A star is born as teenager Litchfield schools the Heat
A match-winning fifty in the Big Bash on Sunday, but on Monday Phoebe Litchfield will be back in high school
Laura Jolly is a Melbourne-based journalist for cricket.com.au. She previously wrote for News Corp Australia and the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.
Teenager Phoebe Litchfield couldn’t speak for long after her match-winning knock led the Sydney Thunder to a shock upset win over reigning Rebel WBBL title-holders Brisbane Heat on Sunday.
Fox Sports were waiting, then she had to jump in the car with her family for the three-and-a-half-hour drive back to Orange.
After all, tomorrow is Monday and show-stopping performances in the WBBL are, apparently, not a valid excuse for missing school.
Even if Litchfield – understandably – couldn’t quite recall which subject she’d be attending first on Monday morning.
At just 16 years and 185 days, Litchfield etched her name into the record books on Sunday when her unbeaten 52 from 48 balls saw her become the youngest player, female or male, to score a Big Bash fifty.
The fact she did so in just her second game, against a world-class attack comprised of internationals Jess Jonassen and Delissa Kimmince and New Zealand’s own teenage prodigy Amelia Kerr, speaks volumes.
For someone who, just two weeks ago, was still attempting to create her autograph when signing her Thunder contract, it’s a lot to take in.
Media day for 16 y/o Phoebe Litchfield: Headshots ✅ Interviews ✅ Create signature ✅😂#ThunderNation pic.twitter.com/hDraoGp6Qe— Sydney Thunder WBBL (@ThunderWBBL) October 10, 2019
"It felt like a dream," the Year 10 student said of her innings when speaking to cricket.com.au on Sunday.
"I was extremely nervous. Luckily I had Alex Blackwell to calm my nerves.
"They were very good bowlers and I just didn’t know what to do with them, so I was in a bit of a pickle. But we got there in the end."
The left-hander had people talking after her composed debut against the Sydney Sixers on Friday, when she struck 26 from 22 in a losing cause.
Now, following her heroics on Sunday, she’s attracting worldwide attention.
For the second consecutive match, she strode to the crease under immense pressure with her team at 3-56 and with stars Rachel Priest (31), Naomi Stalenberg (18) and Rachael Haynes (5) back in the dugout.
But Litchfield, just as she was on Friday, was unflappable.
She took four balls to get off the mark, and 11 to score her first boundary, but there were no signs of panic despite her low strike rate.
From there, the left-hander produced a stunning array of shots; driving, cutting and going over the top to bring up a maiden WBBL half-century from 47 deliveries.
On Friday, she had shared a 68-run fourth-wicket stand with 36-year-old Blackwell, and the Thunder veteran proved the perfect foil once again for the youngster, the pair sharing an unbeaten 97-run stand to chase down Brisbane’s 9-150 with seven balls to spare.
"She’s pretty incredible, she’s a very talented young player and it’s great to see her doing well in this competition," Thunder captain Rachael Haynes told Channel 7 of Litchfield.
"It’s a really positive thing for NSW cricket."
A video of Litchfield batting in the Cricket NSW nets went viral in July, but the left-hander has been on the radar of Australian selectors for several years and she had already chosen to represent both the national under-19s and the Governor-General’s XI.
She earned her first NSW Breakers contract this year after starring as an underage player for the Cricket Australia XI in the Under 18 National Female Championships in January, finishing as the tournament’s leading run scorer with 348 at 43.5, including a century.
Some pretty good shots here. Introducing Phoebe Litchfield. pic.twitter.com/IR1umhErky— NSW Breakers (@NSWBreakers) July 9, 2019
Cricket isn’t her only talent, either; Litchfield is also a member of Australia’s Under-16 hockey team and played the role of Nancy in her high school production of Oliver earlier this year.
Her introduction to cricket is a familiar tale; she started playing in the backyard with her father and brother.
Her father – a veterinarian – remains her coach, a key figure in her development given her distance from Sydney and the NSW Breakers program.
Currently, she’s flown down for one training session a week and for the Thunder’s matches, while the bulk of her high-performance training throughout the year comes during school holidays.
That hectic schedule will continue for the remainder of the Big Bash season, but Litchfield is far from complaining about a situation she never dreamed she’d be in, especially so young.
"I was ecstatic (just to sign a contract)," Litchfield said.
"I’ve been watching the last few years but never had even a thought I’d be here this year. It’s pretty surreal.
"(The Thunder players) introduced themselves to me but I already knew who they were."