Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory in Australia, is named after naturalist and biologist Charles Darwin: the Englishman best known for his Theory of Evolution. It is, therefore, almost poetic that the woman who has become the poster girl for the evolution of women’s cricket made her international debut as a teenager in that very city.
Since her debut in July 2007, Perry’s list of milestones has grown with each passing year. Contributions to seven World Cup titles, over 5000 runs and 300 wickets across formats, three Rachael Heyhoe Flint Awards, and three Belinda Clark medals are just the tip of the iceberg. Dive beneath the surface, and it becomes evident that Perry’s impact on the game goes beyond her achievements on the field.
Merely 13 days after donning the green and the gold in Darwin, Perry became the first player to represent Australia in cricket and football, juggling both sports at a high level for almost a decade. Her natural athletic ability and impeccably honed skills. She captured the imagination of a generation, showing them what female athletes could achieve when given the opportunity. At the time, both sports were going through a phase of transition - moving from amateur to semi-professional, to fully professional structures.
Since then, professionalism in the women’s game has progressed by leaps and bounds. Now, players no longer have the opportunity to pursue multiple sports at an elite level. High-performance environments require them to make choices relatively early, and they are then provided with the support and opportunities to excel. Early in her career, Perry was lucky enough to have a light schedule which allowed her to balance both schedules, but the professionalism in women’s sports, in general, has changed perspectives all over.
One of the pivotal moments in Perry’s career took place during the ODI World Cup final of 2013. After missing the Super-Six stage of the tournament due to an ankle injury, the team management took a leap of faith to include Perry in the final against West Indies. Batting at nine, she scored a quick-fire 25 runs to push Australia's total past 250.
Her major contribution, which elevated the 23-year-old to legendary status, came in the second innings. With the fractured ankle, Perry bowled six overs on the trot and took three wickets to dismantle the opposition’s top order. Her efforts saw Australia clinch their sixth ODI World Cup title.
It was only after that heroic effort - that began with two false starts and a few nervy glances towards the dressing room - that the true extent of her injury was revealed. With a limited amount of experience in their ranks, Australia were forced to take a gamble and risk Perry’s fitness in their pursuit of a World Cup trophy.
Even as the top-ranked team in the world, back in 2013, Australia were unaware of when they were going to play the next international fixture. There was no clarity about what event they needed to save her services for. Now, with more clarity regarding future tours and engagements, the team management have a clear understanding of the 'bigger picture’. Workload management has become a norm instead of a luxury. Access to advanced medical facilities and personnel has translated into early injury detection and clear recovery plans for athletes.
The likes of Tayla Vlaeminck, Georgia Wareham, and Sophie Molineux, who are currently out of the national team due to injury have a clear pathway to rehabilitation and recovery.
Despite her all-conquering accomplishments in the white ball formats, Perry’s double century in the first-ever pink ball Test played an enormous role in the evolution of the game. Playing a Test match after a gap of two years? It was completely new territory for most of the players involved. After bowling 21 overs in the first innings, Perry faced over 370 balls in her innings of 213, where the next-best score from either side was 79.
It opened the door for conversations about more Test matches for women. If Test cricket is the pinnacle of the game, the innings from Perry became an example of what women can achieve given the opportunity.
The Test matches played before were not accessible to a global audience. But the multi-camera broadcast, all-women commentary team, and Perry’s heroics made the 2017 Women’s Ashes Test in Sydney one of the most watched games of cricket.
While that Test innings showcased Perry’s ability as one of the most technically correct batters in the world with a truckload of patience, her performance in the fourth edition of the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) in 2018-19 transformed the realms of possibility for a T20 batter.
Just before the commencement of the season, Perry was part of Australia’s T20 World Cup-winning squad in the West Indies, where she batted at number seven, only scoring 60 runs in five innings in a batting order that consisted of Alyssa Healy, Beth Mooney, Meg Lanning, and Ashleigh Gardner.
Back on home turf, Perry started the fourth season of the WBBL with a century partnership with fellow opener Healy. She followed it with a century, that too in the chase against Perth Scorchers. Throughout the season, she batted in 16 innings in the tournament and scored over 50 runs in half of them. By the end of the tournament, Perry had 777 runs under her belt at an average of 86.33 and a strike rate of 121.1. It is still a record for the most runs in a single WBBL season.
The fourth season saw record-breaking viewership in Australia and all over the world. Three knock-out matches played at the Drummoyne Oval were sold out and it established the foundation of further development in WBBL. Since then, WBBL has set the benchmark as the most competitive domestic tournament, which has provided Australia with an edge over other countries.
Over the last 15 years, if we focus on the moments that truly changed the women’s game as we know it, you will find some Ellyse Perry connections. Looking back it’s fitting that someone closely associated with the evolution of the game made her debut at the place closely associated with the father of the evolution theory.