McDermott's 'inspirational' sacrifice to chase his dream
Australia and Tasmania batsman explains his family's difficult decision for him to miss the birth of his daughter
Louis Cameron is a Melbourne-based journalist. A former Victorian Bushrangers fast bowler, Louis joined the cricket.com.au team with assistance from the Australian Cricketers' Association's Internship Program in 2016.
Ben McDermott had hardly made it out of passport control at Heathrow airport when his plans for a life-changing few months were dashed.
Having left Australia in May to play T20 cricket for Derbyshire, McDermott had touched down with his mind focused on not only pushing for an international recall but also the impending birth of his first child, due in August.
Not long after he arrived in the UK, an injury to close friend Billy Stanlake, Derbyshire's other Australian import, meant McDermott was ushered into their side for a four-day match in Worcester, despite having not planned to play any red-ball cricket when he was there.
A phone call from national selector George Bailey during that match then necessitated another dramatic re-think of his immediate future.
McDermott had been told he was surplus to requirements for Australia's tours of West Indies and Bangladesh, but the withdrawals of Glenn Maxwell, Steve Smith, Marcus Stoinis and David Warner meant there was now a spot for him in the squad.
Ben McDermott sacrificed a lot to play for Australia, including missing the birth of his first child, but he always had the backing of his wife, family and teammates. pic.twitter.com/jt8pVWzdYK— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) September 20, 2021
But in the COVID era, simply being able join his national teammates was anything but; it would require him to fly all the way back to Australia, complete two weeks in hotel quarantine, join the team's bio-secure bubble and then hop on another flight to the Caribbean.
It was at this point that McDermott and his wife Mandy had to consider an almost impossible scenario.
With her due date scheduled during the team's quarantine period upon their return from Bangladesh, would he turn down a potentially career-defining opportunity to be present for the birth of their daughter?
"We thought long and hard about it," McDermott tells cricket.com.au having finally been able to hold his daughter Sadie for the first time, three-and-a-half weeks after she was born, upon his return to Hobart last month.
"We both made the decision that these opportunities don't come around very often for me.
"Obviously the opportunity to be there for the birth of your daughter isn't going to come around every day.
"It was a very tough conversation. We both decided to give it a red-hot crack to create a good lifestyle for her and a good upbringing for her."
Had his situation not already been challenging enough, McDermott's six-week journey abroad threw up another volley of proverbial curve balls.
He was first thrust back into the T20 side against a strong West Indian team into a lower-order role he had previously struggled in during a courageous but ultimately unsuccessful experiment with the Hobart Hurricanes.
His struggles were soon compounded by a quad strain that sidelined him for the final three matches of that T20 series, and then a dramatic ankle injury he suffered in the second match of the ensuing ODI campaign in Barbados.
Those blows were softened somewhat by a touching cap presentation from Matthew Wade ahead of McDermott's international 50-over debut at the famed Kensington Oval, with his Hurricanes skipper recognising the incredible sacrifice the 26-year-old had made to simply be on the field that morning to achieve a lifelong dream.
"To get on this tour, come back from England, do your isolation, go away from Mandy and your young daughter who's going to be born in the next few weeks to try and play international cricket for your country is something I admire and something all of your teammates admire," were Wade's words as he handed over ODI cap No.232.
"For you to do that is certainly inspirational."
Wade, whose Test comeback at the 2019 Ashes was characterised by a similar family sacrifice and who, like the Brisbane-born McDermott, had previously moved interstate to further his international ambitions, has been an important mentor to the 26-year-old.
"He's someone I lean on a lot of the time actually, so to receive my ODI cap from him – that meant a lot," says McDermott, who this week re-signed with the Hurricanes for a further three seasons.
"He had some really nice words and it felt like it was coming from a place of experience from him as well. (Wade's youngest daughter) Goldie was induced and then he went and played it in the Ashes. He's made similar sacrifices.
"And when he says some nice words, I know he means it because he gives me a lot of stick sometimes."
One final unforeseen complication arose just weeks later when Mandy went into labour a fortnight earlier than expected while McDermott was still in Bangladesh.
The complicated but ultimately successful birth came after the Australian squad's first training session following a three-day isolation period in Dhaka, a bio-security requirement having arrived from Barbados.
McDermott, with more on his mind than most, had hardly slept a wink in the 72-hour fog of jetlag, which was not aided by a lack of sunlight, physical activity or social interaction.
So his first hit-out in the punishing humidity of the Bangladeshi capital experiencing its sweltering monsoon season meant he was out like a light the moment his head touched the pillow that night, only hours before Mandy unexpectedly went into labour.
"Everyone was trying get a hold of me and I was dead to the world," he recalls.
"I woke up to (teammates) Nathan Ellis and Riley Meredith banging down my door, saying 'You've got to ring Mandy'."
It was in that Dhaka hotel room, over a Zoom call, that McDermott laid eyes on his daughter for the first time, with Sadie safe and sound, nestled into her mother's chest.
Notwithstanding a solid innings of 35, one of Australia's better individual performances against Bangladesh during a miserable T20 series played on diabolical surfaces, McDermott's tour was not the breakthrough campaign he craved.
That he had to be separated from his daughter for a further 14 days when he arrived back in Australia marked a final mental hurdle.
His fourth stint of self-isolation in three months was compounded by the news that he had been left out of Australia's World Cup squad due to the return of the likes of Maxwell, Smith and Warner.
"It was a tough period," he says.
"There are so many different emotions running through your head, (wondering) whether you're doing the right thing. I (was) trying to make the most of what I (was) doing over there and giving it my all and putting it all aside to do the best that I can for Australia.
"It was probably one of the best days of my life, getting home from that tour. Finishing up quarantine and walking through the door to meet my daughter and see my wife again ... words couldn't really describe how I felt."
With another cricket season upon him, McDermott is getting accustomed to the lack of sleep every new parent is warned about.
As he and his wife well know, it is a small sacrifice to make.