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Bowling Jem happy to switch up the Heat

Heat spinning allrounder Jemma Barsby is happy to try something a little bit different on the field

Jemma Barsby is the quintessential kid who grew up with a cricket bat in her hand – only in her case, she spent more time working on her medium pacers, with older brother Corey commanding the willow.

The eldest of the three Barsby siblings had first call by virtue of age, and preferred to send himself in to bat.

With dad Trevor a former Sheffield Shield player for Queensland and a family full of cricket fans, a childhood of backyard cricket seemed unavoidable, and Barsby wouldn't have had it any other way.

Barsby switches it up with the ball

"I was lucky enough to be brought up in a sporting family where pretty much my whole family played cricket, so really I had no choice," the 22-year-old Brisbane Heat allrounder recalls with a laugh.

"(I was) probably more of a bowler back then, because being the middle child, my brother, who was the eldest, got the first turn. He always chose to bat and I could never get him out, unfortunately, so I always ended up bowling."

Corey was a future state player in the making, and Trevor – who would go on to coach the Bulls for two and a half years – was a font of knowledge for his children, but Barsby said there was never any pressure to pursue cricket growing up. Likewise with hockey, the sport both her parents had played growing up and which her mum Sue still plays.

"My parents never forced me to play cricket. They said, 'You can play any sport that you wanted to, that you enjoy playing'," she said.

"I just fell in love with cricket and I think deep down he (Trevor) is pretty happy that I did."

The family support has been firm throughout her life and cricket career and when a trip to the doctor for a sore shoulder two years ago brought about an unexpected diagnosis, it was needed more than ever.

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Barsby had been quick to rise up the cricketing ranks, despite a deliberately delayed start to her junior representative career. While she was taking the field for Queensland Premier Cricket club Sandgate-Redcliffe’s juniors, she abided by the family rule of not playing representative matches until she was at least 13.

The rule existed to ensure the youngest Barsbys still enjoyed their cricket weren't exposed to the higher-pressure environment sooner than they needed to be. So she continued to ply her trade with the Sandgate-Redcliffe ‘boys’ team, one of just two females in the side.

She combined this with her other sporting love, hockey, which she still continues to play in the cricket off-season.

Barsby's first cricket national championships appearance was for Queensland's under-15 side. She continued through under the old system to represent her state at under-17 level and then at the new under-18 level, and was invited to talent camps along the way.

Barsby (centre) celebrates a wicket against Adelaide Strikers on Sunday // Getty
Barsby (centre) celebrates a wicket against Adelaide Strikers on Sunday // Getty

"I was still pinching myself that I was able to play for Queensland at such a young age," Barsby said of her under-15 debut.

Her form was strong throughout the junior pathways competitions, with a standout at the 2011-12 championships held at Ballarat in Victoria.

She starred with the bat, smashing an impressive 268 runs at 38.29 across the competition, including a high score of 153 against Tasmania, playing predominantly at first drop. Barsby's form with the ball was just as impressive, snaring 12 wickets across the one-week competition. Six of those came in the final against ACT, guiding Queensland to a 33-run championship win.

Remarkably, the then-16-year-old's exploits came after she had already represented her state side in the Women's National Cricket League.

While she was still studying at Mount Alvernia College at Kedron, north of Brisbane, Barsby caught the eye of Queensland Fire coaches, earning her first selection for the WNCL side as a 15-year-old.

Far from being a strain, the blend of school and elite cricket was the perfect mix for Barsby.

"At that time at Queensland Fire, it was like a changing of the guard, where we had a lot of the older players retiring," she said.

"I sort of got thrown in the deep end with getting my debut with the Fire. I definitely wasn’t expecting it.

"It was sort of good, the way I did it, where I didn’t really have time to think about it. I got told a couple of days beforehand that I was going to be playing and I don’t think it really sunk in until the morning of.

"I'd always have to go to school before the game because back then, you'd play the Friday afternoon and then Saturday and Sunday, so I'd have to go to school the Friday morning and get let out at lunchtime. So it was sort of a blessing in disguise that I had that so I couldn’t really think about it until I got to the game.

"Looking back at it now, it was definitely a great experience and I definitely learnt a lot from that first season of playing because I wasn’t expecting it. But I reckon it made me the player I am today."

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When the Rebel Women’s Big Bash League came around for the 2015-16 summer, Barsby was thrilled. It was an exciting format and another step forward in the professionalism of women's cricket.

She was part of an enthralling shifting of the landscape as the women's game came into the spotlight and the ability of the nation's less-recognised cricketers was given greater credence.

Barsby was well enmeshed in the Queensland elite system by that point and the offer of a contract with newly formed WBBL club Brisbane Heat was soon extended her way.

"It was pretty smooth, I think based on my performances with the Fire, they were pretty keen to sign me and I was pretty keen to stay in Brisbane as we have the best facilities up here and are lucky enough, with Queensland Cricket and the NPC facilities we get them year round," she said.

"It's still pretty surreal that the women's game has changed drastically since I first started. It's really nice to see that our hard work has started to pay off. Hopefully it keeps going onwards and upwards and it filters through that all state-level players get to go professional."

Barsby's own career was progressing nicely; she’d played for Australia Under-21s and Australia A, had represented Cricket Australia XI sides and was even invited to an Australia three-day camp to train with the national side.

It was there she noticed something was wrong.

Match highlights: Rising Heat burn Strikers

Having had a quiet period on the bowling front leading into the camp, the big workload during the camp took its toll.

"After bowling bulk overs after the three days, I had a sore shoulder and went to our doctor," Barsby said. "She referred me to go get MRIs and it was off that pretty much."

'It' was a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. The scans came back showing white spots – the telltale lesions of MS. To ensure it wasn’t just "glitches" in the MRI, Barsby had to return for follow-up scans. The confirmation of the progressive disease – which is the most common chronic disease affecting the central nervous system among young Australians – was a devastating blow for the young cricketer on the rise.

"It was definitely the biggest shock of my life," Barsby said.

"I remember the day clearly, walking into our team doctor's office and the first thing she said to me was, 'We're still going to be friends, right?'. And I'm like, 'Yeah sure, no worries. It's just a shoulder injury, I don't see what the point it'. She told me from there and it was a massive shock.

"It was pretty hard to take when she told me, and she told me to keep having your goals and aspirations in life – that was when I knew it was pretty serious. At the time, I didn’t fully understand what MS was.

"I pretty much called the family straight after that and we all came over to the house and sat down and got it all out, had a bit of a cry sesh and just knew that we were all on the same day."

That was on the Thursday she received the news. It wasn’t until the following Monday that Barsby visited the neurologist to learn the extent of her particular case. But with that visit came a slight reprieve.

"It was a bit up in the air until the Monday, 'til I got told that I’ve only got it pretty mild," she said. "After getting told that, it wasn't too bad. It was just obviously early days, the first couple of months, not knowing how my body will go, if anything will happen."

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Jemma Barsby fires off a shot for Brisbane Heat // Getty
Jemma Barsby fires off a shot for Brisbane Heat // Getty

Two years on, Barsby says she is travelling well. She has had the support of Queensland Cricket and Brisbane Heat, and has found ways to manage her cricket and hockey commitments.

"I can't thank them enough for all the support they’ve given me," she said.

"Early days I was pretty worried it would affect cricket, but now it's pretty easy.

"The main thing for me now is to try to stay as cool as possible, so I've got ice vest and neck coolers on the really hot days, to try to cool down my body temperature.

"It's just a day-by-day process. I have some good days and some bad days, but that’s all a part of it."

Heat coach Pete McGiffin lauds the "fierce competition" Barsby exudes, but says her bubbly enthusiasm is also a big addition to the playing group.

Barsby has impressed in her time at the Heat // Getty
Barsby has impressed in her time at the Heat // Getty

"(She has) this innate love of the contest and it shows," he said. "She's managing her MS and busy training and playing schedule.

"She's got some terrific shots, she can ramp, she can switch-hit, her bowling is coming along.

"Jemma is just one of those people you love to have in your team: she's a galvanizer, she's always smiling and bubbly and chirpy."

When cricket and hockey aren't occupying her time, Barsby follows her other passion, working as a barista. Since she was a young child, she has wanted to run or part-own a café.

Her ambitions are no secret to her teammates, who are eager to see the venture come to life.

"I'm getting stick from the girls at the moment, them trying to get me to open one soon," she laughed. "But it’s about trying to find the right moment and having everything set up."

Behind the counter at a café or out in the field of play, Barsby has a few tricks up her sleeve.

Now an off-spinner – she had to convert from medium-pacers when the cricketers around her started growing but she stopped – she has a trick up her sleeve sure to bamboozle a few batters.

She showcased it in Sunday’s win over Adelaide Strikers, when midway through the tenth over she switched from right-arm to left-arm tweaks.

"I'm ambidextrous," Barsby said. "I've bowled left-arm in a few games – I did it in one Big Bash game last year and it didn't go so well, but it's something that I'm still working on.

"I first found out I could do it going back to backyard cricket and not being able to get my brother out. I thought one day I'd try something different and give it a whirl and fortunately dad was out in the field when it happened, and I landed the first one.

“I think we were all pretty surprised when it did and he told me I should try to continue to do it and I’ve worked on it ever since."

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