Cricket Australia Items/Blogs/alex-blackwell/2011/11/21/imparja-cup-heroins-ans-rhodes-scholars

Alex Blackwell

Imparja cup stars and Rhodes scholars

21 November 2011

Having been dismissed for a moderate 30 odd yesterday at Raby Oval in a clash between Universities and Campbelltown-Camden, I sat back and reflected on what club cricket means to me and what it would mean to my club teammates.

As a member of the Commonwealth Bank Southern Stars and NSW Lend Lease Breakers it is easy to over look the importance of club cricket and significance it holds for many aspiring young cricketers or for the more mature cricketers who just love playing the game.

Having been dismissed for a moderate 30 odd yesterday at Raby Oval in a clash between Universities and Campbelltown-Camden, I sat back and reflected on what club cricket means to me and what it would mean to my club teammates.

Being a university team we have a very eclectic bunch of girls who make up our first grade side. We are rarely short of a quirky conversation while cheering on our batters or passing the time during a dull patch in the field. Many are studying currently, in a wide variety of fields or have already begun forging a career. All of them have interesting stories to tell. I wanted to get a greater insight into my club teammates experience of cricket.

Helen Laughton is a 25 year old from Alice Spings. She only started playing cricket at 22 when she decided to join friends who played in the local Alice Springs women's super 8s competition. Helen now resides in Sydney and has become an important part of our club, on the field and from a social perspective. She's a mean slinger of the cricket ball and can bowl a ripper yorker. Yes, she is raw but I just love seeing her determination to get better.

When asked what her goals are in club cricket she says "I want to help us win!” This competitive streak in her is obvious and no doubt shines through when she dons the light blues and takes the field for NSW in the Imparja Cup. Helen has played in the last four Imparja Cup tournaments in Alice, firstly as a member of the Alice Springs team and she has represented NSW for the last two years.

"We receive great support form Cricket NSW to play in the Imparja Cup. I love getting back to Alice to play cricket and I also get to catch up with my family," Helen says.

Many of the best Indigenous cricketers play in this tournament and Helen is excited to see the tournament growing.

"It's become a lot more serious, we now play proper T20 matches which is the format played at international level, rather than super 8s. We now also have three states involved (NT, SA and NSW) and it's getting better and better".

Perhaps the Imparja Cup is a hub for untapped potential, many players including Helen show obvious ability but have had next to no formal coaching. Helen agrees there are some players who have the potential to reach higher levels.

"Ashley Gardner is only 14 and one of the youngsters to watch out for,” she goes on to add.

For mine, I'm just excited to see someone like Helen, at age 22, who decided to give cricket a try and has turned out to not only be good at it but she loves the game as well.

One of the greatest concerns for cricket, in my opinion, is rapid rate that we lose players from the game before their prime. There are many girls who take "time out" from the game due to work or due to a decrease in their level of enjoyment. Not many actually return.

Sarah Stevenson is a rare example of a player who did come back. Sarah is a former NSW under-19 teammate of mine who after an absence of five years returned to the game to join UWCC to purely play club cricket again.

This rare occurrence sparked my curiosity as I wondered what it was exactly that reignited her interest in cricket.

"I stopped playing cricket in the first place to focus on my studies in science and there were other things like relationships that became more important,” Sarah says.

Sarah currently works full time as a research project officer at CSIRO Land and Water and is very passionate about her field.

"My main interests are in climate change strategies and remediation of contaminated ecosystems".

So why did she come back after so many years out of the game?

"I missed being able to perform the skills involved in cricket and I craved the unique challenges that cricket provides. There are just so many variables,” she says.

Sarah is an elegant top-order batter who as a youngster was regarded as one of the sweetest timers of the ball. I remember her cover drives piercing the field at underage tournaments, her placement was a notch above her peers.

Sarah has returned now predominantly as an off-spin bowler and bats middle-order. She has been a great asset already in her comeback with UWCC and she constantly reminds me that we are on the field to enjoy the contest.

"I saw the Southern Stars on TV beating NZ in the T20 World cup final. I just happened to be at a pub and the broadcast came on. A whole bunch of randoms gathered around to watch the the match and cheer you girls on,” Sarah recalls.

She was genuinely taken aback by the experience she had that night.

"There was so much excitement about that game and I was amazed at the skill level. It made me want to play with my old teammates again".

What a great example of the power the Commonwealth Bank Southern Stars brand can have on people. This story makes me even more determined to keep our skill level rising and to win more World Cups in order to inspire more women and girls to play cricket.

Finally, I wanted to make mention of one last UWCC teammate. I coached Ellie Bath as a youngster at a school holiday coaching camp in Wagga Wagga, many moons ago.

Now I hear she has been selected as a Rhodes Scholar! This is one of, if not the highest accolades in the academic world. She will relocate to commence her studies in Zoology at Oxford University before next season.

Although we will be sad to see her go, UWCC are so very proud of her. Ellie is a typical club cricketer; a genuine all-rounder who with not a great deal training volume manages to perform well above expectation week in week out. Hopefully Ellie will continue her cricket in England and play for Oxford University in between her fly dissections and thesis writing!

When we commit a large chunk of our weekend to playing club cricket it is so important that we remember why we are all there.

Yes, it's important to practice the skills we will need in our WNCL, WT20 and international matches, but ultimately we are out there to enjoy the contest, laugh (or cry) with our mates and revel in the unique challenges that the games chucks at us.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia
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