Thunder teen steps up into natural habitat

When she's not batting for the Sydney Thunder in the WBBL, Anika Learoyd is studying animal science with a focus on mammals

Elite cricket and animal conservation are not a typical combination, but for Sydney Thunder teenager Anika Learoyd, it is a natural fit.

The 19-year-old batter who hails from the NSW north coast juggles her duties with the Thunder and NSW Breakers with a Bachelor of Animal Science, majoring in wildlife management, which she is studying remotely at the University of New England.

Her love for animals was fostered during a childhood spent on her family's 22-acre property at Corindi Beach just north of Coffs Harbour, and while she moved to Sydney aged 18 after securing a contract with the Breakers, her love of the natural world remained.

"Growing up, whenever I had a spare minute, I was always out in the paddock, spending as much time outside as I could," Learoyd told cricket.com.au from Launceston ahead of the Thunder's showdown with Sydney Sixers on Saturday.

"So I picked up a real interest in birds growing up, and that blossomed into a love of all animals, but especially mammals at the moment.

"I think it was kind of a natural progression to get into the wildlife science field.

"I'm really hoping to get into the field of wildlife conservation management (eventually), particularly working with threatened species, and I'd really love it if that turned out to be mammals particularly.

"It's going to become more and more relevant and crucial to our future, looking after those animals."

Image Id: F025DAB16E554035BB48BA40B4286E50 Image Caption: 'Growing up ... I was always out in the paddock, spending as much time outside as I could' // Getty

Learoyd estimates the four-year degree will take closer to eight given she is studying part-time around her cricket commitments, but she is content with the balance it provides as she tries to cement her place in the Thunder and NSW line-ups.

After being released from hotel quarantine in Hobart earlier this month she jumped at the chance to visit the Bonorong Wildlife Park for a photoshoot.

"I got the opportunity to see a quoll, I've always been very interested in them, but never had actually seen one in real life, so it was almost like a bucket list tick," she said.

But for the next six weeks, her focus will be cricket, where she has been handed an unexpected responsibility in the Thunder's middle-order.

Image Id: E15CDDD18A71409CAB0829847DD728A7 Image Caption: Learoyd sweeps during the National Indigenous Championships last year // Getty

Learoyd was named in the Thunder XI twice last season but both matches were washed out shortly after the coin toss, robbing her of a chance to make an impression in the lime green during their title-winning season.

But with Rachael Haynes remaining in Sydney following the birth of son Hugo, Rachel Trenaman departing for the Hurricanes, and English captain Heather Knight unable to return this season, she is set to play a much larger role in WBBL|07.

The teenager was named at No.5 for the Thunder's season opener against the Strikers last Saturday and was her team's second-highest scorer behind the experienced Corinne Hall, posting 23 in a 30-run defeat.

Image Id: 7FEBF282F04345E3A61EB14F00710FBF Image Caption: Learoyd feeds the 'roos at Bonorong Wildlife Park // Getty

"The WBBL is definitely the highest standard of competition that I've played so far, so it's quite challenging, but it's definitely a challenge that I'm really looking forward to," said Learoyd, who has been working to add new shots including the reverse sweep to her armoury during the winter.

"The experience the other night was one that I really enjoyed and I took some learnings away from that.

"I'm trying to really bring out that 360-degree play, so to at least have the courage to try and pull one of those (reverse sweeps) off the other night was something that I was quite happy about."

Haynes had hoped to join the Thunder later in their title defence, but ongoing border closures to those coming from New South Wales and the need for a fortnight's quarantine means she is unlikely to feature.

Learoyd said the captain was nonetheless keeping in close touch her teammates.

"She sent me a message after the game the other night, it's quite nice to still be in contact with her because she has been such an integral part of our setup for a number of years now," she said.