IN SPORT

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - PETER LALOR

Aus­tralian women’s vice-cap­tain Alex Black­well is hop­ing that the coun­try she serves so faith­fully on the cricket field will soon stop treat­ing her as a sec­ond-class cit­i­zen when it comes to mar­riage laws.

Aus­tralian women’s vice-cap­tain Alex Black­well is hop­ing that soon the coun­try she serves so faith­fully on the cricket field will stop treat­ing her as a sec­ond-class cit­i­zen off it.

Black­well says it’s a shame that Chris­tians such as Israel Fo­lau don’t con­sider her wor­thy of the same rights he has, but com­forts her­self with the knowl­edge that most Aus­tralians don’t ap­pear to agree with him.

These are strange times for Black­well — they are promis­ing and trou­bling, hope­ful and hurt­ful, in equal mea­sure.

The 34-year-old is al­most in the po­si­tion where she might be able to buy a house and be law­fully mar­ried. A band of gold and a white picket fence is the Aus­tralian dream but one that has been de­nied her be­cause she is a les­bian and she is a crick­eter.

The re­cent ad­vent of pro­fes­sion­al­ism in fe­male cricket has given her the chance to earn a rea­son­able wage and al­lowed her to con­sider a start in the Syd­ney prop­erty mar­ket.

The chance that Aus­tralia might catch up with the rest of the free world and stop deny­ing same-sex couples the chance to marry will see her re­la­tion­ship with for­mer Eng­land crick­eter Lynsey Askew prop­erly recog­nised. Be­tween now and then there is a pub­lic de­bate about whether the Black­wells and Askews have the same rights as het­ero­sex­u­als.

An in­tel­li­gent woman who gave up study­ing medicine to pur­sue cricket, she treads care­fully and weighs her words, but there is a pro­found power to what she says

“It does feel for me that while I rep­re­sent Aus­tralia proudly, in re­turn Aus­tralia treats me like a sec­ond-class cit­i­zen and that re­ally is a kick in the guts,” she said. “It’s time now for us to be on the right side of his­tory and just get this done. It has dragged on and it has an ef­fect, even on me. To con­tinue to have to ar­gue to be treated equally has an ef­fect and it is won­der­ful to know the ma­jor­ity of Aus­tralians are be­hind de­liv­er­ing mar­riage equal­ity and vot­ing yes.”

Black­well is the Aus­tralian vice-cap­tain. She has scored three cen­turies and 29 half-cen­turies for her coun­try. As NSW cap­tain she has av­er­aged over 50 with the bat in seven sea­sons for her state. She has been part of sides that have won the Ashes and the World Cup.

This week Cricket Aus­tralia chief ex­ec­u­tive James Suther­land an­nounced the or­gan­i­sa­tion, like the other ma­jor sports codes, was throw­ing its sup­port be­hind the Yes cam­paign to sup­port same­sex mar­riage. For Black­well it was im­por­tant to know her em­ployer had her back.

“It’s re­ally im­por­tant for us to have the lead­er­ship in our or­gan­i­sa­tion to show clearly their stance,” she said. “In a way I see it as my cap­tain stand­ing along­side me as if to say ‘you are wor­thy, you de­serve equal rights and we re­spect every one in our fam­ily, our or­gan­i­sa­tion’.

“It’s hugely pow­er­ful and what I took from the let­ter from James is that he recog­nises we can do more to make cricket more in­clu­sive for the LGBTI com­mu­nity and that’s great. It’s good to be able to ac­cept that we are not there yet, but we are com­mit­ted to mak­ing cricket 100 per cent in­clu­sive and re­spect­ful and a sport gen­uinely for all Aus­tralians.”

Some churches and con­ser­va­tive groups con­tinue to in­sist that ev­ery­body ad­here to their rules and are be­hind a No vote.

Fo­lau, who pro­claims him­self a Chris­tian, took time to let peo­ple know in a tweet this week that he did not back the right of peo­ple like Black­well to marry. The crick­eter be­lieves it is im­por­tant to keep the de­bate re­spect­ful.

“He has his view and his opin­ion and he is very much en­ti­tled to that, he felt the need to project it loudly and that is OK, I also need the view to project my view,” Black­well said. “It’s a shame that he feels I am less wor­thy of the same rights he has.”

Fo­lau, who has the hash­tag Team Je­sus on his pro­file, tweeted: “I love and re­spect all peo­ple for who they are and their opin­ions, but per­son­ally, I will not sup­port gay mar­riage”. For­mer Aus­tralia crick­eter Shane Wat­son bought into the de­bate by retweet­ing a story in which Fo­lau said “I nearly quit Wal­la­bies for love”. Wat­son added “Love should have no boundaries #VoteYes #Mar­riageEqual­ity”.

Black­well says she tries not to read too many posts about the is­sue. “I agree with cam­paign­ing po­litely be­cause it gets bru­tal and when you put your per­sonal story out there you do re­ceive a lot of hate­ful mes­sages and posts on­line,” she said.

Black­well mar­ried her English de facto af­ter the 2015 Ashes se­ries in Eng­land.

“It needed to be one of our coun­tries and it was only pos­si­ble legally in hers,” she said. “My fam­ily and some of my close friends were there. It did feel im­por­tant to me that it was a legally recog­nised mar­riage. Then we re­turned to Aus­tralia where it was null and void, but we had an amaz­ing cel­e­bra­tion here, so it was like we had two wed­dings, one that was le­gal and one in Yass at my sis­ter’s farm, which was a great party.”

It’s best not to think too hard about cricket se­lec­tion lest your mind won­der why Nathan Lyon is pro­mot­ing kids cricket in the mid­dle of Syd­ney Har­bour and not pre­par­ing him­self for the one-day se­ries in India.

Lyon, as has be­come ob­vi­ous, is not an ob­vi­ous choice in the ODI for­mat, but af­ter a year where he took 19 wick­ets at 26 in the In­dian Test se­ries and 22 at 14 in the two Bangladesh Tests you could be for­given for think­ing he was the sort of guy you need on the sub­con­ti­nent.

Of course one-day and Test strips are starkly dif­fer­ent, but the best off­spin bowler the coun­try has ever had should surely be able to ad­just.

“I’ll al­ways put my hand up to play cricket for Aus­tralia in any for­mat, that’s my goal and that’s my am­bi­tion,” Lyon said yes­ter­day. “I just have to come out here and per­form well in the do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tion that starts in two weeks time and en­joy that cricket.”

Never one to trum­pet his own achieve­ments, the 29-year-old fends off sugges­tions that his re­cent per­for­mances might stop the usual calls for four pace­men to play the first Ashes Test of the sum­mer at the Gabba.

“No, I know what you guys will write and what the head­lines will be and it will say there will be four quicks for the Gabba,” he said. “I’ve played seven Test matches there al­ready and I think every Test match they said four quicks.

“I’m com­fort­able with where I’m sit­ting at the mo­ment and I’m re­ally con­fi­dent, es­pe­cially com­ing off the back of Bangladesh.

Lyon is the high­est wicket taker this year (46 at 22) but says he can’t rest on his lau­rels.

“As soon as you start get­ting too com­fort­able, it gets taken away from you,” he said.

“At the mo­ment I’m prob­a­bly get­ting hunted down by all the other spin­ners so I need to go out there and keep im­prov­ing.

“We’ve got three Shield games be­fore the first Ashes Test so there’s no spot cer­tain but I’m very con­fi­dent where I’m sit­ting right now that we’re go­ing to have a mas­sive Ashes cam­paign.”

Lyon claims the se­cret to his suc­cess in Asia has been his abil­ity to bowl “ugly” and was called on to ex­plain his use of the term.

“In the past I’ve been stuck fall­ing in love with the stock off­break. I’m a tra­di­tional off­spin­ner, I go up the back of the ball. For me bowl­ing ugly, that’s my term, it’s about bowl­ing around my­self, bowl­ing un­der the ball, dif­fer­ent type of grips, dif­fer­ent type of things,” he said.

It is not stan­dard prac­tice to bowl like that in Aus­tralia, but Lyon says he is will­ing to get ugly if that is what it takes to win the Ashes.

“If I have to I’ll go there,” he said. “I’m will­ing to adapt and it’s just about adapt­ing to the con­di­tions ASAP and re­ally en­joy­ing the chal­lenge that the Poms are go­ing to bring out to us.”

Lyon has been part of three pre­vi­ous Ashes se­ries, losing two in Eng­land but tast­ing vic­tory at home.

“I’ve been very for­tu­nate to play one home one where we ab- so­lutely pantsed them and had a very great sum­mer in win­ning five-nil. I know what the feel­ing amongst the Aus­tralian pub­lic and Aus­tralian cricket was then and per­son­ally I want to recre­ate that again with the squad now,” he said.

“We have a re­ally good squad, we’ve got a young squad. The sky’s the limit for us”

Cricket Aus­tralia chief ex­ec­u­tive James Suther­land was out with Lyon and said he didn’t think the ugly con­tract dis­pute would af­fect the cricket this sum­mer.

“Cricket al­ready has dusted it­self off,” he said. “Play­ers are back play­ing cricket again and the fo­cus is on what it should be and that’s play­ing cricket.

“Even through the whole pe­riod of un­cer­tainty ticket sales con­tin­ued to be strong, cricket fans had no doubt the Ashes would go ahead and since things have been sorted they have con­tin­ued to be strong.

“The first three days of every Test bar Mel­bourne have been sold out and we are see­ing huge lev­els of an­tic­i­pa­tion for this se­ries. “

‘At the mo­ment I’m prob­a­bly get­ting hunted down by all the other spin­ners’ NATHAN LYON

LYN­DON MECHIELSEN

Alex Black­well in Bris­bane yes­ter­day, left, and with wife Lynsey Askew and pet Al­fie

Nathan Lyon

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