“Alyssa Healy is like your next-door neighbour – you just know you can be great mates with her. You can go to the pub, have a drink and you’re always going to have a great time. Ellyse Perry, on the other hand, is like the person that you want to be best friends with, but you’re just not quite sure how to approach it! It’s not like she’s unwelcoming, but because there’s this aura around her, you automatically just halt a little bit.”

“But how would I describe Ellyse Perry, the person in one word?”

Lisa Sthalekar’s face scrunched up in thought.

“Goofball,” she laughed. “Yup! That’s it – she’s a real goofball!”

Goofball? The first thought was: are we talking about the same Ellyse Perry? The woman who is so meticulous in her preparation, she spends her time bowling or hitting balls while her teammates participate in a warm up game? The woman who spent hours practicing her bowling in a park because she couldn’t find her rhythm? The woman who often spends the most time in the nets: first in, last out, and all that?

“Let’s just say Ellyse Perry, Alyssa Healy and myself, all three of us, were the group at the back of the bus,” former Australia allrounder-turned-commentator, Sthalekar, told Scroll.in. “Everyone else, all the goody-two-shoes, were up in the front, and we spent our time at the back causing havoc.”

“What would we get up to? I don’t even remember, really. Just lots of goofy things – me, kind of reliving my childhood with those two, and them, both trying to make the best of what I’m sure would have been tough situations. They were both young, traveling to different places, experiencing different cultures… we were all on the same wavelength – didn’t take things too seriously. When we played cricket, we played hard, but outside that, we had a lot of fun.”

Sthalekar’s recollections of the all-rounder and their “off-field immaturity” are in stark contrast to the serene superstar the world sees on the field. Perry, arguably the greatest of all time, has dominated across formats with bat, ball and in the field. She has reached unprecedented heights in the game. But what has stood out through her career so far is the constant hunger to improve – something Sthalekar said was visible the very first time she saw her.

The first sighting

Participating in the New South Wales Under-15 championships, Perry was part of an invitational side coached by Lisa Keightley, then Cricket NSW High Performance Manager and current England head coach, with Sthalekar assisting her. Only 11 years old, Perry “couldn’t hit the ball off the square” but was determined to contribute to her team.

“She went to Lisa and asked, ‘Well, what should I do?’ and Lisa just said, ‘Put the ball in the gap and run hard!’... She’s done that pretty well for the rest of her life,” Sthalekar chuckled.

Fast forward five years and Sthalekar was calling Perry a teammate, at international level. She was brought into the squad for the home series against New Zealand after seamer Kirsten Pike opted out due to work commitments and duly made her debut on 22 July, 2007.

Fast-tracked to the very top even before she made her List-A debut for NSW, Perry was an unknown to most within the Australian setup. They couldn’t believe that a 16-year-old who hadn’t played senior cricket was ready for the international arena. But Sthalekar herself was confident.

“I still remember when she charged in for her first few deliveries in the nets, I just looked at the senior players who had never seen her before, and as they watched her, you could see them go like, ‘yeah, we can see why she is selected!’. You could tell from the start that Ellyse Perry could play.”


The building blocks

“Good at any sport she tried her hand at”, Perry spent the early years playing cricket and football, and excelling at both.

“From a cricket point of view, you didn’t necessarily need to train with the team to be good at the sport. So, we didn’t see a lot of her during that time when she was juggling both sports because football required her to be at sessions, whereas we trusted that she was going to do the work outside of the team training hours.

“Since I worked at Cricket NSW, I would see her during the day coming in at different hours and her father, Mark, would throw balls.

“Even training-wise, she would train with people from different sports, pick up different techniques, was meticulous with what she ate… She was in her little bubble of ‘this is what I need to do to be the best’.”

Pause, rewind, play: When star Aussie cricket allrounder Ellyse Perry played and scored an epic goal at 2011 Fifa Women’s World Cup

Perry’s first six years in international cricket were eventful: wins in two T20 World Cups (one in which Australia were “saved by the boot”), an ODI World Cup, and a dramatic Ashes Test. She had quickly made a name for herself as a tearaway quick who could, in time, fill the big boots of Cathryn Fitzpatrick.

While she was taking wickets consistently, making batting difficult for most line-ups around the world, one of Perry’s first ‘great’ spells, “because of the drama around it”, came in Sthalekar’s last international: the 2013 World Cup final in Mumbai.

After helping Australia post a healthy 259 for 7, Perry, who had missed a few earlier matches with an ankle injury, was thrown the ball in the 10th over. She began with three false starts, before all hell broke loose.

“I was standing at mid-wicket, so I kind of had a great view and I could see that she was trying to figure out how she could run on it (her ankle). She wasn’t 100%.

“Jodie Fields looked at me nervously after the second one, and I was like, ‘well, we’re just going to have to trust her! No one walks off in a final; she’ll find a way’. We were lucky she got on a bit of a roll after that, taking those three quick wickets.”

Australia went on to secure a 114-run win, sealing their sixth ODI World Cup title.

The batting great

Following the retirements of Sthalekar and Fields, Perry was pushed up the batting order in 2014. She had spent her previous years batting largely between Nos.7 and 10, but Sthalekar insisted that it had little to do with her ability.

“In the junior ranks she was always batting in the top four, so in under-age cricket she was always seen as an allrounder.

“I guess making your debut in the Australian team at the age of 16, you’re probably not going to bat in the top six any time soon. So, basically for Ellyse to be promoted, us oldies had to retire.

“All of a sudden, the rest of the world could see what we were hiding because of her age. She’s the type of person who doesn’t want to miss out on an opportunity and she never did that down the order and she certainly hasn’t done it now that she’s batting in the top four.”

Since 2014, Perry has scored well over 4000 runs in international cricket, breaking several records across formats along the way. She has cemented her spot as possibly the most valuable player in the world and is at the centre of what is a seemingly unbeatable Australian team.

Ellyse Perry's batting stats

Format Matches Inns Runs HS Ave SR 100s 50s
Tests 10 17 752 213* 75.20 43.82 2 3
ODIs 125 101 3324 112* 50.36 76.32 2 29
T20Is 126 76 1253 60* 27.84 105.47 0 4

Ellyse Perry's bowling stats

Format Matches Inns Wkts Best Ave SR 5-fors
Tests 10 19 37 6/32 19.97 50.8 2
ODIs 125 122 161 7/22 24.64 34.0 3
T20Is 126 119 115 4/12 19.45 19.8 0

The role model

Even now, at 31, Perry’s commitment to being the best in the world is undisputed. Those who have seen her train have often referred to her methods as “madness”; she spends hours and hours in the nets, refining her craft. It is that dedication that has allowed her to eke out every ounce of talent she has.

“I think she’s adapted over the years and learnt and studied and worked with some of the best people in the industry to try and get as much as she can from her body.

“She’s driven by the analysis of the game: is my wrist position right? Is my foot in the right position? Am I aligned okay? She’s always focusing on something – whether things are going well or not.”

Over the years though, Sthalekar has observed a shift in her wider role within the team and how she has embraced her responsibility as a leader within the group.

“She’s always been a wonderful ambassador for the game and has always spoken about the game so articulately. She adds a level of class to whatever she’s doing and that’s seen. But she’s learnt how to communicate with the group, how to deal with issues both on and off the field.

“I reckon the other interesting change is that she’s gone through some phases where she was an adult before she was a kid, and then she became a kid while she was an adult. It was great to see the child in her.... To see her have some fun along the way, and now she’s queen of the kids. There’s no doubt she’s having an absolute ball with them passing on some of the skills.

“I think once she’s realised how big an influence she can have, she’s used that wisely.”

The struggle

Perry was the face of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup campaign. She was the superstar both ICC and Cricket Australia knew the world would want to see. She was meant to be at the centre of it all.

But life can be cruel…

The woman who a large percentage of the 86,174 gathered at the mighty Melbourne Cricket Ground would have loved to watch, whom millions of viewers on television had hoped to see, had been ruled out of the tournament earlier with a torn hamstring.

She was at the MCG, but as a mere spectator.

“I was doing the on-ground pre-show and remember watching her come out on to the ground,” Sthalekar said. “The teams were walking out, holding the hands of the kids for the anthems and she was the last one out, hobbling.”

“She just looked up and looked at the crowd, and I was gutted for her. Like, you just felt like CA and the ICC had been using her face to get this record-breaking crowd and they had achieved it but she wasn’t able to get out on the park. It was emotional to watch… I don’t even know what was going on in her mind, in her heart, how she was feeling; but I can say she carried herself really well.”

Australia went on to register their fifth T20 World Cup win. While Perry was not on the field, she was a huge part of the squad’s success, celebrating every wicket and run like it was her own.

Following her recovery in September-October 2020, Perry struggled for the next 12 months to find her rhythm and confidence with the ball. There were questions around her selection and whether she could still be the dominant force she once was. Had Ellyse Perry lost her edge? Is the end near?

The question prompted an emphatic, “No!” from Sthalekar.

“Over the summer, we saw that once she actually got into Test cricket and had a lengthy spell, we started to see the best of her. She worked incredibly hard alongside Ben Sawyer (pace bowling coach), solidifying her routines, building her confidence, so, there’s plenty to come yet.

“She just loves the game. She’s really enjoying being a professional athlete.

“She’s been part of so many different campaigns – some successful and some not – and she just continues to get better and better. I can’t see her retiring anytime soon. I think she will be the kind of player who just keeps going and going and going until the body decides enough is enough.”

There’s an eagerness to continue to improve, learn new techniques and explore uncharted waters. The question then is: how much more will she go on to achieve?

“She is a superstar. She is never satisfied. She wants to see her teammates do well. She wants to be part of successful sides. She will keep pushing the bar up.”

Ananya Upendran is a former Hyderabad pacer, and now a freelance journalist. She previously worked as Managing Editor of Women’s CricZone.

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