ICC Women's World Cup 2017
Decade of dominance just the beginning
A closer look at the evolution of Ellyse Perry on the tenth anniversary of her international debut
Laura Jolly previously wrote for News Corp Australia and the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, and is now cricket.com.au Women's Cricket Editor providing dedicated coverage to all aspects of the women's game
Ten years ago today, a lanky 16-year-old from Sydney created headlines around the country when she stepped out in Australian colours for the first time at Darwin’s Gardens Oval.
Ellyse Perry took two wickets and scored 19 runs in that maiden one-day international against New Zealand, but it was her age and her cross-code skills that had people talking.
At 16 years and 261 days, Perry was the youngest cricketer – female or male - to represent Australia, a record that hasn’t been broken in the decade since. Then, just 13 days later, Perry became Australia’s first dual international in cricket and soccer when she debuted for the Matildas in an Olympic qualifier in Hong Kong.
For years, it were these unique achievements that immediately sprang to mind when people heard the name ‘Ellyse Perry’.
Ten years on, not only is the women’s cricket landscape a vastly different place to the world Perry first stepped into, the allrounder herself has undergone quite the transformation.
Her trademark zinc cream remains, as do a (very) well-worn pair of primary school socks Perry insists on keeping close at hand for good luck.
But her dual-international days are now well behind her; Perry last played for the Matildas in 2012, while the most recent of her increasingly rare W-League outings was during the 2015-16 summer.
Having made her debut as a fast bowler, Perry’s long hours in the nets over the past five years have seen her become not only the world’s top-ranked allrounder, but one of the game’s premier batters. Perry's skipper Meg Lanning is the world’s best, but those in the know acknowledge that these days, there’s little between the two.
Perry's incredible recent form with the bat has been documented at length; she averages more than 50 in ODIs, has scored 22 half-centuries from her past 32 one-day innings and has posted five or more half-centuries in a row on three separate occasions, the only player in ODI history, male or female, to achieve that particular feat.
But Perry isn’t one to rest on her laurels. Once she identifies an area for improvement, she will spend countless hours at training and in the nets, often adding a few more strings to her bow in the process.
Increasingly, that desire for constant growth is shifting to other aspects of her cricketing life. Where she was once a prodigious talent juggling two sports, having her focus firmly on cricket has allowed another side of Perry to emerge - that of a leader.
One of the senior members of the Australian squad these days – only vice-captain Alex Blackwell has played more international matches – Perry has embraced several opportunities to show she can not only star with bat and ball, but can lead as well.
Placed in charge of the Sydney Sixers for WBBL|01, Perry's captaincy was quickly put to the test when her squad found themselves winless and struggling after six matches. Backs against the wall, she decided to change tactics and elected to bowl first rather than bat in their match against Perth Scorchers, which delivered a maiden victory. Remarkably, the Sixers went on to win their next nine matches and make the tournament final. And a season later, they claimed their first title.
Those efforts were enough for Perry to be named skipper of the Governor-General’s XI last summer and while her NSW teammate Rachael Haynes was appointed stand-in Australian captain when Lanning was forced to miss two matches at the World Cup, Perry’s name was firmly in the mix.
Her recent emergence as one of the world’s best with the willow hasn’t come as a surprise to former international and NSW teammate Lisa Sthalekar, who was part of the XI when a 16-year-old Perry made her debut a decade ago.
"When she was coming up through the ranks of Cricket NSW, she was always seen as a genuine allrounder," Sthalekar told cricket.com.au’s Unplayable Podcast ahead of the World Cup.
"The problem was in the under-15 state side, she was about 13 so she was really small and she didn’t have the strength. She had the technique because her father had spent a lot of time with her in the nets, she had a wonderful batting technique but she didn’t have the power to get it off the square.
"Since she’s had the opportunities to bat up the order she’s produced exactly what everyone thought she could do.
"She puts in so much work. For a long period she was juggling soccer and cricket, but the number of hours I used to see her (spend) in the NSW nets with her father throwing the ball – I’m amazed he hasn’t had a shoulder operation."
In 10 years of international cricket, Perry has played six Tests, 90 ODIs and 82 T20Is – and racked up a seemingly endless list of achievements along the way.
She played a crucial role in helping Australia to World T20 titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014, including a memorable - and brilliant - use of her foot in her follow through on the final delivery of the 2010 final that sealed a tight victory for her team.
She took 3-19 against West Indies to lead Australia to victory in the final of the 2013 World Cup, a match during which she played through the pain of a stress fracture in her ankle, no less.
And while she couldn’t get Australia over the line in their World Cup semi-final last Thursday, she scored more than 400 runs for the tournament, including five consecutive half-centuries.
She’s scored 27 international fifties in total and her 122 ODI wickets place her eighth all time. Surprisingly, she’s yet to score an international century, but it seems merely a matter of time before she adds that achievement to the list.
Then there’s the 2015 Belinda Clark Award, for her player-of-the-series heroics that led Australia to Ashes victory on English soil for the first time in 14 years, and earlier this year, she was named Wisden's leading woman cricketer in the world.
The awards have flowed in domestic cricket too; Perry has been part of nine Women’s National Cricket League titles in 10 years with the NSW Breakers.
Softly spoken and humble, the allrounder isn’t one to talk herself up when it comes to reflecting on her own achievements. Carrying herself with a quiet confidence, she generally prefers to let her actions on the field do the talking.
"I guess I’m more experienced now and I have a bit more opportunity to play a role with both bat and ball with the squad these days,” she says of her evolution during a decade in the national side.
"I suppose when you’re around for a number of years, you naturally grow and evolve and turn into a slightly different player.
"But I’m still the same player as well, I don’t think you lose that either.
"Besides being a bit older and a bit more injury prone, I’m not much different."
Perry is blessed with the sort of all-round athletic ability most people can only dream of. She also possesses the determination and the commitment to make the most of it.
And she’s no one-dimensional character, either. Off the field, Perry has authored children’s books and owns several cafes with her husband Matt Toomua, the latter an interest that comes in very handy for her Australian teammates on tour.
At a time when the women’s game is going from strength to strength, with ever increasing television coverage, media interest and juniors taking up the sport, Perry’s seemingly boundless ability is reaching far more people than it would have in previous eras.
While she herself worshipped Michael Bevan growing up, young girls now idolise Ellyse Perry. Even her 21-year-old teammate Holly Ferling admits she looked up to Perry during her teenage years.
Given Perry is still just 26, it’s incredible to think what she might have achieved when she does eventually retire. It’s equally as exciting to think about the next generation of international stars she might inspire along the way.
"It’s an exciting time in general to be around women’s cricket," she says.
"It’s been on the up for the last little bit and as a player, it’s exciting to see those changes and how the game is progressing, and the effect that has on the team and on me as an individual as well.
"I’d like to make the most of that for a little while longer."
And while the women’s game has changed dramatically since Perry made her debut, there’s one aspect that she believes will never change.
"I never did much imagining about (the future),” she says.
"The conditions and the opportunities we have these days are incredible, but the essence of playing for Australia hasn’t changed.
"Walking out onto the field in the Australian jersey is still the same, it’s still as special as it always has been."