Short takes long road to find place
Kirby Short was a late-comer to cricket, but now she's making up for lost time at the top of the order
11 January 2018, 01:30 PM AEST
Cricket was never the inevitable outcome for Kirby Short, despite being the great-niece of 'Invincible' Neil Harvey and granddaughter of Victoria and Queensland first-class cricketer Mick Harvey.
That she is now captain of Brisbane Heat and Queensland Fire wasn’t preordained and, if anything, she’s trod a less certain path than many who play the sport at the elite level.
Initially, Short was a softballer. Her mum represented Australia in the sport and growing up it was Short’s first sport of choice.
"Pretty much the entirety of high school, my rep sport of choice was softball," Short, 31, told bigbash.com.au.
"It wasn't really until Year 12 that I almost just fell out of love with it, to be honest.
"I am competitive and will try anything. The other summer sport in our household was cricket, but it wasn't something that I'd necessarily contemplated too much of.
"Then I effectively got asked to go along to an under 17 trial. I was coordinated, I could catch and throw, and the fielding from softball was a good transfer. But I was a very novice cricketer when I went away in that under 17 state team."
It was Short's first exposure to representative cricket. She'd "dabbled" in school cricket for a couple of years, but it wasn't until she made the state team that cricket solidified as a viable choice for her.
Even then, she admits, her introduction to serious competition was a little unconventional.
"I did it a bit back-to-front," she said. "I effectively got asked to go to that trial, and it was kind of like, P.S. if you’re going to do this, you need to be playing club cricket.
"So then I linked with the club I still play for, 'Wests' (Western Suburbs)."
There is a common theme among elite athletes when, plucked seemingly from nowhere, their talent shines through like a revelation and they breeze from strength-to-strength on their way to the top.
But Short's journey has been very different. Chosen initially, she believes, for her superior fielding ability, it was years before she found her niche in the sport. Even as opportunities presented themselves, first at junior level, then with Queensland Fire in the Women's National Cricket League, she was still finding her way.
She said she was "pretty late to the party" and in her late teens through to her mid-20s, she was learning through trial and error what she could bring to her team.
"It took a little while for me," Short said. "The nature of my role was probably unclear for a while. I'd sort of bowl a little bit or bat a little bit – I think initially, to be honest, it was my fielding skills set that probably set me apart in the early days while I tried to get my head around the other stuff.
"And then it was a matter of them trying to find what my place was.
"For a long time, I was in and out of the squad, and it’s something that I often talk to young kids about, that it took a really long time for me to find exactly what it was that I could contribute to the group, and then have that align with what the coach saw as my role."
But four seasons ago, Short at last found where she felt she could contribute the most to her teams: opening the batting.
She has been solid in that role for Heat this Rebel WBBL season, partnering with Australia T20 star Beth Mooney at the top of the order.
As Mooney rediscovered her form in recent matches, Short was happy to play a supporting role.
But when her opening partner fell cheaply against Hobart Hurricanes on Monday, Short rose to the occasion, scoring a brilliant 79 to steer the Heat to victory in a player-of-the-match performance.
"I've opened the batting for a couple of seasons now, and I kind of wish I had been doing that for a lot longer, because I feel like that's where my best contribution is," Short said.
"It probably wasn't until (I'd been playing) a good five or six seasons – maybe even more – that I wasn't sweating selection.
"It took a long time – I’m not that naturally gifted athlete, I had to work pretty hard. It sort of depended on what the team make-up was and what that looked like as to whether I did have a spot or not.
"It hasn't been until the last four seasons that my role has been really clear and I've not had to worry about that Sunday night phone call about whether you're going away (with the team) or not."
It's a message Short now shares with her students.
As she has in sport, the 31-year-old has been more than happy to take on a leadership role in her career.
The award-winning teacher – she won the ACHPER (Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation) inspirational teacher award in 2016 – is now the head of Health and Physical Education at her school and it’s a role she relishes.
"It is a bit of a challenge trying to juggle the two (being a professional sportsperson and having a career), but I really enjoy the challenge of it all," Short said.
"Leadership is leadership, it just presents differently depending on your context. But it's something I've always really enjoyed doing, and the teaching thing was my passion all along. The head of department (role) just allowed me to explore leadership in a different way."
Short's transition from regular classroom teacher to head of department was a little more conventional that her ascendancy to cricket captaincy.
Midway through WBBL|02, then-Heat skipper Delissa Kimmince stepped down from the role and Short was handed the reins.
"I really enjoyed it," Short said of the sudden elevation. "It's obviously a massive mental challenge, and I'm really fortunate in the sense that Delissa was doing a heap of great stuff with our group anyway, and it was going to be advantageous for our group for her to be able to just focus on her cricket.
"The group were really supportive in me taking over that role, which kind of takes the panic out of taking the role over, because ultimately, you want to do the best thing for the team and you need them to feel like you can make that contribution.
"That has translated to an opportunity to captain the Fire this year from the beginning of the season, and a whole season of the Big Bash, which is cool.
"I have that leadership role in my job as well, so I guess it was just same-same but different, in the sense that leadership appeals to me. I like being able to contribute in that way to the team, and having been around the group for a while and having a sense of who we are and how we operate, I think – hopefully – it allows me to contribute positively as leader of both teams."
First-year Heat coach Pete McGiffin describes Short as a "born leader" and as she continues to develop into her role at the top of the order alongside Mooney he feels she is getting better by the season.
"She's the perfect fit for us," he said. "She leads by example, she's proactive and she's just a great person.
"She's a wonderful communicator and terrific role model.
"She's developing more gears with her batting and an ability to powerfully hit over the top of the infield on both sides of the wicket.
"She's developed a wonderful partnership with Beth Mooney – they’re both very aggressive running between the wickets, so they can create momentum.
"She is developing with her own game … I think the best is yet to come with her, as well."
The landscape Short leads the Fire and Heat through now is vastly different from when she first arrived on the senior state team scene – a time when female cricketers were still 'elite' but not 'professional'.
While she is now one of a decreasing number of professional cricketers who also balance a full-time career with their sporting pursuits, it was the norm when she started out.
Training sessions would be held in the evenings – allowing the women to finish up at work for the day before heading over to join the squad. Strength and conditioning programs were a 'one size fits all' concept and entirely voluntary.
"Everything was after hours and usually quite late," Short said. "So the girls who were working would roll in at whatever time after five o'clock and be there for a while.
"It wasn't until I'd been in the squad for a while that we went to the morning strength and conditioning stuff.
"Early days, it was night-time sessions, that genuinely amateur sports stuff."
But a young Short relished the opportunity to be among some of the greats of the Queensland Fire.
Current Hobart Hurricanes coach Julia Price was playing for the sunshine state at the time and had coached Short in her Year 12 team, a handy link for the aspiring cricketer.
"I got sort of thrown into that situation, which was good, because you were surrounded by the Julia Prices of the world, and those really talented cricketers who offered some really good advice," she said.
"I was playing with Queensland legends like Mel Bulow and Julia Price and Kirsten Pike and Trish Brown and women who’d been really incredible performers at that level for a long time, so it was pretty intimidating to be the new kid on the block and, obviously having come to it a bit later, I still was very aware of how much I had to learn."
But the senior players were very supportive of the younger squad members, and Short relished the chance the learn everything she could from them.
And now, Short hopes she can be that leading figure for her young squad-mates and aspiring young cricketers alike.
"It took me a long time to get to where I am," she said.
"For kids who don’t get picked in their first team or are on the fringe for a long time, that's okay. If you keep persisting, maybe that will turn around.
"There are a lot of uber-talented people who kind of just stroll into it. Sometimes, maybe kids think when they miss that first underage team, or if they haven't started playing by the time they're 12, they're never going to make it.
"I guess that's more the 'bigger picture' message for kids, to keep battling, because you never know your luck."