Cuttack: In the modern era, it is extremely rare to find double internationals. At a time when cricketers are calling for a reduction in work load to rest tired bodies, given the exponential increase in the number of playing days, Ellyse Perry stands out. For some, playing one World Cup could be a dream come true, but for Perry, who holds the distinction of being the first Australian woman to have represented her country at World Cups in two different sports (cricket and football), it is more than just a dream.
"I suppose in Australia, we have a wonderful culture that embraces sport from a very young age," she says passionately. "I've grown up in that environment. I played a lot of different sport when I was young but cricket and soccer had the biggest affinity. I suppose like a lot of Australians, the interest began while playing cricket in my backyard at home with my older brother."
Perry became the youngest Australian in international cricket when she made her debut in July 2007 aged 16. A month later, she was picked in the Australian women's football team for the 2008 Olympic qualifiers, where she scored a goal within two minutes of her appearance in her debut against Hong Kong. Six years on, she is now a contracted player in the Australian women's cricket team and is playing in her second Cricket World Cup, besides having represented Australia at the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup. She also plays for Sydney FC in the Women's Football League.
Despite embracing success across both spheres, Perry doesn't believe in getting too far ahead of herself and believes the prospect of sacrificing one sport to pursue the other isn't on the horizon.
"I'm enjoying playing both cricket and soccer. I manage my time well, so far it isn't really tough to divide time between the two, " she says. Perry had a tough choice to make, and dropped out of the Football League final in order to play the National Women's Cricket League semifinal on the eve of the team's departure to India for the ICC Women's World Cup 2013. Her clarity of thought and logic make an instant impression.
"Obviously, my football club have been very supportive and to let me go to represent Australia here at the Women's World Cup...I'm really grateful to them and that is why I feel fortunate to be able to contribute to both teams. My family and coaches have played a big part, obviously. "
Perry has already proved her worth in the ongoing World Cup with an allround performance in the group stages against South Africa. She has been a part of the team that has won two ICC World Twenty20 titles, in 2010 and 2012, but the hunger to constantly reinvent herself and add new dimensions to her training methods has seen her emerge as an ideal role model for women's sport not just in Australia but across the world.
"Cricket demands training in a certain manner, while in football, you're always in the thick of things, so yes it differs," she says, showing no signs of tiredness after an intense 90-minute practice session. It is this multi-dimensional skill set that has allowed her to explore different realms of possibility, which is why she isn't averse to the idea of playing alongside men.
"I've played Sydney grade cricket along with the men. It is a wonderful opportunity for the girls to challenge themselves. I'm sure it will help the women's game, not a bad idea to explore, is it?" she asks. "I grew up playing my cricket with the boys, and on the professional front too, it is something I am open to if the opportunity presented itself. Cricket is not a contact sport like rugby, it purely depends on ability. If someone's good enough, then why not?"
But Perry feels that even if that idea takes time to be explored by cricket boards, small steps, like having the men and women play T20 games at the same venue on the same day on a regular basis, would help. "Make it an annual feature rather than restricting it to the World T20 alone would be great," she says. The last two editions of the ICC World T20 in West Indies and Sri Lanka have seen that idea becoming a reality, and Perry feels that has just increased the appeal of the women's game.
"I think there has been a huge development in women's cricket since I started six years ago. There is some excitement. My first World Cup was in 2009. That time, there was a big gap between the top four and the bottom four, but now that gap has reduced big time and that was evident in the match between England and Sri Lanka. Our game against Pakistan was also a tough match," she believes. "Improved professionalism and the amount of time teams spend in training has certainly improved the skills.
"One of the best examples of promoting the game has come with the decision to have the women's game alongside the men's at least as far as the T20 World Cup is concerned. That has helped increase awareness. I think that presents a great opportunity in terms of having double-headers more often. If the same is implemented in the Big Bash League or the IPL, it would be great."
At 22, clearly bigger things are in store for Perry, among the fastest bowlers in the women's game today. With two World titles already under her belt, winning the ICC Women's World Cup 2013 could be the perfect gift to a multi-faceted sportsperson whose decision to invest her youth in active sport has been an inspiration for youngsters wanting to make a career in sport.
Story first published on: Tuesday, 05 February 2013 11:57 IST