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