ICC Women's Cricket World Cup 2022
Family, focus and the future: Haynes retains the fire
A new parent and the oldest player in Australia's World Cup squad, life after cricket has been on Rachael Haynes's mind. But having come close to retiring once before, she's not done with just yet
The sound of bat on ball echoes around the largely deserted nets at Cricket NSW headquarters in Sydney's inner west before the only two figures in view resume their positions, pause and spring into action again.
At one end is Australia's vice-captain Rachael Haynes, who is partway through one of the most important summers in the national team's history but finds herself without a team to play for, or teammates to train with.
At the other is Anthony Clark, a one-time first-class cricketer and now coaching guru at NSW, who is preparing to lead Australia at the upcoming Under-19 World Cup in the West Indies.
Haynes and Clark have never worked together before, but have been united largely by necessity.
Having returned to Sydney from national duties in Queensland for the birth of her first child, Haynes is effectively locked in her COVID-ravaged home state while the Weber WBBL continues in other parts of the country. Separated from her Sydney Thunder teammates and support staff, she's essentially a player without a coach, and Clark is helping to fill the void.
Twelve years on from her international debut and just months from her 35th birthday, Haynes has been fending off questions about her playing future for some time. From the outside looking in, the first eight months of 2022 that includes a home Ashes, one-day World Cup and a chance at a Commonwealth Games gold medal would appear to be the perfect time to say goodbye.
But the player who worked with Clark for those few weeks in October last year wasn't a hard-nosed veteran set in her ways and simply looking for a few throwdowns as the finish line approached.
"It's always fun to coach those sorts of people, because they're actually looking to get coached," Clark says.
"Maybe because she's got a profile and she's a really good player, sometimes people might think that she's just happy being what she is. But I feel like she's still looking to make improvements.
"She's obviously very smart and experienced and keen to get better, so she was very receptive to some ideas."
At Haynes's urging, Clark suggested some technical changes that they hoped would solidify her on-side game and force bowlers to feed her strengths outside off stump.
When the left-hander finally returned to the field after a three-month absence, she peeled off scores of 96, 24 and 118 for NSW, a crucial 86 in the one-off Ashes Test in Canberra and a score of 31 in a low-scoring third ODI in Melbourne.
Having been forced to watch the bulk of the home summer from afar, a quick return to her best was exactly what Haynes needed.
"I did have some initial concerns, given that all the cricketers in New South Wales were away, around how I was going to prepare … (and) get ready to play," Haynes tells cricket.com.au ahead of Australia's ODI World Cup opener against England on Saturday.
"I got to work with someone new in Anthony Clark, who was really, really cool. Just to have some fresh eyes on my game and different ideas and be able to chip away at some things.
"It was unusual to spend some time away during the middle of the season. But by the same token, I'm coming into a really busy time feeling quite refreshed and really looking forward to playing in a World Cup."
Haynes concedes that speculation about her playing future is to be expected at her age, and it's a concept she is intimately familiar with.
Five-and-a-half years ago, which must feel like a lifetime given all she has achieved since, she walked into the Cricket NSW offices with the intention of calling it quits at the age of just 29.
An Ashes winner and a part of two World Cup victories in her twenties, Haynes had been on the outer of the national team for more than three years, having been unceremoniously axed on the eve of a home Ashes campaign.
Worn down by the dual challenge of full-time work and maintaining the training standards expected of a top-level cricketer, she had been ready to walk away until the offer of a part-time job at Cricket NSW helped entice her to stay in the system.
Having since ridden the wave of professionalism and played a key role in three more Ashes victories, including one as captain, two T20 World Cup titles and a record-breaking winning streak in one-day cricket, it's a sliding doors moment she reflects upon often.
And the small taste she's already had of life after cricket pushes the prospect of giving it away for good further into the future.
"It's probably shaped a lot of who I am," she says of her long stint out of the national side.
"And it makes me really appreciate that we have a pretty amazing life; to be a cricketer and say that it's your job and be able to travel around the world.
"There were plenty of days where I was sitting behind a desk at work, and they'd be long and sometimes tedious. So when I did make that transition to becoming a fully-professional player, even on the hard days ... you still appreciate what you've got.
"I never thought that I would get back and be in that environment, so (initially) I just wanted to enjoy the experience for what it was. In a lot of respects, it was quite therapeutic, just being able to walk out in the uniform again and soak up playing cricket for Australia. It was a really nice, simple moment to have and to not feel like I was under any pressure to play a certain style or do something remarkable.
"I definitely still remind myself of that. It's really easy to get caught up in the outcomes of things. I try and stay as grounded as I can in terms of focusing on what's important now, as opposed to what might happen or what could come."
While the mantra of staying in the moment has helped her on the field, a life-altering summer off it has forced a different approach.
The arrival of son Hugo – a first child with partner Leah Poulton, herself a former Australia and NSW player – has brought the future firmly into view, and her passion for sport has her pondering a post-playing role in either administration or coaching.
Having been a semi-professional player for most of her cricket career, with two degrees and extensive experience in the workforce under her belt, Haynes is better prepared for life in the real world than her younger teammates – some of whom have only known full professionalism – will be at the end of their careers.
But she concedes suddenly having a tiny mouth to feed has sharpened her focus.
As the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining. While disappointed to miss the test, yesterday fate took hold and we welcomed Hugo Poulton-Haynes into the world. Mum and bub are doing well, and we can’t help but think our world has become a little brighter. pic.twitter.com/iwFeSwTRo6— Rachael Haynes (@RachaelHaynes) October 2, 2021
"When I was younger, cricket was the most important thing in my life," she says. "I basically built all my decisions around it.
"But having Hugo around ... to have someone rely on you in that way and need you for a really different reason to what a sporting team might need you, it certainly puts those good and bad days into perspective.
"I've always been one of those people to think about what life does look like after cricket. I've tried to prepare for that as best I can. But knowing that he's very much our responsibility and that we want to provide the best care and home environment that we possibly can for him, I definitely think about what's next and making sure that ... I can be a good provider for our family."
Just when Haynes will make the transition into the post-playing ranks is yet to be seen. She says she's a "series-by-series proposition" at the moment, starting with the quest for the one trophy the current group don't have in their keeping – the one-day World Cup.
And having come so close before to walking away, she's determined to make the most of her "amazing" life as a professional cricketer, one she very nearly didn't have.
"I ask myself that question all the time at the end of big series: Do I still have that desire to continue, and do I still feel like I'm capable of winning games of cricket for Australia?" she says.
"It's really important because at this level, it's really hard to fake it. It's hard to fake that passion and that desire to want to continue to improve and get better. I still think at my age, there are areas in my game that I can improve on and get better at. I'm still really enjoying that challenge as well.
"So I think while I can still answer 'Yes' to those two questions, I definitely want to keep playing for the foreseeable future.
"It's such a short space of time that you get to play international cricket. I want to make sure that I enjoy it for what it is and get the most out of the backend of my career."
ICC Women's Cricket World Cup 2022
Australia squad: Meg Lanning (c), Rachael Haynes (vc), Darcie Brown, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Grace Harris, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Alana King, Beth Mooney, Tahlia McGrath, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland, Amanda-Jade Wellington. Travelling reserves: Heather Graham, Georgia Redmayne
Australia's World Cup 2022 fixtures
Mar 30: Basin Reserve, Wellington, 8am AEDT
Mar 31: Hagley Park Christchurch, 12pm AEDT
Apr 3: Hagley Park Christchurch, 11am AEDT
All matches to be broadcast in Australia on Fox Cricket and Kayo Sports