Short-term gains: The brains behind Brisbane's WBBL double
New two-part documentary reveals extent to which retired captain Kirby Short impacted the Brisbane Heat's back-to-back triumphs
7 April 2021, 02:54 PM AEST
Retired captain Kirby Short was far and away the greatest behind-the-scenes influence on the Brisbane Heat's march to consecutive Women's Big Bash League titles across the 2018-19 and 2019-20 summers.
That's the unanimous opinion of the many squad members interviewed in The Heat Repeat, a new two-part documentary by cricket.com.au that explores how the Brisbane franchise set about carving out their own slice of history as women's domestic cricket reached new heights in Australia.
The confident but limelight-dodging Short called time on her cricket career at the end of the 2019-20 summer, and while the former captain's batting became increasingly auxiliary to the core of the Heat's line-up as those two tournaments wore on, it was her output off the field that proved remarkably impactful.
"A lot of the Heat's success last year and probably in previous years is down to her leadership," New Zealand recruit Maddy Green told cricket.com.au. "She's very thoughtful, a great communicator and the girls responded really well to that.
"We were incredibly lucky to have her as captain. She's a very smart person, very humble, and she would literally do anything for the team to do well."
Between their title-winning seasons, Short headed to Melbourne to spend time with leaders from the Richmond Tigers AFL club as she sought strategies to defend the trophy the Heat had won in WBBL|04. It was a move borne of ambition and an inquisitive mind intent on discovering new and effective ways of leadership.
"(Richmond captain) Trent Cotchin was a leader I admired," Short said on The Heat Repeat. "I really enjoy AFL football and having watched a lot of it, his leadership style really resonated with me, which is what drew my interest to Richmond, and it went from there.
"I got to spend a day at the club … and had a number of conversations … I walked back into Queensland cricket with a bit of clarity around what I wanted the leadership of our culture and the way we went about that to look like."
The resultant 'Hungry and Humble' phrase and its subsequent employ has been well documented since but Short was insistent the term's true value was in rooting it to the bedrock of the club.
"In a lot of organisations, culture is a laminated poster that sits on a wall – and that's the opposite of what culture is intended to be. It needs to be how you go about things, how you do things in that organisation as opposed to being something that's put on a wall and can never change.
"So the notion of humble and hungry was really about simplicity, and for us as a group about making sense of what those words meant to us … and then making them actionable."
In the real world, Short is a deputy principal at a high school in Brisbane. In cricket, she became a student of leadership; since being elevated into those sorts of roles midway through her career, she discovered it suited her personality, and so she pursued its fundamentals and some of its theories. Allrounder Jess Jonassen's observation that Short possessed "a knack of knowing the right thing to say at the right time, and she always knew how to deliver the right messages to each individual to get the best out of people" is a salient one, given it is exactly what she had trained herself to do.
"It's super nerdy but human beings just fascinate me," Short said. "The absolute challenge of understanding what makes a person tick, understanding what they need and then positioning those people in the context of others to maximise the capacity of all them is a challenge I genuinely enjoy.
"I like to think (I'm) an enabler of people – I like the idea that you get the opportunity to work them out and to be really strategic then with what opportunities those people get in terms of ultimately contributing to team success."
Short's ability to process and then recalibrate that might well have corrected the Heat's course just a single match into their back-to-back title seasons.
The fallout from that first-up defeat to the Strikers in Melbourne was explosive and is told in considerable detail in The Heat Repeat. A rattled Short and arguably the Heat's best player at the time, Beth Mooney, could easily have fractured the group. While the Heat were never one giant happy family through those two campaigns, their professionalism bubbled to the surface, and that began with Short.
"There were personal attacks in the heat of the moment, (and) I think what 'Moons' and Kirby both did well was they didn't take it personally – they might've in that moment but they didn't hold onto that for very long," said allrounder Grace Harris about that post-match argument.
"Kirby's a good people manager. She cared a lot about the group. She invested a lot of time and energy in trying to get us successful. She's always trying to improve on herself, and she told me once that she doesn't really have regrets; she just sees past moments as learning opportunities."
As she attempted to balance personalities, Short also identified a challenge exclusive to semi-professional sporting sides: the gap in application – and sometimes ambition – between the full-time professionals and those regarding sport as not too much more than a release from their day jobs. Such contrasting attitudes inevitably proved another point of tension.
"That's the shift and the real challenge in women's sport – you've got girls playing for Australia for whom it's their job, their profession," she said. "When you go from an amateur to professional set-up, (it's crucial) having people understand that it's not necessarily a hobby anymore – it's actually a job, and therefore when you cross that boundary rope, that when it's on and you need to be a united front.
"You don't necessarily need that friendship off the park (to achieve that). It helps, but what about the friendship helps is actually just understanding each other."
Ashley Noffke, who was new to the head coach position in WBBL|05 and said he benefited greatly from the presence of Short, marvelled at the way his captain was able to unify the playing group.
"She's an incredible communicator," Noffke said. "She would bring the parts of the team together so they could walk out on the field and chase the dream, essentially," Noffke said. "So you could just leave that to her and say, 'You know what – she's got that'. Having Kirby in that space kept a sense of levelness among the group."
Then there was the more personal issue of what Noffke viewed Short's role in the side to be. Ideally, the captain's preference was to continue opening alongside Mooney, but Noffke saw more upside in that role being filled by a player with a superior scoring rate, who could better take advantage of the Powerplay. It prompted another moment of inward reflection.
"Cricket is a numbers game, people hang their hats on averages, runs and wickets," Short said. "In a sport where that tangible nature of statistic is such a valued aspect of our game, absolutely it's a challenge to reframe what your role is.
"It's definitely a struggle. You talk leadership, about 'humble and hungry' – when you're the leader of the group who talks about that and your head coach has a conversation with you about making changes to a batting line-up, it's sort of a no-brainer.
"Would I like to be opening the batting and continuing to develop myself in that capacity? Absolutely. Is this the right decision for the team based on all the pieces of the puzzle? You slot into the spot that's best for the team.
"For me I get genuine gratification from seeing other people have success and that's part of what I really enjoy about leadership, so it then becomes reframing that in your mind about, Well where are my opportunities to make that contribution?
"It might not be large runs at the end of a game but it can be some really critical decisions that I make that help others have numeric success … ultimately I'm OK with that because it's good for our group."
Foremost in Short's mind was not letting her personal re-evaluations upset what the Heat were trying to do. As she shuffled down the order, the defending champions went on a seven-match winning run.
"She was incredible, really," Noffke said. "She was disappointed and I expected her to be. Looking back, I think, Jeez, she handled that really well."
It is impressive to consider the way Short continued to positively impact the Heat as WBBL|05 wore on despite her dwindling contributions with the bat; each of her teammates attests to this.
"Cricket is a difficult sport to tangibly identify impact unless you score 70 or take five wickets," reasoned Mooney. "They're the big moments, but the stuff that isn't tangible in the data world is actually way more important, and she has contributed that in spades across the five Big Bash years at the Heat."
Adds Jonassen: "Anybody within the four walls of our team knows the impact Kirby has on team. For her it was never only what she put out on field, it was what she did behind closed doors ... she was such an incredible leader in that sense.
"I'm just really glad we were able to let her finish her career with back-to-back wins (because) she's been a massive driver in creating a legacy at the Brisbane Heat."
Don't miss The Heat Repeat on Foxtel, coming April 7. The two-part documentary will also be shown on Kayo and cricket.com.au.