“I like hard work”

A decade af­ter she put women’s cricket on the map, Ell­yse Perry talks to Jor­dan Baker about be­com­ing a role model for young Aus­tralian girls dar­ing to dream of a pro­fes­sional sport­ing ca­reer

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Cover - Pho­tog­ra­phy STEVEN CHEE Styling KELLY HUME

Lyn Stathis has hit the par­ent­ing jack­pot. Her daugh­ter Chrissa could be ob­sessed with Kylie Jen­ner or Justin Bieber, but in­stead the 10-year-old chose some­one who could not be a bet­ter role model if she had been cus­tom de­signed. Crick­eter Ell­yse Perry is ev­ery­thing a mother could want her daugh­ter to ad­mire: whole­some, hum­ble, hard­work­ing – and far more likely to be wear­ing bat­ting pads than boob tubes.

“I idolise her,” says Chrissa, who has posters of Perry on her bed­room wall and has mem­o­rised all her play­ing stats. “I talk about her ev­ery day,” she tells Stel­lar. “My friends get an­noyed.” Chrissa’s dream is to rep­re­sent Aus­tralia in the South­ern Stars na­tional women’s cricket team by the age of 16, as Perry did. “She was the only girl in lots of teams. That’s just like me.”

Cricket Aus­tralia has also hit the jack­pot with Perry. Its move to pay women pro­fes­sional salaries may have made the sport a more re­al­is­tic ca­reer op­tion, but it’s the play­ers who in­spire girls to play cricket in the first place. Perry’s im­pact on re­cruit­ment will be seen for years, says South­ern Stars head coach Matthew Mott: “She is an ar­tic­u­late, strong woman who plays a re­ally ex­cit­ing brand of cricket. She ticks ev­ery box.”

Perry, 26, ended up meet­ing her starstruck young fan at an ex­clu­sive Stel­lar cover shoot. She was friendly and kind, and gave Chrissa the same ad­vice she has given many girls: love your sport, work hard at it and suc­cess will fol­low. “It’s easy to be a role model,” she told Chrissa’s grate­ful mother, “be­cause all we have to do is walk out on the field and have fun play­ing.”

YOUNG GIRLS AREN’T Perry’s only fan base, or even her big­gest one. If Face­book fan pages are any guide, blokes love Perry, and not al­ways for her bowl­ing arm. One page is ti­tled “Ell­yse Perry (Princess)”. Even on her of­fi­cial page, the com­ments left on pic­tures of Perry with white zinc across her nose read “u r so pretty” or “Perry is the most gor­geous lady on Earth”.

Perry hasn’t courted this at­ten­tion. Yes, she is beau­ti­ful. But in the world of crick­et­ing, with its torn ham­strings and bro­ken fin­gers, that’s moot; a pretty face doesn’t win matches. Her shoot for Stel­lar is one of the rare oc­ca­sions she changes out of ac­tivewear and Perry finds it all rather amus­ing. At one point be­tween photos, she bends over in her red Alex Perry evening dress and be­gins stretch­ing her tri­ceps.

If suc­cess had gone to Perry’s head a lit­tle, no-one would blame her. She’s been fawned over by spon­sors since she was a teenager, when it be­came clear she was a blue-chip mar­ket­ing in­vest­ment.at 16 years and 261 days old, Perry was the youngest Aus­tralian – male or fe­male – to make their in­ter­na­tional de­but in cricket. Just 13 days later, she be­came Aus­tralia’s first dual in­ter­na­tional ath­lete in cricket and soc­cer when she de­buted for the Matil­das in an Olympic qual­i­fier.

Two things have kept Perry’s feet on the ground: her close-knit fam­ily and her per­son­al­ity type, which is best de­fined as “sports nerd”. Most ath­letes pre­fer matches to train­ing. Not Perry. “Ob­vi­ously matches are spe­cial, and it’s al­ways great to see hard work go into prac­tice, but I like train­ing be­cause it’s a con­stant chal­lenge to get bet­ter,” she says. “I’m per­sis­tent with things. I like hard work and do­ing some­thing over and over again and get­ting bet­ter at it. I find that a re­ally re­ward­ing and en­joy­able process.”

It’s some­thing her coaches have had to work on with her; ap­par­ently, there is such a thing as too much train­ing. “It’s bor­der­line OCD in terms of her prepa­ra­tion,” Mott says. “Ninety-nine times out of 100, she would ask for ex­tra time. It feels like thou­sands, at times. She’s worn out a few coaches’ shoul­ders. We’ve tried to push her hard on the qual­ity of her train­ing rather than the quan­tity.”

For years, Perry con­tin­ued play­ing both soc­cer and cricket for Aus­tralia. She was con­stantly asked which she would ul­ti­mately choose, but she in­sisted she loved them equally. In the end, the de­ci­sion was made for her. Both sports be­gan to pro­fes­sion­alise their women’s game at the same time, mean­ing they needed full-time com­mit­ments from their

play­ers. “I had more op­por­tu­nity in cricket,” she says, “which meant I was more in­volved as those changes oc­curred.”

Each sport brought out a dif­fer­ent side of her per­son­al­ity. Cricket nour­ishes her in­ner in­tro­vert, but she misses the in­ten­sity of soc­cer. “Cricket is played over a longer pe­riod, a fair bit more in­di­vid­ual.there are more iso­lated in­ci­dents in the game,” she says. “There are of­ten more in­tro­verts in cricket, a lot more thinkers, a slower pace, whereas soc­cer teams I’ve been in have had more ex­tro­verts and big­ger per­son­al­i­ties.”

Off the field, she lives a low-key life. “I would al­ways choose to stay home and have a quiet night with a small group of friends rather than go­ing out in big so­cial sit­u­a­tions,” Perry says. “I like to read a lot and think about things be­fore I ex­press opin­ions.”

Her per­fect evening is spent at home, Face­tim­ing with her hus­band, rugby player Matt Toomua, a for­mer Brumbies fly-half now play­ing for Le­ices­ter in the UK. (He is based there year-round; Perry will join him af­ter the sea­son fin­ishes in April.) Toomua in­tro­duced him­self to Perry at the Qan­tas Club in Syd­ney Air­port in 2012, partly be­cause he fan­cied her and partly to taunt his team­mate Nic White, who also ad­mired Perry but didn’t have enough sta­tus cred­its to get into the lounge on that fate­ful day.white,who’s now hap­pily mar­ried, joked he would stand up and protest at their 2015 wed­ding.

Toomua ac­com­pa­nied the South­ern Stars on a re­cent tour, and won over Perry’s coach. “He’s a char­ac­ter,” Mott tells Stel­lar. “He’s quite cheeky, as Ell­yse of­ten says. He’s a re­ally good fel­low, an out­go­ing per­son­al­ity.”

The time apart is not ideal, says Perry, but “I guess both of us have the at­ti­tude that sport doesn’t last all that long, and we would re­ally like to make the most of that. We don’t want to re­gret not do­ing that in the fu­ture, af­ter we are both too old and un­fit. We will catch up on that time.”

the way we play. It’s not just skill – play­ers are fit­ter and stronger be­cause they have more time to spend work­ing on that. You have more com­plete ath­letes. They train dur­ing the day rather than work and rush to train­ing at night. There is a real fresh­ness. They put all their en­er­gies into be­ing the best crick­eter they can be.”

When the Women’s Ashes be­gins next week with a one-day match at Bris­bane’s Al­lan Bor­der Field, Aus­tralia will be aim­ing to keep the tro­phy it has held since 2015. Perry and her team­mates will be play­ing to a sell-out crowd, a re­mark­able feat given this is the first time tick­ets have been sold for stand-alone women’s matches. The ini­tial face-off be­tween Eng­land and Aus­tralia takes place on Oc­to­ber 22; tick­ets sold out nearly four weeks in ad­vance. Perry says she ex­pects the con­test to be tight. “In the last cou­ple of years, Aus­tralia and Eng­land have had a lot of close con­tests. They [Eng­land] re­cently won the one-day World Cup, so I think it’s go­ing to be re­ally close.”

With its in­creas­ing pro­file, Perry hopes peo­ple will also be­gin to ap­pre­ci­ate women’s cricket for it­self, rather than dis­miss it as a wa­tered-down ver­sion of the men’s game. Women don’t have the same strength, so they must play more strate­gi­cally. “Girls can’t just smash it out of the park; you have to be re­ally pre­cise with where you place the ball,” she says. “They end up try­ing to find gaps in the field more of­ten, rather than hit­ting through field­ers and over field­ers.”

What­ever the out­come of the Ashes, Perry has a long ca­reer ahead of her. Mott pre­dicts the pro­fes­sion­al­i­sa­tion of the sport means some women will play well into their mid-thir­ties, rather than be­ing forced to re­tire due to fi­nan­cial pres­sure.and when their re­spec­tive ca­reers are over, Perry and Toomua have plans be­yond nurs­ing each other’s chronic in­juries. (“He will be more crip­pled than me; he chose a stupid sport,” she laughs.) They’ve in­vested in a cafe in Can­berra, and “it might be some­thing we do more full-time when we fin­ish play­ing”.

When that time comes, Perry might even in­vest in some new socks. She still wears the same pairs she was given while play­ing in her pri­mary school team. “In a way, they prob­a­bly re­mind me of why I be­gan play­ing and how much fun I had.

“But,” she adds, “they are also just re­ally comfy socks.”

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