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Milestone maker still hooked on cricket

Australian women's cricket team vice-captain Alex Blackwell loves fishing almost as much as she loves playing for the Southern Stars. Here she is dropping a line off the end of the Coffs Harbour Jetty.
Australian women's cricket team vice-captain Alex Blackwell loves fishing almost as much as she loves playing for the Southern Stars. Here she is dropping a line off the end of the Coffs Harbour Jetty. Rachel Vercoe

AS she drops her line off the end of Coffs Harbour's Jetty to enjoy her favourite pastime, the vice-captain of the Australian women's cricket team said there's a striking similarity between fishing and batting.

"The really good days are a little bit few and far between," Alex Blackwell said.

"You can have really slow days, especially as a batter like when you don't score any runs but you're always in with a chance of having an amazing day.

"I find you've got to take the good with the bad and fishing's a bit like that."

Today Australia's most capped women's cricketer will play her 250th match for her country when the Southern Stars meet England in Coffs Harbour for the third One Day International of the Women's Ashes series.

Blackwell she'd have been well satisfied just to have had a short international career but to reach 250 matches, a feat which places her fourth on the all-time world list, is a reward for years of hard toil.

"To get the call up to play for Australia in one game is really special and I've worked really hard I guess to evolve my game and sort of stay relevant throughout a long career because in that career T20 came about," she said.

"The fact that it's become a professional sport has extended my career."

Alex Blackwell of Australia batting during the ICC Women's World Cup semi-final against India. Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images
Alex Blackwell of Australia batting during the ICC Women's World Cup semi-final against India. Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Reaching the milestone is also a result of some amazing perseverance and sacrifice.

Nearly three years ago Blackwell was tossing up whether to retire from cricket or not as the burden of captaining her state and playing for Australia with very little monetary reward was weighing her down heavily.

"There were a couple of times when it was really starting to wear me down trying to do everything, have a job, captain these teams and play for Australia, it was hard to fit it all in," the former genetic counsellor said.

"I got to a point where I knew something was going to have to give and fortunately at that time there was just enough money in cricket for me to go 'you know what I can survive off that'. Not thrive, survive.

"Obviously with the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) we've had a gender equitable pay model come in and essentially a doubling of my income to make it worthwhile to stay.

"I've always done it for the love of it but the financial support has definitely extended my career otherwise the financial pressure would've forced me to pick my job over picking cricket at that time which was only 2014."

Since making her international debut as a teenager, Blackwell has become the rock the Australian middle order has been built around as the team has enjoyed a long period of world dominance.

She admits though the experienced product we see know is a long way from the youngster who was a bit wet behind the ears.

"When I first got the call up at 19 and told that I was going to be going on tour with the Australian team, I actually had to ask the selector 'um excuse me but where is the Australian team travelling to?' because it wasn't on my radar at all," she recalled.

It was an even younger girl who first picked a cricket bat and a fishing rod.

Blackwell first fell in love with both when she was a young girl living in Port Macquarie.

Part of a close-knit trio, Alex would play around with her identical twin Kate (an Australian cricketer in her own right) and another friend by the name of Alex Valentine.

Blackwell said it was her childhood friend who first placed her on the path toward representing her country and taking a rod and reel with her on tour.

"The funny thing is the person who is responsible for me playing cricket is the same person who I went fishing with as a kid," she said.

"He's my oldest friend, same age. I'm a twin and my twin sister Kate and I, we would play cricket and soccer with Alex and we'd also fish in the holidays. Just little tiny rods catching little flathead and stuff.

"We're not expert at it or anything like that, we just love it."

Asked how often she gets to fish in between her busy cricket schedule, Blackwell responded with the typical fisherman's lament: "Not enough".

"For Kate and I it's sort of the thing that we love doing together because we're not playing cricket together anymore so I would say about once a fortnight," the 34-year old said.

When her family returned home to their roots in the small country town of Yenda near Griffith when she was about 10, Blackwell said her fishing expeditions moved to a creek that ran through her grandfather's rice farm.

Her grandfather would often catch Murray cod in that creek.

Blackwell never got to fish with her grandfather because he died at a young age but she added her greatest catch so far was also a Murray cod that was about 55cm in length. She didn't catch it in that creek though.

"A good test of patience is trying to catch a Murray cod in the Murrumbidgee River," she advised.

"They call it the fish of a thousand casts. I've caught one of those before but it took two hours of casting."

With uncles that love to fish as well, Blackwell believes her love of the sport is most probably genetic and said that as a family they try to get together at Lake Eucumbene in the Snowy Ranges at the end of each cricket season to try and catch a few trout.

"You just slow down and it's a really good way to spend time together," she said.

"I find when you're fishing you're forced to do nothing else. Once you're on the water in a boat, you've set out for the day. It's just so relaxing.

"There's a lot of not catching but you're always in with a chance aren't you? As long as there's a line in the water.

"And catching the fish is the bonus bit, that what my uncle says a lot out at Eucumbene."

Blackwell spends most of her time though with her other family. Her teammates.

It's the second family that helps the veteran continue to strive for improvement.

"You go through ups and downs in sporting teams as in wins and losses but I guess it's how you are as people around each other. That's what keeps you going," the Australian vice-captain said.

"We've got a really great bunch of people there, staff and players included."

EACH OTHER'S ROCK: Alex and Kate Blackwell were the first set of identical twins to play cricket for Australia.
EACH OTHER'S ROCK: Alex and Kate Blackwell were the first set of identical twins to play cricket for Australia.

Being selected to be part of the team that plays in the Twenty20 World Cup to be held in Australia early in 2020 is Blackwell's long term goal but until then it's all about finding the best batter she can be.

"I always think I have a bit more to achieve and offer as a batter," she said.

"To actually master batting, I don't think I'm going to master it but that's what I'm aiming for. I feel like there's more distance to travel I guess and more to uncover in my own batting."

Blackwell said a key to that has been a mindset she's found later in her career taking an attitude of thinking about her batting like a kid would.

"Kids don't really overthink it, they just see the ball and whack it and they like to experiment and they bat with flair and that's what I've tried to bring back into my game and I've had a lot of success with that," she said.

A hint of that child like approach is mirrored in the gleeful smile Blackwell produced as she ended her latest fishing expedition by reeling in a flathead from the Coffs Harbour waters.

Experienced Southern Stars pair Elyse Villani and Alex Blackwell celebrates the former's catch on the boundary during the Women's One Day International between Australia and England in Brisbane.
Experienced Southern Stars pair Elyse Villani and Alex Blackwell celebrates the former's catch on the boundary during the Women's One Day International between Australia and England in Brisbane. Jason O'Brien/Getty Images

Topics:  australian womens cricket team coffs harbour coffs harbour jetty cricket fishing southern stars womens ashes