'This is crazy': Hempenstall's return to the big leagues
Kath Hempenstall may have fallen out of the system, but she never fell out of love with the game so after a four-year hiatus, she's back among the WBBL
16 August 2019, 02:25 PM AEST
The announcement of Perth Scorchers' Rebel Women's Big Bash League squad on Thursday was met with plenty of fanfare, but very little of it was around Kath Hempenstall.
Viewed next to the signings of big-name internationals Natalie Sciver and Amy Jones, the news that Hempenstall was also in the squad appeared to simply be a matter of a player with a state contract earning a Big Bash deal as well.
Here it is! Your #MADETOUGH women's team are ready to take on the standalone season! 🔥Get involved in all the action at https://t.co/iH91BcZjyC pic.twitter.com/EBgqv6OjZL— Perth Scorchers (@ScorchersBBL) August 15, 2019
Dig a little deeper, though, and you'll notice that Hempenstall is no WBBL rookie having played three matches with the Melbourne Stars back in 2016.
But after two years on the sidelines that she spent fighting to regain a professional contract, this week's announcement represents a huge personal triumph over injury, age and the temptation to throw in the towel.
"I can't believe it's happening," the 30-year-old told cricket.com.au. "I honestly think to myself every day, 'this is crazy'."
Three years ago, Hempenstall was in the thick of a female pathway system that was going from strength to strength. After seven seasons with Victoria under the old moniker of the 'Spirit', Hempenstall was snapped up by the Melbourne Stars for the first edition of the WBBL.
Here's @StarsWBBL Anna Lanning & Kath Hempenstall picking apart their skipper's game. #cointoss #WBBL01 https://t.co/Q0aDkRQg0I via youtube— KFC Big Bash League (@BBL) December 4, 2015
A knee injury, however, kept her off the park for a large chunk of that season and doubts about her future started to creep in.
"It got to the end of the season and I didn't know where I stood," she said.
"I had this big trip planned to South America and Mexico, and I remember telling my coach it would be really great if you could let me know where I stand before I go on my trip.
"He said 'yeah no problem' – and I never heard anything until I left, so I thought this might mean good news.
"I got an email when I was in Mexico that said, 'Unfortunately we're going to have to let you go, thanks for everything'.
"I was just shattered."
Understandably, Hempenstall felt lost. Cricket had been a major part of her life and with the growing professionalism in the women's game, it was on the cusp of becoming her career.
"All of a sudden, things kicked off that next year for women's cricket," she says.
"It was such a bad time to be let go."
So Hempenstall watched from afar as her friends and teammates rode the wave of interest and investment that was elevating women's cricket in Australia to heights many of them could have never envisioned.
But as the WBBL travelled to the biggest stadiums in the country, Hempenstall – a self-confessed cricket 'nuffie' – was bunkered down at Melbourne's Prahran Cricket Club. She kept tabs on how the WBBL was progressing and was forced to juggle a burning desire to one day be a part of it herself with the reality that she had to fall back on her career as an exercise physiologist just to make ends meet.
"I was working full-time, so I didn't have time to be doing the same hours that the other girls were," she says.
"But it was just a good chance to work on all these things in my game that I'd previously neglected.
"I didn't have to do anything if I didn't want to. I was running my own program, and training when I wanted to train.
"I probably learned a lot about myself."
Hempenstall's passion for cricket is palpable, but after two years moonlighting as a cricketer in between her work commitments, hope started to wane.
"I was 29, I didn't give up hope but I thought a WNCL (Women's National Cricket League) deal was off the cards," she says.
It was a Tuesday night in April last year when Hempenstall received a call from her manager that changed all that. She doesn't remember any specifics of the conversation, but the news that she'd been offered a one-year contract with the Western Fury for the 2018-19 WNCL season recharged her life and her cricketing career.
"I didn't know why he was calling, I thought something had happened," she says.
"It was just crazy. It came from nowhere, it really caught me off guard."
WNCL is back! 🙌🏼 NSW won the toss and have sent the Fury into bat 💪🏼 Congrats to Kath Hempenstall who makes her debut! 👏🏼 WA XI: Piparo©️, Devchand, Graham, Carmichael, Banting, Edgar, Cleary, Cross, Peschel, Hempenstall, King.#WESTISBEST pic.twitter.com/pDdIJEAVVL— WACA (@WACA_Cricket) November 8, 2018
So Hempenstall packed her bags, told her day job she'd be back in a year, and made the move to west for the 2018 season, vowing to enjoy the newfound novelty of training during the day as a professional and making the most of it while it lasted.
"I went over there looking at it like a gap year," she says.
"I thought I'll just enjoy it (and) whatever happens, happens. I took a year's leave without pay. I never thought I'd get another year."
In the four fixtures she played last summer, Hempenstall performed impressively, claiming two three-wickets hauls.
Coach Lisa Keightley had seen enough.
At the end of the season, she was offered not only a contract extension with the Fury, but a Scorchers deal for WBBL|05 as well.
The gap year had ended, but Hempenstall was staying firmly planted in Perth. The opportunity to play cricket professionally was no longer a flash-in-the pan fantasy, it was her new normal.
She officially handed in her resignation back in Melbourne and having religiously watched the world's best women's T20 competition go from strength to strength in recent years, she's now gearing up to be a part of it herself.
"I remember there was one day, I had two iPads and the TV going," she says "I barely missed a ball, I'm full cricket nuffie.
"My two years out of the system, I followed that competition really closely.
"I've loved watching it, and I can't wait to hopefully be a part of it."
While timing was her enemy three years ago, this time she's timed her run to perfection.
For the first time in its short history, the WBBL will occupy a stand-alone window from October until December in a landmark shift away from the men's KFC Big Bash League.
There are eight festival weekends being held around the country, and while Hempenstall is thrilled at the prospect of playing in front of bigger crowds than she's used to, it's the opportunity to feed off the best players in the world that excites her the most.
A world away from the outdoor nets at Prahran, Hempenstall will be training alongside the likes of old friend and ex-Victoria teammate Meg Lanning as well as Nicole Bolton and England internationals Sciver and Jones.
"I've probably missed playing with Meg a little bit," she says of the Australia captain.
"We're both cricket nuffies so we used to gravitate towards each other a fair bit when we were in the same team.
"Even to be around that many internationals in one team, it just lifts everything.
"The way that they train and prepare is next level, so people like me can learn so much off them."
Cricketers like Hempenstall are rarely the ones to hit the headlines, but it's players like her who remind us all that flickering passion is worth keeping alight.