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February 1, 2008
The Australian women have no such problems. Ellyse Perry came out to bat this afternoon with the innings listing at 5 for 71. A 56-run partnership with Kate Blackwell took Australia to a competitive total, with Perry contributing a bustling 29 from just 25 balls. It was the 17-year-old's first Twenty20 game, but there was no hint of nervousness whatsoever as she got going with a nonchalant one-bounce four over square leg.
A magnificent six over long-on off Isa Guha helped finish the innings with a flourish, and we then had to wait until midway through the England innings to see what she could do with the ball. Quite a bit, as it turned out. Blonde ponytail swaying from side to side, she bowled full, straight and at lively pace with a lovely, rhythmic action. Figures of 4 for 20 didn't flatter her, and she also played a part in the key dismissal, ending Claire Taylor's defiant knock of 34 with a casual flicked throw on her follow through.
The cricket fraternity must do its utmost to hold on to her, because Perry also happens to be a Matilda, a member of Australia's soccer team. The side that once made global headlines for its nude calendar is probably a more glamourous proposition than the Southern Stars, and Cricket Australia must do what it can to make sure that she becomes a 21st-century Denis Compton, known more for her cricket than the football.
You realise how young she is only when you talk to her. With braces and a shy smile, she looks like a teenager, and I ask her what it was like to bowl at the MCG in front of a crowd that was rapidly filling up for the men's game. "Sensational," she says with a grin. "I've never played in front of a crowd like this, and to do so in your home country is just great."
So, will she have to choose between her two loves? "I guess I might eventually," she says. "But I'm pretty lucky in that the seasons are different for cricket and soccer. For the moment, I'd like to keep playing both."
Perry has the X-factor, but she wasn't the only one to catch the eye. Twenty20 is supposed to be a game for youngsters, but the tone for this engrossing contest was set by one of the old stagers. Taylor is 32, and an excellent diving stop on the boundary line was emblematic of an exceptional fielding display. She also took a stunning leaping catch at slip, but unfortunately, Nicky Shaw had overstepped.
The choice of music was unfortunate. With more cops and volunteers than fans in the opening stages of the game, there was hardly anyone to cheer, and when Shelley Nitschke smacked a Jenny Gunn full toss for four, they chose to play Garbage's Stupid Girl. Er, what?
Rosalie Birch bowled a tidy spell to rein Australia in, but there was still time to be entranced by a little cameo from Lisa Sthalekar. Like every great batsman, she has so much time to play her strokes. There was a gorgeous cover-drive before she went for one shot too many, and the first strains of the Cyndi Lauper anthem, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, suggested that even the music was picking up.
It would be easy to resort to cliché and label players like Sthalekar and Karen Rolton the Ricky Ponting and Matthew Hayden of their sport, but they're tremendous players in their own right, with a refined style that's quite far removed from the biff and bang of men's limited-overs cricket. Perry though is the future, a golden one at that.
This was the first time I've watched the women play. It certainly won't be the last.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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