'If I had my time again': 1084km commute gives Rhiann her shot

Long-distance relationships rarely work, but Rhiann O'Donnell found one that did after clocking up the kilometres last summer to rediscover her love for cricket and earn a long-awaited Renegades debut

Throughout 2020, Rhiann O'Donnell regularly found herself thinking about the things she would do differently if given her time in elite cricket again.

As it turned out, the 23-year-old became one of the few who did get another chance; an opportunity she earned after a summer spent driving between Mildura and Melbourne as she sought to recapture her love of the game.

O'Donnell made her debut for the Melbourne Renegades in Perth late last month, an opportunity that had been a long time coming; she was originally contracted to the club in WBBL|03 without playing a game, before one season spent at the Hobart Hurricanes.

She did not bat or bowl in that first game against the Strikers, but when thrown the ball by captain Sophie Molineux against the Brisbane Heat a week later, she captured the huge wicket of Grace Harris with her first ball.

O'Donnell has bowled her full complement of overs in the Renegades' past two matches, grasping her chance with the current league ladder leaders with teammate Courtney Webb currently unable to bowl.

It is a scenario the pace bowler could scarcely have imagined in early 2020, when she was told she would not be offered a new Victoria state contract for the 2020-21 season.

With no state program to train in through the 2020 winter, she moved home to Mildura, in the north-west corner of Victoria.

"Between COVID and everything, I found myself based back up in Mildura, which wasn't too bad – although if you ask Mum it's probably a different story," O'Donnell told with a smile.

O'Donnell was keen to keep playing cricket, however, and was not about to let the 542km distance between Mildura and Melbourne get in the way.

She moved clubs, leaving a young group at Plenty Valley for a more experienced set-up at Melbourne – a change she hoped would give her a fresh start after losing her contract, and allow her to play with more freedom – and then racked up the kilometres through the 2020-21 Premier season.

"I started to put myself first and tried to enjoy my cricket again," O'Donnell continued.

Image Id: 60D7F70286C24AD6BAB8A46FDB965BAC Image Caption: Rhiann O'Donnell celebrates a wicket with Sophie Molineux and Josie Dooley // Getty

"I loved my time at Plenty Valley, but it was time for a change up.

"I was travelling down on Friday or Saturday, six hours in the car, I'd play all day and then drive six hours back to go to work on Monday or Tuesday morning.

"It was a 12-hour round trip so the odometer got a work out, that's for sure. Luckily I found a couple of good podcasts."

Somehow, between all those hours behind the wheel, not being able to attend her club's training sessions during the week and tackling a new job working in irrigation, O'Donnell found herself in the form of her life.

She took out the Una Paisley Medal as Premier Cricket's leading player of 2020-21, after scoring 488 runs and claiming 25 wickets for Melbourne Cricket Club, and fell back in love with the game in the process.

In May, that form was rewarded when she was offered a new Victoria contract for the 2021-22 season, followed by a call from the Renegades, where she signed on to play under new captain (and former housemate) Sophie Molineux, and new coach Simon Helmot.

"I moved back to Melbourne in June … (preseason with Victoria) was really refreshing," she said.

"A new state coach (in Jarrad Loughman) and a few new faces around the group, I really enjoyed it and it was a collectively a productive preseason for us.

"It's not very often you get a second chance, so I was happy to get that and take it on."

Renegades send hometown rivals Stars packing

O'Donnell broke into the Renegades XI when Webb missed their Lilac Hill clash against the Strikers through soreness, finally earning her debut cap after spending WBBL|03 watching from the sidelines as a 19-year-old.

She has now added three games in red to the six matches she played for the Hurricanes in WBBL|04, and backed up the 2-25 she took against the Heat with economical figures of 1-19 against the Melbourne Stars.

"If I looked back on the last 12 months and the number of times I said, 'If I had my time again' … I'm pretty happy I do actually get my time again," O'Donnell said.