Patterson kicks in to help her island home's recovery
The devastating events of 2020 have brought South Australia batter Bridget Patterson closer to home in more ways than one
From those solitary days when a young Bridget Patterson chased a ball round her family's sheep-turned-lavender farm on Kangaroo Island, she imagined herself performing in the big league on Adelaide Oval.
But not as a cricketer.
Patterson's primary school ambition was to play Australian rules football, not in the few under-resourced women's leagues that existed in the early 2000s but for the Adelaide Crows in the elite AFL men's competition.
"I loved kicking the footy around at school and then when I was at home by myself I'd pretend I was kicking goals through the two trees out the front of our house," she told cricket.com.au during a break in Statewide Super SA Scorpions pre-season training this week.
"I clearly remember telling my grandma 'when I grow up I want to go into the draft and I want to play alongside Andrew McLeod for the Crows'."
Last January, that dream was largely realised under circumstances she could never have foreseen, and which have seared deep scars into the unique island community that nurtured her atypical girlhood.
Patterson was the Crows' first selection in the player draft for their charity cricket match against Port Adelaide to help Kangaroo Island – sometimes referred to as Australia's Galapagos due to the native fauna and flora that thrived in its pristine habitats – recover from last summer's hell fires.
The unbeaten 30 runs she bludgeoned from 12 balls could not carry her beloved Crows to victory, but it crowned an event that drew almost 35,000 fans to Adelaide Oval and raised more than $1 million for one of South Australia's pre-eminent tourism drawcards.
Blazes started by lightning in late December raged for a month and destroyed almost half the island's 440,000 hectares, claiming two lives and laying waste to homes, businesses, farms and native bushland that was sanctuary to numerous rare and endangered species.
At the height of the terror, Patterson's mum (Maria) heeded warnings to leave the family property that borders the Bay of Shoals on KI's north cape and seek refuge further east in the main township, Kingscote.
Her daughter, in Adelaide for Women's National Cricket League duties with the Scorpions, maintained late-night vigils tuning into bushfire updates and via text message exchanges with a former school friend whose father is a Country Fire Service volunteer.
"I was listening to ABC Radio at one o'clock in the morning thinking 'holy shit, this is crazy and there's nothing I can do being over here in Adelaide'," Patterson recalled.
"The way my friend's dad described it was basically 'it's hell on earth'.
"My family was lucky enough to avoid the worst but we know a lot of people that lost a lot of their livelihood, people who worked so hard their whole lives and all of a sudden it's all been taken away from them.
"So when the chance came to raise money for something very close to me, plus play for the Adelaide Crows who have been my AFL team for my whole life, there was no chance I was going to say no."
It's that preparedness to grasp opportunities when they unexpectedly arise that has carried Patterson from the bucolic beauty of her mum and stepdad's lavender farm to the cusp of the Australia women's team as one of the nation's most exciting and consistent batting talents.
She occasionally reflects that football might have been her sporting pursuit had the now-prosperous AFL Women's league been operational a decade earlier, while also recognising her cricket path has not unwound without decisive junctions.
The first arrived when she realised football opportunities on the island were minimal and cricket might afford her a chance to play at competitive level, even though she "had absolutely no idea that women could play cricket at an elite level and represent Australia".
But her curiosity and natural acumen for the summer game saw her selected for Kingscote's junior boys cricket team before her local club, Wisanger, fielded an under-13 side that she joined a year later.
As her renown grew in the schoolyard and Saturday morning matches, Patterson was invited to trial for the Island's combined primary schools (SAPSASA) team at which point she encountered her first gender-based roadblock.
"I was allowed to try out for SAPSASA and represent Kangaroo Island at the carnival in Adelaide, but when it came to the competition side of things I wasn't allowed to go away with the team," she recalled, still barely able to hide her incredulity.
"You would have thought it wouldn't have been an issue – I'm a girl, what are you scared of being beaten by a girl?
"I mean, what's the problem?"
Fortuitously for Australian cricket, Patterson also came to the attention of SA Cricket Association coaches who ran regular clinics on KI and she was invited to try out for the state's under-13 girls' team.
As she became a fixture in SA's under-age outfits over the ensuing years, competing against the likes of future Australia representatives Nicola Carey and Beth Mooney at national carnivals, she also played in KI's men's competition and batted number three for Wisanger A-grade as a teenager.
Having made her Premier Cricket debut for Kensington aged 15 in 2009, Patterson was then asked to train with the Scorpions and the following year was offered a rookie contract at a time when the WNCL's best players were earning barely $2000 per season.
That presented another fork in Patterson's cricket journey.
"Initially I wasn't going to take up that contract because I wasn't getting paid and I was a 17-year-old country kid who had never lived out of home or lived in the city – I hadn't even driven in Adelaide at that stage," she said.
"Moving out of home at such a young age was quite daunting for me.
"But then I put some more thought into it, and the SACA allowed me to play my first season for the Scorpions while I was still living on Kangaroo Island.
"So every couple of weeks I would fly over to Adelaide to train - we were only training once or twice a week and playing six games a season back then - and I was lucky because my sister already lived in Adelaide which made it a lot easier.
"After doing that for one year, I figured 'this is bloody hard work and the game is moving forward, the demands are getting more and more so I've got to do something – I can't just live over here on the island for the rest of my life'.
"I enjoyed playing cricket and I wanted to make something of it, so I bit the bullet, moved out of home at 18."
Not that her introduction to Australia's then-premier women's competition was any less eventful than her journey to get there.
Her maiden outing for the Scorpions in 2012, alongside fellow debutant Alex Price, was against Queensland at Allan Border Field in a match decided by a super-over.
Weeks later, she watched in silent awe as a Victorian team led by Elyse Villani (173) and rookie Jess Duffin (128) posted 3-418 from 50 overs against SA, which left Patterson querying whether she had made the correct career and life choice.
"First we were trying to win in a super over and thinking 'how the hell can this happen in your first game?', then next thing the Vics made 400 against us and we're getting blasted by our captain (Lauren Ebsary)," she said.
"I don't know if you could have started any better, and then any worse but I guess it was either going to make me want to play more or just go 'nup, this isn't for me'."
She opted for the former, and won the Scorpions' Most Improved trophy at season's end.
The following summer, Patterson was part of Australia's under-21 Commonwealth Bank Shooting Stars squad that toured Sri Lanka and also played in Kensington's A-grade premiership win.
She was integral to the Scorpions' breakthrough 2015-16 WNCL triumph, with her second-wicket partnership of 181 in the final alongside English import Sarah Taylor largely responsible for ending the star-studded New South Wales Breakers' 10-year title-winning streak.
On the Australia women's development squad's tour to Sri Lanka in 2016 (featuring a tri-series with England's Women's Academy) Patterson emerged as her team's her team's leading scorer across the 50 and 20-over formats.
And in 2018-19 she reached a treasured personal milestone with her first WNCL century (109 from 139 balls against WA) followed by 113 from 134 balls against ACT later in the summer, making her the only batter apart from Australia skipper Meg Lanning to post two tons in that WNCL season.
Patterson has been the Scorpions' leading runs scorer for the past two summers, and has consistently performed for Adelaide Strikers in the Rebel Women's Big Bash League batting behind prolific imports Sophie Devine and Suzie Bates, and her former SA junior teammate Tahlia McGrath.
She was part of the Governor-General's XI that defeated eventual T20 World Cup finalists India in the lead-in to that showpiece tournament earlier this year, and credits a deeper understanding of her own game – as well as sage advice from experienced teammates - for her rich recent form.
"We've got our own Aussie players that we can learn off, but the WBBL gives you a chance to play in the same team as some of the best players in the world and no other competition does that," Patterson said.
"You can watch the way they go about learning in the moment during a match, and even the struggles they might go through personally within the game.
"It's just little things like observing how they go about their training, and if I'm curious about a certain thing then maybe I'll ask a question.
"It's cool that me and (New Zealand's) Soph Devine have spent a bit of time at the crease together in the past few years, and also having (former England captain) Charlotte Edwards as an assistant coach at the Strikers."
Patterson played a straight bat when asked about Devine's reported move to Perth Scorchers next summer - "it's all just rumour at the moment" - and was similarly non-committal about her own future given she became a free agent at the completion of WBBL|05.
"I honestly do not know what's going on with the Strikers and WBBL stuff," she said.
"Obviously Covid's had a big impact on contracting."
The pandemic has also dramatically re-shaped Patterson's program for the upcoming season.
But being suddenly confined to quarantine has meant she not only returned to full training last month in better shape than might have been the case in pre-coronavirus days, she's also been able to deeply reconnect with her spiritual home.
When SACA's Premier Cricket competitions were cut short by virus restrictions in mid-March, Patterson planned a winter-escape road trip with her family through central Australia and the Northern Territory.
That itinerary was shelved when SA and neighbouring states entered lockdown, by which time she was back on KI as her Scorpions teammates scrambled to source whatever gym equipment was available to support their home fitness programs.
Not a bad place to be in lockdown if it happens #cannondalebikes #kitfit A post shared by Bridget Patterson (@bridgetpatterson.12) on
Faced with the choice of returning to suburban isolation in Adelaide or re-acquainting herself with the gymnasium she'd set up in her parents shed when starting out on her cricket journey, she opted for island life.
"I basically decided 'well the holiday's been cancelled, the best place for me to be is over on Kangaroo Island'," Patterson said.
"I can do all my off-season training, my parents are over there and I've got a gym set up in my parents' shed which I used when I was younger.
"It had everything I needed, whereas at home in Adelaide I didn't have access to all those things.
"So I came back to full training on June 1 in even better shape than I probably would have expected.
"But who knows what the summer will look like, and whether we'll be based in hubs or whatever.
"I just hope that we can play some cricket, and play some good cricket.
"And that we can compete for some trophies.
"I'm pretty competitive."