Mack thriving in adopted home and role
Melbourne Stars batter Katie Mack has already shown she's willing to go wherever cricket takes her
29 December 2017, 12:07 PM AEST
Melbourne stars batter Katie Mack knows she will have to start making some pretty big decisions soon.
Problems she has previously left for "future Katie" to deal with are pressing – where will she look for work? Where will she play the bulk of her cricket? Because now, she is future Katie.
But for this summer, at least, she has more than enough to keep her busy.
The right-hander is padding up for the Abode Hotels ACT Meteors around her Rebel WBBL commitments with Melbourne Stars, where she has played every game since the league’s inception.
"I've just finished my uni degree (studying physiotherapy), so I'm actually up in the air on what I'm going to be doing next year and where I’m going to be for that," Mack told cricket.com.au.
"I'm going to have to start answering those questions.
"Cricket-wise, I just want to play well, really. Whatever comes about comes, but I’m just super happy if I could perform for the Stars and ACT, and even if we could win a grand final, I’d be over the moon. I guess that’s my long-term/short-term goals."
In her two completed years with the team in green, Mack has accumulated 465 runs at 24.47, shifting from an opener in the first season to a middle-order role in WBBL|02.
On Tuesday, she played a beautiful cameo at the end of the Stars' batting innings against the Perth Scorchers, making an unbeaten 29 off just 14 deliveries. She was threatening to outdo it with 14 runs off a Natalie Sciver over on Wednesday, before she was bowled again seeking the boundary on the final ball of the over, finishing on 20 off 17.
The former Stars opener has taken to her new role brilliantly, and her importance to the team has been emphasised in their two most recent outings.
"I like opening, a lot of people ask me why," Mack said. "The main reason is 'cause I know that then I have opportunity to bat the whole day, whereas if you come in any later, then you could miss out on a bat.
"Last year they wanted me to move down the order, just with the Power Play and being able to put players out (of the circle). I guess I'm probably more of a runner and single-taker than a six-hitter. It worked out really well, it was quite successful last year and I was really happy with my performance.
"This year, like every year, I just want to go well. I'd love to be a really strong performer for the Stars and be someone that they can rely on to score runs, but ultimately if I'm batting well I'm pretty happy."
Mack had not always been a batter.
As a junior making her way through club and representative cricket, the talented teen plied her trade as a bowling allrounder, rolling out leg breaks through her underage career.
Now, she says the forces of the universe may have forced her hand in the shift to becoming a specialist batter, as she looked to break into the NSW Breakers team at a time when her bowling was struggling to keep pace with her ambitions.
"I picked batting as my forte when my bowling went to s—t," she said wryly. "I used to bowl leg spin. And also a little bit (of the reason) was New South Wales had told me that they needed me to be able to bat as well.
"When I started not being able to bowl anymore, I kind of lost my mojo and realised I'm probably going to have to get better at batting if I can't bowl."
While she was still in the Breakers' squad, she put in countless hours trying to improve her new specialty, with her dad Robert coaching her and helping her perfect her technique.
"There was probably one season where I got a stack of runs and then I realised I probably could be a batter," she said.
But limited opportunities in the talent-laden Breakers squad – a club which has won 18 of a possible 21 WNCL titles, finishing runner-up on the other three occasions – threatened to stymie Mack's development, prompting her to look elsewhere for her chance.
She had represented her state at junior level through the National Championships, but faced an uphill battle to replicate the feat at senior level.
"I was in the Breakers squad for a few years when I was young, from about 16, but I never debuted," Mack said.
"I think I learnt a lot, both negative and positive. I guess, in the end, there was a few reasons why I left, but being around that level of cricketers at the time – I think at the time it was the 10th year in a row they'd won, and they had about seven Aussie players – so obviously you're going to learn a bit and at least see where you need to get to."
Mack ended up playing club cricket in Sydney with Kris Britt, who was captain of the ACT Meteors at the time. She got to talking to the veteran and former Australia player, and expressed her interest with the ACT club, who were more than willing to take her on.
The opportunities were plentiful. The training was different to what she was used to – little could compare to the NSW elite program – but the Meteors offered Mack something the Breakers couldn't.
"In terms of opportunity, I came down and I got to open the batting," she said. "You can't really replace that – no matter how good the training is – the opportunity which ACT provided heaps of."
Since 2013, Mack has now taken the field for the Meteors more than 40 times, and started her 2017-18 season strongly, with a good start of 22 in the opener before a masterful unbeaten 113 in the second round.
She was splitting her time between living in Sydney and playing cricket with the ACT – thankfully, a number of her Meteors teammates were also based in Sydney, allowing them to train together and reduce the need to travel so often.
But the travel schedule became even busier two years ago when she signed on with the Stars.
As the ACT did not have a franchise in the newly-formed Twenty20 league, the Meteors had to consider potentially moving interstate temporarily as they strove to find a place for themselves in the competition.
"The ACT team not having a Big Bash team to filter into, we were all kind of up for grabs for anyone who would take us," Mack said. "For me, it was more (that) I wanted to see what kind of opportunities I could get.
"I did get an offer from a Sydney team in the first year, but Melbourne approached me as well – actually, I got my coach to put a feeler out that I was looking for a team. The Stars approached me and sold it to me pretty quick."
Mack has also lined up for the University of NSW men's team the past two seasons, which she said has "brought back the enjoyment of playing weekend cricket".
"They've been more than supportive of me and women's cricket," she said.
Cricket has gifted Mack many things, the most obscure of which might be a guitar.
She was 17 at the time, and a budding musician as well as a cricketer. The Bankstown resident was part of the NSW Combined High School first XI in the Lord's Taverners School Girls Championship, and was eyeing a strong run in the mixed format competition.
Heading into the tournament, Mack struck up a deal with her dad, Robert.
"Dad had given me a bet that if I got bowler of the tournament, he would give me a guitar worth so much; if I got player of the tournament, he'd up it and get me a more expensive guitar," she said.
"And then I got player of the tournament. So I don't know if (I played well) because I could get a guitar or because I wanted to."
She missed out on the bowling award, but picked up the fielding honours to go with her player of the tournament nod and was named in the team of the tournament.
As it happened, the musical career was not to be with Mack giving up playing just months after receiving her guitar. But the passion for cricket, thankfully, has remained intact from a very young age.
Mack was born in Armidale, in the Northern Tablelands in New South Wales, but her family soon moved to Bankstown. As she was growing up in Sydney's south-west, she didn't have far to look for cricketing influence. Robert loved his cricket – he is a "cricket nut" in Mack's affectionate words – and her older brother Mitchell played.
“I obviously wanted to be like my brother,” Mack says with a laugh.
Her own foray into the sport came through a combination of playing backyard cricket with Mitchell and watching him play locally. There was a small band of younger sisters who would turn out to watch their siblings play, and before long, they had decided to take up the sport themselves.
"We kind of got an interest and all started playing together," Mack said. "We joined a boys' team in our local area when we were in primary school still. There were four of us that played a fair while together."
Mack was still in primary school when she played her first representative match. One of her teachers was involved with the Sydney South West Primary School Girls’ team and asked her to go to trials after seeing her ability playing diamond cricket at school.
She played with boys' cricket team Panania until she was about 15, at the same time making appearances for NSW in the national championships and earning a spot in the Emerging Breakers squad and school representative cricket.
The talented athlete was also a netball player in her youth but given when she stopped growing at five-foot-four, opportunities to play at a higher level became scarce for the midcourter and she turned her attention exclusively to cricket.
It is something her Melbourne Stars coach David Hemp is certainly grateful for.
Mack has been the perfect fit for the Stars' batting line-up and offered an extra dimension that has been particularly helpful with the likes of Meg Lanning (in WBBL|01 and 02) and Lizelle Lee (WBBL|03) going around.
"For me, I think she's a little bit different in terms of where she scores," Hemp said.
"She chips the ball quite a bit, so she gets the ball into different pockets. So, she's not known for being a big boundary-hitter, but she gets balls into different areas.
"The other thing is her speed, so her pace up and down the wicket, which obviously helps with running between wickets, which is an important part of T20 cricket.
"With that speed, she's also an asset in the field."
The move to slot Mack in later down the order has paid dividends for the Stars. She's able to keep the strike rate ticking over nicely if the Stars lose early wickets, and has shown this week she’s more comfortable finding the boundary for a quick injection of runs if needed late in the innings.
"The first year she opened the batting and she got 219 runs, which was a good tournament. But last year we moved her to number five, because we felt if she came in with the field spread, we thought she would be able to pinch a lot more twos and certainly rotate the strike," Hemp said.
"And she ended up getting just under 250 – I think 246.
"That was the thing for me, how she adapted from a different type of role and actually got more runs.
"That just shows how versatile she can be."