Women's World T20 2018
Mature Villani enjoying new role
Now a veteran of the Australian team, Elyse Villani is out to make the most of her time with the national side
Laura Jolly in Antigua
20 November 2018, 11:40 AM AEST
The last time Elyse Villani travelled to the Caribbean, she was a fresh-faced rookie who blew her allowance on the roulette table and by her own admission "didn't put in a lot of work" as Australia claimed their first World T20 title in 2010.
Eight years later, she's back in the West Indies for her fourth World T20 campaign. But this time, it's a mature, hard-working and committed – but still outgoing and fun loving – Villani who is determined to help Australia snap their four-year drought in ICC tournaments.
"I think I've just learned a lot about myself as a person and as a player," Villani, who turned 29 last month, reflected to cricket.com.au in the lead-up to Thursday's semi-final against West Indies in Antigua.
"I was picked on my potential and there's a lot more to it than that. Now I have a greater understanding of my own game and I'd like to think I've become a smarter player and a touch more adaptable."
Villani now has 60 T20I matches and 1363 runs to her name and has been part of Australia's 2010 and 2014 World T20 victories.
But heading into that 2010 tournament, Villani was a 20-year-old rookie who had played just one match for Australia, an exciting young opener in a team featuring experienced players Lisa Sthalekar, Shelley Nitschke and Alex Blackwell, and current teammates Alyssa Healy and Ellyse Perry.
She played five matches– but scored only 28 runs – as Australia took out a thrilling final against New Zealand in Barbados to claim their maiden World T20 title.
"That's all changed in terms of the professionalism in the squad now," Villani said. "But I remember arriving in St Kitts and we were staying in a casino, and I remember spending my allowance on the roulette table and trying to sample the entire cocktail menu over the duration of the tour.
"I'm not sure I put in a hell of a lot of work at training either, so that shows how far I've come, but also how far the professionalism of the sport has come as well.
"I'm still very much enjoying myself off the field, but this is my job and I take it very seriously."
Villani was dropped after that 2010 World T20, a moment that served as a wake-up call for the Victorian, who took another three years for her to fight her way back into the Australian team.
She returned in time to earn a spot in Australia's 2014 World T20 squad, finishing as their second-highest run scorer as they claimed a third consecutive title.
"I think I took it a lot for granted back then, I was a young kid being given this amazing opportunity and I always thought it would be there," she said.
"It's pretty soul crashing when you're dropped from the team. When I was growing up all I wanted was to play cricket for Australia...but I think I've learnt something each and every time I've been left out and its that's probably contributed to me improving as a player, and being a better all-round player and a better team person."
In 2018, Villani's a core member of a new-look Australian team who have brought a new attitude to the way they approach their T20 cricket.
'Fearless' is the catch cry they're living by, while there's been a big emphasis on playing selfless cricket, with star batters Meg Lanning, Rachael Haynes and Perry dropping down the order to follow power-hitters like Healy and Ashleigh Gardner more freedom at the top.
For Villani, the change has been about accepting her role will change from game to game – sometimes deployed as a power-hitter in the first six overs, other times in the middle order.
"The last 12 months think we've made great inroads and you can see we're really enjoying the game and really playing with each other and for each other," she said. "It's certainly the most fun I've had in the Australian team, compared to other years.
"(In the past) when your spot's on the line...you can have a selfish mindset and people can tend to play for themselves but I think that's gone by the wayside now and you can see the whole team buy in and ditch the egos."
One big thing driving Villani has been the rapid progression of the game in Australia at domestic level. New contracts for state players and the growth of the Rebel WBBL means the gap between the internationals and the up-and-comers is rapidly closing, and competition for places in the national side has never been tougher.
"You've got no choice but to constantly strive for improvement," she said. "Fitness and skills are key because I tell you what, those young kids are knocking on the door back home and they're going to be superstars.
"I love this job, I love playing for my country and it's not something I want to stop doing in the near future, so I'm using the improvement of players back home to really drive my own game forward."
And while Villani hopes to be a core member of the Australian team for years to come, she's also now very conscious of the need to make the most of every single series, every match – and every chance to soak up the opportunities that life on the road as an international cricketer can offer.
"I was actually walking to (Guyana's landmark) Kaieteur Falls and I said to Megan Schutt and Rachael Haynes, ‘We're in the Amazon, did you ever think we would be walking through the Amazon on a cricket trip?'
"It blows your mind when you think about it, you have those moments where you think, 'I cannot believe that this is where cricket has brought us'. It's pretty special."
In the not-so-distant future is the prospect of a World T20 on home soil – something that would be a first for Villani, who had yet to make her debut when Australia hosted the 2009 50-over World Cup.
With group matches to be played in her home town of Melbourne at Junction Oval, and the final to be played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, it's a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play on the biggest stage in front of a home crowd.
"To sit back and try to imagine a full MCG for the final, I actually can't quite visualize it yet but the thought of playing at home in a major tournament in front of family and friends and the people who've supported your entire career, not many people get that opportunity," Villani said.
But for the next few days, helping Australia advance to the final of this World T20 tournament is at the forefront of Villani's mind.
As they enter the final week of this tournament in Antigua, Australia are looking to end a four-year drought in ICC tournaments having lost the 2016 World T20 final on Kolkata and being knocked out of the semi-finals of last year's 50-over World Cup.
For many teams, that's by no means a long break between titles, but for an Australian line-up who won every prize on offer between 2010 and 2014, it's been a reality check.
"Back then, I always thought it would be there and I always thought we'd win," Villani said.
"And I know that sounds absolutely ridiculous, but at the time I was playing with some amazing players and we were ahead of a lot of teams.
"Now with the recent developments in the women's side of cricket, teams have all caught up and it's a really equal competition.
"I've realised these opportunities can be pretty few and far between. That's what's making this journey more special and hopefully we'll get there."
2018 ICC Women's World T20
Australia squad: Meg Lanning (c), Rachael Haynes (vc), Nicole Bolton, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy (wk), Jess Jonassen, Delissa Kimmince, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Elyse Villani, Tayla Vlaeminck, Georgia Wareham
November 9: Australia beat Pakistan by 52 runs
November 11: Australia beat Ireland by nine wickets
November 13: Australia beat New Zealand by 33 runs
November 17: Australia lost to India by 48 runs
November 22: Semi-finals, Sir Vivian Richards Ground, Antigua
November 24: Final, Sir Vivian Richards Ground