'Nothing left to give': Inside Kimmince's hard goodbye
Amid the anxiety and the depression, and as she battled her ailing body and mind, Delissa Kimmince knew only one thing for sure: she didn't want to be playing cricket
Just 12 months on from Australia's spectacular T20 World Cup final triumph, as many of that same group were busily preparing for a tour of New Zealand, Delissa Kimmince sat alone in her Ipswich home, anxiously pondering the prospect of a new and very different reality.
With 'international cricketer' the beginning and end of her official qualifications, and armed only with a steadfast refusal to avoid living pay cheque to pay cheque, she started looking for work.
"I guess for my self-esteem I didn't just want the same kind of shitty old job I've had forever, ones that allowed me to play cricket," Kimmince tells cricket.com.au.
"But it can be hard. I was applying for jobs, and you never hear back from anyone. You're just left in limbo, waiting to see what might happen.
"Then you hear nothing back, and by that stage a week's gone by and you're like, 'Oh shit, I better start looking again'.
"I found that quite disheartening. My self-esteem was already a bit low and that didn't do good things for it.
"I just wasn't in a good place, to be honest."
The end of Kimmince's cricketing days had come more swiftly than she had ever anticipated, though ultimately, retirement was a painful but undeniable conclusion to a period that had challenged her in ways both new and familiar. And it wasn't long after that World Cup final, that magical night in Melbourne when so many stars had aligned, that the warning signs first appeared.
As 2020 marched inexorably on, Kimmince contentedly retreated into the comfort and solitude of home. There was a letdown of sorts in the afterglow of the World Cup, for sure, and then again in the weeks after she was married to her Brisbane Heat teammate Laura Kimmince (née Harris) in August, but lockdown, she came to realise, had suited her a little too well.
Because not long after the cricket did return, Kimmince worked out that one of the few places she'd ever felt like she truly belonged had become one of the last places she wanted to be.
* * *
Back in 2006, when Delissa Kimmince was in her final year of high school, her dad, Peter, taught her what she still views as a valuable life lesson. In their hometown of Warwick, some 130 kilometres south-west of Brisbane, Peter worked at the abattoir. It was a tough job, for tough men, but every school holidays, he would drag along his teenage daughter and her two brothers, Matthew and James.
"Dad made us all do it, so we knew what it was like to have a pretty average job," Kimmince says. "That's what he used to tell us.
"When you're young, it's a taste of the real world – having to get up early and commit to something."
That same year, Kimmince debuted as a 17-year-old for Queensland, taking eight wickets in her first four matches to announce herself as the state's next big thing in women's cricket.
Yet instead of dashing off to Brisbane to hasten what most considered an inevitable ascent to the top of the sport, she stayed in Warwick for another year. There she joined Peter most days at the abattoir, the lessons of perspective and gratitude, and commitment and humility, seeping into her pores as much as the stench of dead cattle on a Monday morning.
"And it must've worked," she says, "because I haven't ever wanted to go back there."
The memory was there, too, some decade-and-a-half later when Kimmince was lost in the milieu of life after cricket. The vacillations of her career meant that, as well as toiling away at the meat works, she had poured beers and cleaned houses, and picked up a host of other bit-part positions along the way. At times they had been part of an escape from the game, or an attempt to prepare for life after cricket, but mostly, they had helped underwrite her cricketing dreams.
With retirement however, came a greater void to fill. With her dad's wisdom and her own life experiences serving as reminders, Kimmince resolved to set her bar higher.
"I've had jobs where I've just been scraping the barrel every week, and I didn't want to go back to that," she explains. "It's not a nice thing, always being worried about what you've got in your bank account."
But the suddenness of Kimmince's exit from cricket meant a transition into the workforce was always likely to come with its challenges. For the past three years, she had been a full-time professional athlete, contracted to Cricket Australia and part of a new wave of female sportspeople riding high on a revolution. With that had come exposure, increased earnings, and an ever-present coaching, support and administration staff.
"When you're in that cricket bubble, you're told where to be, what you have on – everything is laid out for you to see," she says. "And then you leave all that and it's like, 'Shit, I don't know what I'm doing or where I'm going, or what's on today'.
"So you leave cricket and it's like, 'What am I going to do?'
"(Prior to professionalisation) I'd always had odd jobs to get me by so I could concentrate on cricket, because that's what I'd been really good at.
"Then you take what I'm good at away and suddenly it's like, 'Well, I don't know what I'm good at now'."
For several years, Delissa's partner, Laura, had feared the arrival of the situation they quickly found themselves in, attempting to mitigate against it as best she could without ever quite succeeding.
"We tried to put a lot of things in process for when the moment came," Laura says, "but they all just sort of petered out at the wrong time; by the time she was ready to retire, we ended up with her not having much to fall back on.
"In a way I was dreading her retiring for a long time because I knew deep down there would be a struggle like what we've had.
"(As an Australian cricketer) you're told where to go, what time to be there, right down to what you should be eating every day.
"Having to go from essentially doing very little for yourself to having to do everything for yourself, it's a big jump."
* * *
On the first Saturday of last November, against the Adelaide Strikers at North Sydney Oval, Kimmince stood in the outfield and cried.
A fortnight into the Women's Big Bash bubble in western Sydney – where all eight squads were being housed for the duration of the month-long tournament – it had all become too much.
"Then at the end of innings I walked into the changerooms and cried again," she remembers.
"I didn't play the next three games. Then I did come back, but I just felt like I had nothing left to give."
In the lead-up to the WBBL, Kimmince had played what proved to be her final three games for Australia across the last five days of September. Through that T20I series against New Zealand, Laura had noticed nothing amiss as her partner set about collecting six wickets, saying instead she was "having a great time".
But those matches had been in Brisbane, which meant she had been able to use their Ipswich home as her base for the week, as per her normal routine. Instead, Delissa traces the beginning of the end back to the World Cup final, and the dramatically changed world that swiftly followed it.
"When everyone was locked down and we were all just at home doing our own thing, it probably made me realise how much I don't really enjoy leaving home anymore," she says. "I really just enjoy hanging out at home and being around here doing things.
"I found when we went back to training that I was just going through the motions – ticking boxes instead of trying to better myself.
"I remember doing a few bike sessions and I couldn't even get up to the watts that we were meant to be hitting, and I was looking over at the younger girls, and they were just effortless.
"They were like, 'Oh yeah, this is so good', and in my head I was like, 'This is shit'.
"I really struggled, and then the (WBBL) hub just killed me."
The claustrophobia, the time away from home, the inability to escape her teammates or opponents, the ceaseless competitiveness – none of it was a fit for Kimmince, who Laura describes as a "homebody" destined to have found such an environment overwhelming.
"I think I (was committed) for the first two weeks but then after that I was just vacant, shut-out," Delissa recalls. "I didn't go downstairs at mealtimes because I just didn't want to be around people.
"I just shut down. I wasn't enjoying it. We played the Sixers and I took a wicket and just walked back to my mark like it was a training drill – I didn't celebrate or anything, and for me, that's a big thing because I'm a very passionate player.
"And I know (Heat assistant coach) Scotty (Prestwidge) is always like, 'You know, the girls feed off your passion and energy', but I couldn't get myself up.
"I just didn't have anything."
Kimmince borrowed a table from the dining hall and set it up near the elevator on the Heat's level of the building, allowing her to interact regularly but briefly with her teammates without venturing too far from the security of her room. There she played music and pieced together puzzles, ticking off the hours and days until she could go home.
It was a state of mind unsuited to high performance. After finishing first and seventh respectively on the wicket-takers list in the previous two WBBL tournaments, Kimmince slipped to 30th as the Heat stumbled in their attempts to defend their title.
Laura, meanwhile, had little option but to navigate the tightrope between her partner's ailing mental health and a focus on her own game.
"It was super hard to watch," she remembers. "I had a heap of chats over the time with our coaches, and Rachel (Jones), our team psych, because I just didn't know how to help her, especially while still trying to perform yourself.
"In the end I almost tried to just block that side out, because what else could I be doing?
"I just kept thinking, There's no point both of us ending up in this mindset, and nothing I was doing was helping her feel any more like she was back in the contest, or wanting to keep on going."
Both women suspected the situation would improve once they were home, and away from the confines of the hub. Yet it wasn't the case.
"It just got worse and worse," Delissa says. "I was depressed. I had heaps of anxiety. And I just didn't want to go back (to cricket)."
A week before Christmas, Kimmince turned out for the Gold Coast in their Premier Cricket T20 semi-final against Valley at Allan Border Field. It was a match she simply did not want to play, while victory meant she would be required to turn up the following day for the final as well.
As she was bowling to Heat teammate Mikayla Hinkley, those thoughts were swirling around in her head. So too was a sentiment that had hitherto been foreign to her, and which told her all she needed to know about where her career was headed.
"This is how bad I was – I was bowling to Mikayla and she hit me for a six on the hill, and in my head I honestly went, If I just bowl a few more there, we'll lose this game and I won't have to come back tomorrow," she says.
"We actually won, so we played on the Sunday afternoon, and I literally cried the whole morning at home because I had to go to cricket."
It was Kimmince's final game of competitive cricket. On January 28, in a media release from Queensland Cricket announcing the Fire's return fixture in the back half of the Women's National Cricket League (WNCL), news of her "extended leave period" appeared in the penultimate line.
Two months later, Kimmince was a largely anonymous figure in the crowd at Melbourne's Junction Oval, watching on as Queensland claimed their maiden WNCL title.
"That was a huge test for me, going and actually being there, and us winning the title that I've been chasing ever since I started playing," she says. "When they won I was super pumped, but there wasn't a part of me that wished I was out there.
"That was another tick in the box to say, 'Yeah, you're probably on your way out'."
Then in mid-April, Queensland Cricket issued another media release. This one was titled 'Congratulations DK'. Directly below the headline, 15 years were boiled down into two words: Kimmince Retires.
It was a subdued way for a 60-time Australia rep, and three-time T20 World Cup winner, to bow out.
But by the time the news broke, Kimmince's new life had already begun.
* * *
The cool autumn air is blowing in Delissa Kimmince's face as she cycles the 15 minutes from home to St Andrew's Ipswich Private Hospital, her new workplace.
For eight weeks now she has been making this trip, to and then from the hospital where she is employed as a wardsman. Prepping patients for theatre is a long way removed from all she has known but she is fine with that; her new teammates happily answer all her questions as she learns on the fly, and the position itself is one which Kimmince feels proud to have taken on.
Both of those things – the camaraderie and the pride – are important to her, and each has played its part in the recent dissipation of those feelings of anxiety and depression.
"She seems to love the job," says Laura. "She reminds me of me when I started nursing – coming home every day with another little story of something funny that happened."
Kimmince knows it is crucial to keep her mind active as she takes these formative steps into her new normal. When she strays from looking ahead, there seems a lingering regret.
"Deep down I knew (retirement was) what I wanted in a way – it was more just coming out and saying it," she says. "But I didn't want it to end like that, and I was a bit emotional when it all came out and I was getting a lot of messages from people all over the world."
With time, Laura senses the possibility that such a whispered exit might grow to become more of an issue for her wife.
"I do think she'll be sad when she looks back about how she went out," she explains. "To me a career like hers is one to be celebrated and enjoyed – (she should) take the praise for doing so much for the game.
"But the way it panned out it was almost like she didn't let anyone (celebrate her achievements). Don't let the emotion now – of being sad or worrying about your job or whatever – take away from what you've done for the last 15 years."
There are questions still to be answered, too, over the coming months and possibly years. The first concerns the Kimminces' conflicting schedules, which means a scarcity of time together. With Delissa no longer at cricket, that significant portion of their day in each other's company is no more.
Then there is the 2021-22 summer, which in cricket land is already beginning to materialise on the horizon. While knee and elbow issues played their part in her decision to pull up stumps, the fact remains Kimmince only turned 32 last week. Both women say "it'll be interesting" when the season kicks back into full swing, and Delissa is looking in from the outside.
"I think there'll definitely be a part of her that in some way goes, 'Gosh, I wish I was still playing'," Laura says. "We've basically been in off-season since she's finished … so we haven't really dealt with that yet."
Delissa insists she has no interest in continuing in Premier Cricket next summer, though beyond that, she is less definitive.
"Eventually, maybe, down the track," she says of a possibility of reappearing at that level. "But at this point, for this first little bit I just want some freedom to step away completely.
"Then after that, I'll see where things take me."
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