A new frontier for Perry
The ultimate athlete, Ellyse Perry has been presented with a new challenge in the inaugural WBBL season
Isabelle Westbury is a writer for cricket.com.au. She has worked as a freelance cricket and politics writer for The Telegraph, The Independent, The Age and The Guardian. She is also the captain of Middlesex CCC.
Ask any sports fan in Australia to name a female cricketer and chances are the first name they’ll jump to is Ellyse Perry.
Perry is not just a formidable cricketer, but a formidable athlete, her dual roles as an international footballer and cricketer widely documented.
However, for the first time in her illustrious career to date – she’s still only 25 – Perry has found herself in a position she’s not accustomed to.
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The Sydney Sixers, captained by Perry, suffered a disastrous start to their inaugural Rebel Women’s Big Bash League campaign, losing six of their first seven matches to languish at the bottom of the points table.
After their first four matches, only their overseas spinner, Laura Marsh, had taken more than one wicket.
Perry isn't used to losing. Since her WNCL debut in 2007, she has been a member of the hugely successful New South Wales Lend Lease Breakers team, winning eight of the nine WNCL finals of the seasons she’s played in.
That same team made five of the six finals of the Women’s T20 Cup before the inaugural WBBL this year. In internationals, the Southern Stars currently hold every single trophy they contest.
Perry celebrates regaining the Ashes // Getty Images
Not only does Perry belong to winning teams, but when Perry's teams do well, so does Perry. She was named Player of the Series in the recent Ashes, after sweeping the board with both wickets and runs.
Perry's a winner, she's intelligent, diligent and, if her most recent appearance on The Project is anything to go by, articulate and modest too. Teammates talk of her as the ultimate athlete with regards to her work ethic and preparation.
Now, however, for the first time in her career, Perry is without the comfort of a strong team to surround herself with. Added to this is the challenge of her debut as captain.
No longer does she have Alex Blackwell to turn to, or Meg Lanning to navigate the intricacies of leadership. The Sixers, despite a cluster of internationals, is one of the weaker teams in terms of depth and experience - as reflected by their position on the ladder. Perry’s close friend and Southern Stars wicketkeeper, Alyssa Healy, was also absent for a number of Sixers games through illness.
It's been a baptism by fire. However for Perry, the challenges of captaincy - particularly of captaincy in a weaker side - could be the catalyst the 25-year-old needs to take her to the next level.
"I think captaining a brand new team with a brand new group of players has generally been one of my biggest challenges," said Perry, speaking to cricket.com.au.
Perry cites the number of young and overseas players coming together for the first time in novel surrounds, and in such a short time frame, as a big learning curve.
And while she says the likes of former Southern Star Lisa Sthalekar, as well as internationals Laura Marsh and Marizanne Kapp, provide an ample 'brain’s trust' for her to turn to, the fact remains – this is new territory.
Perry is skippering the Sixers // Getty Images
"I think being at the forefront of that as captain and trying to define the direction that you’re still trying to develop has certainly been one of the more challenging aspects of it," she said.
On her captaincy style, Perry said it's too soon to be classed as one type in particular.
"Some people have a natural style that comes out as soon as they start captaincy, I don’t know if mine is really clearly defined."
Softly spoken, it’s hard to imagine her letting loose in the changing rooms. Post-match she’ll always point out the positive aspects of her team's performance, and is already a deft hand at deflecting awkward questions away. Yet Perry is straight talking and to the point when it comes to performance, and unafraid to say it as it is when things do go wrong.
"I’ve always liked to play the game fairly aggressively and positively and I think that that has probably transferred into my captaincy as well," reflects Perry.
Following a resounding defeat to the Perth Scorchers early in the season, Perry was pretty forthright about her team’s shortcomings. "It’s really disappointing to see,"said Perry. "I think Perth bowled well, but certainly there was some really bad batting in amongst it. We created a lot of pressure for ourselves losing that many wickets."
She’s her own harshest critic too. "I don’t really think our total was defendable in this competition, but I thought we bowled alright. Myself - I didn’t bowl particularly well and I went for a lot of runs."
Watch: Patient Perry guides the Sixers to first win
Every captain needs to find their own style, and, as Perry admits, this is just the start of her own journey.
"I think it’s too soon or too new to pass too much comment on how well or how poorly I’ve been doing," Perry said. "It’s something that I’ve really enjoyed and I’d like to learn more about."
Last month saw one of the most unconventional leaders of the game announce his retirement when Brendon McCullum decided to call it quits on his Test career.
Perry has done things by the book; her sporting career has evolved in the way that only teenage girls’ dreams do – perfectly. She has never strayed from the straight and narrow. Perhaps in captaincy, she might have to.
In the first five of the six matches that the Sixers played, Perry won the toss and opted to bat. To date it's been the Sixers' batting that has let them down, failing to capitalise on promising potential.
In the seventh match, on a flat deck at the SCG, Perry won the toss again. She opted to bowl. It was an audacious move against a Scorchers’ side renowned for its batting strength. It was different, and outside her comfort zone. Immediately it produced dividends.
Perry’s bowlers, herself included, were no longer restrained by the burden of defending a below par total. They let rip.
The Sixers’ South African international, Marizanne Kapp, so economical in previous matches but with just two wickets in six matches, picked up 3-9. The Scorchers suffered their own batting collapse and the Sixers won comfortably, their first win of the tournament.
Perry is becoming more comfortable in her own role too, her individual contributions with bat and ball progressively improving after a disappointing start to the tournament – returning to the Perry we know of old.
Perry addresses her charges // Getty Images
"We’ve steadily been improving. I don’t think my own individual performances, I haven’t felt that the captaincy has impacted on that too much," Perry said.
"I think you probably feel a lot more responsibility in the sense that you not only have to lead the side but one of the most important aspects of captaincy is still contributing individually for the team.
"At the end of the day that's a really important part of any cricket game."
Captaincy is a funny thing, and in cricket more so than most sports. When Steve Smith took the Australian helm he thrived on the responsibility, scoring centuries for fun. Others have buckled under the burden – Ian Botham a notable example.
Botham was a star – but an individual. He didn’t need the help of teammates to thrive. He did things his own way and it worked for him.
Watch: Perry's six wickets to seal Test victory
In the past, if there had ever been a criticism of Perry, it is that she too is an individual athlete.
In her approach and preparation to the game she is the consummate professional, but whether she likes it or not, Perry is different.
She has grown up in the spotlight, is the face of women’s sport, let alone cricket, and is one of only a cluster of Southern Stars who is fully professional not just by nature but by name too.
Captaincy at domestic level and throwing herself into a role she is unaccustomed to, with players she’s unfamiliar with, is a new frontier – a challenge.
Perry has already achieved so much and admits that much of what she has done has come naturally. Captaincy may be one of the few things that doesn't - but that remains to be seen.
An interesting new chapter has begun for Perry and if she approaches it the way she has her own game so far, no doubt she, and Australian cricket, will be the stronger for it.
Watch Perry's bowling master class