Darwin debutant evolves to game-changer: Perry set for 300

A star who has driven herself, Australia and world cricket forward, Ellyse Perry is gearing up for her 300th international match

'The Ultimate Professional': Teammates laud Perry

Shelley Nitschke remembers well the day a 16-year-old Ellyse Perry first joined the Australian team on a mid-winter tour to Darwin in 2007.

Plucked out of high school and handed an international debut before she had even played for New South Wales, it was a relatively off-Broadway arrival in the green and gold – Perry estimates only a few dozen people were watching – for a player who would go on to become one of the all-time greats.

Perry will play her 300th international game on Sunday night when Australia meet India in the second T20I in Mumbai, with former teammate turned head coach Nitschke by her side.

"Well, she was young," Nitschke laughed when looking back on Perry’s arrival in Mumbai this week. "She was so, so young.

"I just remember this fresh-faced kid in high school ... for some reason I always remember the first song she put on the team playlist, and it was Mr. Jones by Counting Crows. 

"And I thought, ‘That's actually pretty cool for a kid’. 

"She was obviously touted to be a very good player – but what people probably didn't realise was how much impact she'd have on the game in Australia, and across the world as well. 

"I don't think anyone probably would have foreseen that."

Perry recently reunited with Australian Hall of Fame member Marg Jennings, a former captain who was a national selector when the then 16-year-old quick was first picked.

She recalled getting a call out of the blue – at Pymble Ladies College at recess via a friend’s mobile phone – to be told she had been asked to fly to Darwin to join the Australians for an ODI series against New Zealand.

"I would have been in year 11 … my best friend, she had one of those Motorola flip phones – it was bright pink anyway," Perry told cricket.com.au last October.

"Dad was like, 'Oh, I've just got this call from Marg Jennings, the Australian selector, they want to pick you to go to Darwin to play against New Zealand in the Rose Bowl’.

"I just thought Dad was (joking) but I remember getting home that night and, and chatting to him and it was legitimate."

Perry, who at 16 years and 261 days remains the youngest person to play cricket for Australia, was interviewed by Nine’s Wide World of Sports in the months following that debut.

And while the women’s game has changed dramatically in the almost two decades since, and Perry herself has evolved from young speedster into legendary allrounder, her views on the game, and her place in it, remain markedly similar.

"It was a pretty surreal feeling, but one that I definitely enjoyed very much and I was very fortunate to be able to do it," Perry said in 2007 of her debut. 

"I don't try to look at it so much as breaking a record, but just having the chance to play for my country at whatever age it was, just having fun and at the same time enjoying myself."

Bowled her! A collection of Perry sending the bails flying

Speaking to reporters in Mumbai on Saturday, Perry was asked if she was proud to have reached the 300-game milestone that only three other women have reached, none of them Australians.

But Perry was just as determined to focus on the bigger picture – the transformation of the game that she has been at the forefront of throughout her career.

"A lot of it for me has just been about making the most of any opportunity that's come along and really enjoying the experience. 

"The chance to continue to learn and grow both as an athlete or a cricketer, but also just more generally speaking … the things that I've learned in this period of time are probably things that I wouldn't have otherwise learnt in a whole lifetime. 

"The way that the game has changed in this period, no one would have would have dreamt it or quite visualised it just to see where it's at, particularly culminating in the T20 World Cup final in 2020 at the MCG when we had 86,000 people come along to the game. 

"At my first game in Darwin there were probably 30 people ... it continues to blow my socks off when stuff like that happens."

Since Perry’s debut, Australia have played 353 games across the three formats, and she has featured in 299 of them.

Perry’s milestone is a testament to her longevity and tireless work ethic, but also reflects the evolution the women’s game has been through during her time at the top level.

Cathryn Fitzpatrick (16 years), Belinda Clark (14) and Karen Rolton (14) had international careers almost as long as Perry’s at present, but they only played 124, 134 and 170 matches respectively.

The growth of T20 cricket – Australia had played just three prior to Perry’s 2008 debut – alongside the introduction of the ICC Women’s ODI Championship in 2014, have been key drivers in building out the women’s international schedule.

That in turn has seen the addition of more regular multi-format series played between more nations, which has increased the regularity of women’s Test matches in the past three years.

'Don't know what you were thinking!': Perry recalls call-up

"(T20) has been the strongest vehicle for the women's game over that period of time," Perry said.

"Just the ability in its initial stages to hold a lot of matches as curtain raisers to men's games and to use that as a way to show more people the game and have it broadcast and have more people at the grounds. 

"And then from there, what's been amazing is the way that things have evolved (and) in many respects now, the game stands on its own two feet, whether that's world competitions or franchise competitions … all attracting really great and strong fan bases that are just there for the women's game. 

"I know there was consciously a huge push with T20 cricket about a decade ago from administrators to use that as a way to grow the women's game. 

"And I think the dividends of that are actually now paying off with the chance to play more Test cricket. 

"I've played more Test cricket in the last couple years than I have in large parts of my career." 

Perry’s 299-game career has been a literal highlights reel. 

There was her first World Cup win in the West Indies in 2010, where she stuck out her foot in her follow through to save a certain boundary and seal victory over New Zealand.

In case you don't know me: Ellyse Perry

There was bowling on a fractured ankle in the 2013 World Cup final to deliver three wickets and victory over the West Indies in Mumbai.

A final-day six-wicket haul in the 2015 Ashes Test in Canterbury that secured Australia’s first Test win on foreign soil since 2001 and paved the way to regaining the Ashes trophy.

The double century – infamously celebrated twice – in the day-night Ashes Test at North Sydney Oval in 2017.

The 7-22 to dismantle England in an Ashes ODI in 2019. 

The list goes on.

But none of those individual performances or team victories stand out to Perry as a favourite.

Rather, she said she had spent some time in the lead-up to Sunday’s game reflecting on the very beginning: playing backyard cricket in Sydney against her dad Mark and brother Damien.

"A lot of those games kind of blend into one big memory ... and not in a disrespectful way, but I think a lot of the things that you often remember the most are the stories and things that go along with being on tour, some of the amazing people you come across and some of the things that you go through as a group, good and bad experiences," Perry said.

The day Ellyse Perry made history

"The other thing that really stands out for me is just how impactful my family have been in terms of the support and encouragement that they've always given me. 

"The thing I remember most is just always going down to the nets with my dad and having a hit.

"The fact that we still get to do that every now and then is a huge highlight for me."

And Perry may be the greatest allrounder of all time, but she insisted her Dad still had her measure.

"I reckon every time he bowls me," she continued. 

"Unless he picks up on the need for a few half-volleys outside off stump, in general terms Dad will always have my measure."

Australia's CommBank Tour of India

Test match: India won by eight wickets

First ODI: Australia won by six wickets

Second ODI: Australia won by three runs

Third ODI: Australia won by 190 runs

January 5: First T20I, DY Patil Stadium, Navi Mumbai

January 7: Second T20I, DY Patil Stadium, Navi Mumbai

January 9: Third T20I, DY Patil Stadium, Navi Mumbai

Australia squad: Alyssa Healy (c), Tahlia McGrath (vc), Darcie Brown, Heather Graham, Ashleigh Gardner, Kim Garth, Grace Harris, Jess Jonassen, Alana King, Phoebe Litchfield, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland, Georgia Wareham

India T20 squad: Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Smriti Mandhana (vc), Jemimah Rodrigues, Shafali Verma, Deepti Sharma, Yastika Bhatia, Richa Ghosh, Amanjot Kaur, Shreyanka Patil, Mannat Kashyap, Saika Ishaque, Renuka Singh, Titas Sadhu, Pooja Vastrakar, Kanika Ahuja, Minnu Mani