'The No. 2 ranking doesn't sit well with us'
Belinda Clark is Australian batting's sparkling, best-kept secret. For 15 years, she has collected a string of quality records and averaged over 50 in Tests and one-dayers. Australia's longest-serving women's captain, she holds the highest ODI score - male or female - of 229, and the most runs in limited-overs history with 4470. On Monday, Australia's selectors announce the squad for the Women's World Cup in South Africa in March, and Clark is expected to guide them again as they attempt to make up for the disappointment of a four-run defeat to New Zealand in the 2001 final:
You're one of the few women to have played 100 one-day internationals. Did you always believe you would come this far?
When I started I probably never thought I would come this far. I have been to some good places, met some very nice people, and played some good teams, so I am very happy with where the journey has taken me. I grew up in Newcastle [New South Wales] and used to play in the local boys' team, so from there to here is quite a different setting. The Australian team has been reasonably successful over the period that I've played.
How far has women's cricket evolved from the time you started playing?
A great deal. At home, we have got lots more girls playing now, and there are good structures in place that allow them to play representative cricket at a younger age. Worldwide, the game's starting to really take shape - there's not a lot between the top couple of countries in the world, and that's how it should be.
What differences do you see between men's and women's cricket?
I don't know if there is any attitudinal difference in terms of the players. Probably the public is not as aware of the women's game because it isn't on television as much. But the attitudes and the professionalism and the level of training that the players put in ... definitely the Australian women's team are certainly no different to the men, and they hold fulltime jobs as well.
Are sportswomen looked upon as second-class citizens?
History shows that it's more difficult for a female to make a living out of sport. It's more difficult for women to receive the sort of recognition or publicity which brings opportunities to make money down the track. However, there are some terrific female athletes in the world at the moment, and they are really making a charge at addressing that issue.
Have you found yourself having to justify why you play?
Probably not so much in Australia, where it's common for girls to be very active and involved in sport from a very young age. The question I get asked more is probably, "Why do you do what you do when there's no money involved?" I don't think the money will make a difference to tell you the truth, because the people I play with enjoy playing the game for itself and no amount of money would change that.
Australia lost the last World Cup to New Zealand by four runs. How often do you think about it?
Daily. Well, not quite. It's a game that comes around every four years. The World Cup is important because it gives you your ranking for the next four years. Because of that result we've been No. 2, and it doesn't sit well with us. We play New Zealand in three matches in the lead-up to the World Cup so it will be good to find our feet.
How many changes have been made to this team from 2001?
I don't expect the side to be too much different to the one that went to India late last year, but there'll be a maximum of six players from the last World Cup, which is a pretty big change.
What was it like in 1997-98, winning it in front of 50,000 spectators?
It was my best cricketing moment: winning in front of so many people in Kolkata. Every time I see the footage I get goosebumps. Back home, we are used to crowds of 5000 at the most.
After 14 years of international cricket, how long will you keep playing?
I'm 34 now and the next World Cup is four years away - I won't be playing when I'm 38. At the end of the season in the last couple of years I've wondered whether I'll be enticed back for another pre-season. We've got an Ashes series in August, which is the biggest thing outside the World Cup, and India and New Zealand are touring here next summer, so there are things to look forward to.
You play for the Victorian Spirit and face the New South Wales Breakers in the finals series of the Women's National Cricket League which starts on Friday. Are there World Cup spots still to be sealed?
The final selections will be made over the weekend, and the team is announced on Monday. Competition for spots is intense. The best-of-three format is a good way to work yourself into a finals series, and there has been a tradition that Victoria and New South Wales are the two strongest teams.
You're the only woman to have been named Cricketer of the Year by Wisden Australia. What was that like?
It came as a big surprise. I am sure there were a few guys that weren't too happy about that. I had spoken to Peter Roebuck, the editor, and Mark Taylor at the time and they said it was recognition for the way that the team had played, and being the captain I received that award on behalf of the team.
Do you encourage sledging?
It's pretty placid on the field, but some people don't like anything being said, which is a little bit unfair. There are occasionally words exchanged, but never anything of any great note - certainly no personal insults.
How have you managed to keep your passion going for so long?
I was instilled with some values by my family, and those have stuck with me: being a good sport and accepting a loss when it comes. It's just a game in the end and people go back to their other lives.