Grateful Griffith making most of second chance
First-year Sydney Thunder player Lisa Griffith is grabbing her second opportunity at the elite level with both hands
Susie Giese joined CA Digital this summer as WBBL content producer having worked as a sports journalist in country Victoria for the past six years.
On the Lake Nash station, you can drive two hours on the same road and still find yourself on the same property.
That’s how Sydney Thunder recruit Lisa Griffith chooses to describe the vastness of the gigantic cattle station she called home for years during her hiatus from cricket.
The Northern Territory property is the definition of arid, with red dirt far beyond what the eye can see – as far a cry from the hustle and bustle of Sydney, where she had just left, as you could imagine.
“Not much grows up there,” Griffith notes wryly.
“We had 80,000 cattle on that particular property, but it could carry anywhere up to 120,000 head, but just because of rainfall at that time of year and the nature of the property, we couldn’t have that many.
“It was pretty dry – a lot of water there is from the bores. There’s a long way between water for the cattle and yourself.
“It definitely makes you feel very small, and it’s kind of a different world to New South Wales or even just the east coast of Australia. The further you go inland, it’s like you’ve gone overseas.”
New South Wales had been home, and it is again now. But the years away, working on large cattle stations – work she had never done before uprooting her life to get away from Sydney – had been just the tonic she needed.
A promising young cricketer from Bathurst who rose steadily through the state ranks, Griffith found herself at a crossroads in 2011. She was 19, and she was grappling with the demands of elite cricket, studies and living away from home as she battled depression.
She reached the point where she knew something had to give.
“When I was 18, I wasn’t handling Sydney very well,” Griffith said. “I had a little bit of depression and things like that. I decided that I needed to get away from Sydney and away from cricket and just have a bit of time away from it.
“I went up north and worked on agricultural properties and … was a station hand.
“I learnt a lot about me, which I think was really important at the time.”
Friendships that will last a lifetime were made. Perspective on her difficulties were cast in a new light when confronted with the hardships that faced those living on the dry and challenging land.
It was just the break and change in scene Griffith needed. Then, after about five years away, she was ready to head home.
Studies brought Griffith back to her hometown in Bathurst. Refreshed, reinvigorated, she was ready to return for take two.
Before long, she was asked to pitch in for men’s Bathurst team Centennials Bulls, who were short on players. After so long out of the game, Griffith was understandably a bit rusty. Her first over back in featured a “fair few” more wides than she would have liked, but her perseverance paid off as she recaptured form.
The 25-year-old believes she’s always been more of a workhorse than a prodigy when it has come to her cricket. While some naturally-gifted athletes take to bowling or batting like a duck to water, Griffith has had to put in countless hours of practice to get her game to a level she is happy with.
“I’ve had to always work pretty hard and hit a lot of balls and bowl a lot of balls,” she said. “That’s no different now.”
Griffith says she is still working on and improving her bowling. Recalled to the Thunder XI on Sunday, Griffith was impressive in her single over, conceding just one run in the eighth over to heap the pressure on Brisbane Heat, which was seeking quick runs to keep its finals hopes alive.
Her diligence and ability quickly made an impression when she returned to Bathurst. She worked her way into form and when Thunder players Mikayla Hinkley (now at Perth Scorchers) and Naomi Stalenberg arrived in town with the Penrith women’s side one day, they extended an offer to Griffith to play a game with them.
“Cricket is a game I don’t think I could ever just play for fun,” Griffith said. “I like to play it competitively and play it hard.
“I got back into it from there and I’ve been really, really lucky to be involved with New South Wales this season and really lucky to be signed with the Thunder.”
The lure of playing in the Big Bash was strong, but Griffith was not going to come in underdone.
She moved from club cricket with the Bulls to playing for the Penrith women’s side in Sydney Cricket Association’s first grade, and was then selected to represented NSW Country at the Australian Country Cricket Championships at Wollongong last January.
The allrounder had a solid tournament, making 215 runs at 71.67 and taking four wickets.
And, importantly for her return to cricket, she caught the eyes of people who could help her further her career.
“I made a bit of a mark at those country championships and that was really lucky, because I think there was a few people there from Cricket NSW having a look around,” she said.
“I had a pretty successful grade season last season, so I stood up a bit, I guess, and had a few people looking.”
She was invited into a Cricket NSW program at the back-end of last summer, a development group that included future Thunder teammate Hannah Darlington, among others.
With many of the other participants “quite young”, Griffith, in her mid-20s, felt her age among the group, but nevertheless grabbed her opportunity with both hands.
And the rewards speak for themselves, landing a Lendlease NSW Breakers contract for the first time since 2010-11, with a Thunder offer soon following.
Her coach at both teams, Joanne Broadbent, had been keeping an eye on the talented club cricketer who seemingly emerged out of the blue.
"She cropped up in club cricket last year and we sort of went, who's this Lisa who's making runs? And she was a bowler as well," the Thunder coach said.
"Then she went away for the Australian Country Championships and I heard nothing but good things about her. I hadn't actually seen her at that stage, and then I saw her and I went, ‘Oh, wow. No, she's definitely good enough to make our squad!’
"So we basically put her in, and just her attitude - there's no fuss about her. She keeps people on the straight and narrow. She's almost like a mother hen.
"She's really open in our team meetings as well, and I think that shows a confidence, but it's also a willingness to share and learn, and that's what I like about Lisa, is that she does do that: she shares, and she's learning as she's doing it, and that's why we can see a lot of improvement in her."
The born-again cricketer was keen to sink her teeth into the newest and most exciting format of the game, which has helped advance the women’s competition in leaps and bounds.
“I watched a fair bit of the Big Bash season and I just thought, ‘Oh, wow, it’d be awesome to be a part of that’ and it’s such an exciting brand of cricket,” she said.
“I’ve been out of the game for a few years, so I think the brand of cricket that it is will be a bit different for me, but I’m excited to be amongst it. I just (couldn't) wait to be involved and get the run of how everything works.”
This summer, she’s been given her chance.
To say the lay of the land has changed since Griffith was last involved at the elite level would be an understatement. Women are now being paid to play – more than that, the latest Cricket Australia pay deal has seen their player payments pool increase from $7.5 million to $55.2 million.
The professionalism of the sport has been boosted exponentially, and there is more exposure than ever for the women’s teams.
When Griffith was growing up, she did not have to look far for influence when it came to cricket. Her dad Greg was a cricket enthusiast, and was a pivotal figure during her junior years.
“My father was actually a really great cricketer and he still coaches people and I have a hit with him every now and then when I go back to Bathurst,” she says.
“I started playing Kanga (Cricket) when I was five or six. Dad loved his cricket, and he was my coach all through until about under 16s.
“In Bathurst, Kanga cricket, I played in the boys’ competition and … I played school cricket with the girls. I came through the ranks playing boys and men’s cricket out at Bathurst until I was 18 and after school I moved to Sydney.”
She started her NSW pathways career under the old system, playing a year of under-15s and two years of under-17s before the elder group switched to under-18s.
“It was a bit different back then,” she said. When I was younger, I was never a really, really outstanding cricketer, I always had to work really hard, and dad (and I), we just kept going to the nets and going to the nets and going to the nets and just kept plugging away.
“At about 17 or 18, things just started to click a bit for me. I grew a little bit more – I was always quite a small girl – and I think just started to fall into place. All the work that I’d done with dad and everyone that I was involved with as a junior in cricket, it just started to fall into place.
“That’s one thing that I could tell any young girl or boy playing cricket: things might not happen for you when you’re under 12 or under 15 or 16, (but) if you work hard enough, things could start to slowly fall into place.
“I’m really thankful for dad in that sense. Even though I did give the game away for a number of years, my love for it still remained. All the hours that we spent playing and training, and all the little things he told me over the years paid off.
“Especially now that I’m trying to do it on my own – I’m not quite there yet – all those little things have stuck in my brain. They’ve obviously really helped me.”
And as far as the cricket landscape has changed?
“The approach with the cricket now is really holistic,” Griffith said.
“There’s all the support networks we’ve got, we’ve got dieticians and we’ve got sports psychologist and strength and conditioning coaches. That’s all really different now to when I was 18.
“I think that’s really worked in the favour of all the athletes that are in the system now. There’s definitely more emphasis on mental health and your diet and things like that and how all that contributes to you as an athlete and a person.”
On receiving her second chance at the Breakers, Griffith quit her job and packed up her life in Bathurst to again make the move to Sydney.
But this time, she’s feeling more optimistic about it.
Subtle changes, such as being more “choosey” with where she elects to live – she now calls Penrith home, close enough for her cricket commitments but far enough from the city to ensure the lifestyle is more to her tastes – and the greater support mechanisms available to teams have made a world of difference.
“The years after I walked away from cricket were pretty tough,” Griffith said. “I still have bad days now, but I think it’s definitely about recognising it. Working with sports psychologists has really helped, and recognising those days and using tools and techniques to overcome that.
“Just all the other avenues you can use in terms of your diet, your mental health, and what you’re doing every day to try to get through those bad days, and they’re definitely far less than what they were before.
“I’m really enjoying my cricket now and I’m really excited for the season.
“I’m loving living in Penrith, it’s great. It’s a little bit away from the city for me and that’s a little bit more open and a bit more accessible to home.
“My support network is still at home, I can still access them, if need be, a little bit easier.
“I’m just down the road from my cricket club, so it makes it a bit easier for me to get to training.”
And there is none prouder than her dad with what she has been able to achieve. He has been there from the earliest days of picking up a cricket bat to the countless summer afternoons spent in the nets and her first foray into the WNCL.
“He was quite heavily involved for me up until I was living in Sydney, and I know that me walking away from the game was pretty hard for him to watch,” Griffith said.
“I think he knew that I had a lot of ability and probably gave it away.
“I know he’s pretty proud that I’ve come back into the game and it’s all been of my own accord.”
For now, Griffith is happy to again make cricket her focus, temporarily postponing her studies as she makes the transition back to playing cricket professionally and back to living in Sydney.
But when the time is right, she is looking to go back into studying nursing, which she had been doing the first time she lived in Sydney.
“I’m the type of person who likes to look at all avenues of what I can do,” Griffith said.
“The agriculture for me was good for those five or six years, and that was what I needed, but I think living back in civilization now, it’s like, ‘Okay, what can I do here that will be a good plan for me for the long term?’”
If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14, or beyondblue on 1300 22 46 36.