELL FACTFILE
Key stats (across three formats)
Runs: 5250 (251 matches)
Runs at home: 2631 (107 matches)
Favourite opponent: England (1746 runs in 74 matches)
Runs against India: 1045 (41 matches)
Best year: 2008 (708 runs in 18 matches)
Mithali Raj felt Blackwell’s best innings against India was her 112-ball 114 in the first ODI in Canberra in the 2016 series. Just over a year after that, Blackwell threatened to run away with the 2017 World Cup semifinal when she made a 56-ball 90 from No. 6 as Australia fell just 36 short of the 282-run target in a 42 overs-a-side encounter.
Both Raj and Goswami agreed that Blackwell had tackled the Indian spinners well over the years. “She was a player who negotiated spin very well with sweeps and reverse-sweeps, and the scoop, which she developed later,” said Raj. “I would rate the Canberra century in 2016 as her best. She hammered all the bowlers. Even the way she pulled back the chase in the 2017 World Cup and got the match close was quite brave.”
Raj and Goswami first saw Blackwell when she toured India for the seven-match ODI series in 2004. Goswami has fond memories of the time spent with her then, but was also confused because she could not make out whether she was bowling to Alex or Kate, her twin sister.
“Both Alex and Kate were young. They looked similar, and sometimes I was confused whether I was bowling to Alex or Kate,” went on Goswami, who made her international debut just a year before Alex. “Both the teams used to travel by the same bus during that series. I used to sit with the two of them, and slowly we started talking and spending time off the field. I remember playing a lot of soccer with the two sisters. We used discuss things like who were our idols, how we took up cricket.
“Those were the pre-BCCI days, so she would ask with interest what were the difficulties we faced in India as women cricketers. Similarly, I used to ask her what challenges she faced back in Australia,” she added. “I got to know how a lot from her on how Australia used to prepare for a big series, what facilities they got. There are a lot of good memories with the two sisters from that tour.”
While Raj described Blackwell as “chatty and social”, Goswami said she was a “friendly” person who took great interest in finding out about local culture wherever she played cricket.
“She is the kind of a girl who wants to be a part of cultural exchanges. She is always interested in discovering new culture,” said Goswami. “Once during the 2013 World Cup, I remember her roaming around the streets of Mumbai, trying out different stuff. She has this curiosity to know new things, and always discusses different topics when we get talking.
“On the field, she was very quiet, but off the field she loves to express her views,” she added. “She always made it a point to walk up to the opposition after the match and appreciate them.”
Goswami said Blackwell’s attitude was her biggest contribution to the game, and offered a great lesson for young cricketers.
“She is a very competitive and committed girl, very professional with her cricket. I have never seen her idle,” reminisced Goswami, who dismissed Blackwell just thrice in 38 matches because she ‘did not get enough chances to bowl’ at her. “Most of the time she was training and when she was not training, she would be doing some other warm-up. She was very particular about what she was doing.
“If she wasn’t contributing with the bat, then she would make up with her fielding. She was a very good fielder with supreme athleticism. She also had very good hands, and with her speed, she could cover a lot of area on the ground,” Goswami added. “She was always willing to do extra for the team. You could make out when she was on the field, either batting or fielding. She would try different things to take wickets, convert half-chances into catches; I have seen her take some blinders, chase the ball hard. I really enjoyed her never-give-up attitude.”
Raj, among the oldest players in international cricket having made her debut in 1999, said she was “nostalgic” as another of the old guard left the scene.
Goswami added, “I wish her all the success and hope she has good health. That’s very important. I am confident whatever she will do; she will be her best in that.”