Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy 2021
Cleary follows her heart in search of a fresh start
WA quick Piepa Cleary reveals the reasons behind her decision to take a break from state cricket in Australia, as she throws herself into life in the UK
25 June 2021, 12:32 PM AEST
When Western Australia released its women's contract list for 2021-22, there was one eyebrow-raising omission: Piepa Cleary.
A 24-year-old pace bowler who has been part of Cricket Australia development squads and represented Australia A, Cleary has given up her professional contract and relocated to the United Kingdom.
There, she is spending the northern summer playing as an amateur for the North West Thunder in the regional Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Trophy and for Lancashire in county cricket.
On face value, it may seem a counter-intuitive decision but Cleary has followed a long-held dream, and her heart, to the other side of the world – and she believes the move could pay off for years to come.
The idea of a summer spent playing in the UK had long sat at the back of Cleary's mind.
And after navigating a long-distance relationship with England wicketkeeper Amy Jones in recent years, the drive to turn that plan into reality became all the stronger.
Cleary had planned to take the break in 2020, but COVID-19 meant a swift shift in direction as she remained in Australia and spent another year with Western Australia before departing for the United Kingdom in March.
"It's two birds one stone, it's nice. It's something I've always wanted to do and having Amy here, it's worked out really well," Cleary, who is based with Jones in Loughborough, told cricket.com.au.
"It's been different, it's been nice. I just needed a little bit of a break from the program I was in, and just a freshen up, which has been really nice to meet new people, new coaches and be in a new environment.
"(Leaving WA) was a difficult decision, to be honest.
"But I've been with WA for eight years and I was just finding myself not loving it as much as I have in the past.
"I thought, 'I'm only 24, just make a change'. Because I want to go back and play for WA, I just needed to make a change otherwise I'd potentially end up really not loving it and maybe never go back.
"I think I needed to not have that (full-time) commitment for the season and coming over here, I can get that bit of a break and get back to just enjoying my cricket and get that passion back."
Cleary said WA and their English coach, Becky Grundy, had been extremely supportive of her decision to take a gap year of sorts.
She also consulted WA teammate Taneale Peschel and former WA player Katie Hartshorn, who both took their own breaks from the game, before making her decision.
What was important to Cleary was that she would not be taking a break from cricket entirely, and playing in England's elite domestic competition ensured she would still be competing at a high level.
"I spoke to (Grundy) throughout the season and let her know where I was at and she was awesome with it," Cleary said.
"They've been conversations I've had for a while and I thought, it's time to do it. It's something I needed to do.
"It's a pretty good competition as well. It's not like I'm missing out on playing decent cricket, I still want to do that, it's just a break from the 12-month contract."
Cleary will return to Australia in October for the WBBL, where she has two years left to run on her contract with the Perth Scorchers.
She still holds hope of also appearing for Western Australia in the Women's National Cricket League this summer, but she knows she will have to win her place through form in the WBBL and grade cricket, given her uncontracted status.
"That's up to the coaches in WA and probably depends how I do in club cricket," Cleary said.
"I love playing for WA and I want to keep doing that, so whether it's this year or next year I don't know, but hopefully I can go all right for the rest of the season here and roll into club cricket and put my name up."
On top of her playing commitments with the Thunder, who are based two hours north west of Loughborough, Cleary is also working as a curator several days a week at Loughborough University.
With four matches for the Thunder under her belt, the right-armer feels she's starting to find her rhythm.
"It's been really good. Because I'm living in Loughborough, I only do one session with them a week, and do two here, then go up and play but they've been awesome with that," she explained.
"The coaches are really good, Paul Shaw is the head coach there. The group of girls are really exciting as well."
Cleary has been impressed with the quality of cricket in the RHF Trophy, a new regional 50-over competition now in its second season after it was launched last year.
The establishment of the regional teams has been a significant step towards professionalism for England's domestic female cricketers – prior to their introduction, all domestic players in the county competition played as amateurs. This year, 41 players across the eight regional teams have full-time contracts.
"It's weird they only have five contracts (at the Thunder), but it's nice seeing the other 10 in the squad pushing hard, knowing (the number of contracts) is probably going to increase next year," she noted.