The increasing demands of international cricket have been well documented, with players citing burnout, and rotation systems coming in. Australia opener Alex Blackwell, however, can't get enough - even though she has to juggle a career as a university lecturer in anatomy and physiology with her cricket.
"Each time I go away on tour I love it even more," she said from her hotel in New Zealand before the third one-dayer. "I think I'll want to play until I get to the point when I feel I've achieved and become the best player I could be."
Her identical twin Kate, also an Australia player, is a qualified physiotherapist who hopes to be a locum. The other Australian twins to whom they're always compared, Steve and Mark Waugh, didn't have these kinds of demands.
Blackwell picked up her textbooks in between the matches against England earlier this year, when she started her lecturing career, and has continued to do so on tour against New Zealand. "It was a little bit stressful preparing lectures late at night," she concedes, though she still turned out the performances on the pitch, including her first ODI ton. "I was pretty well organised but I had to do my first lecture the day after we played at the SCG. I was a little bit nervous but it all turned out well." She was also back lecturing the day after the Ashes: "I was a little bit weary the first few weeks, but the key is to be prepared and chip away at it."
Rather than complain or let it get on top of her, Blackwell tackles the challenge with relish. "It's difficult for everyone to balance out-of-cricket lives," she says with no hint of resentment. "I made some big decisions last year and I'm trying to work out the best situation to be able to train at my best and hopefully be a part of every series we've got from now on until the World Cup next year. Lecturing fits in really well."
Besides, the Blackwells are used to juggling commitments. Both played cricket and soccer to a high level while excelling in schoolwork. Something had to give, and it was soccer. Though they got to national level in the school competition, they decided to focus on exams. "I miss the soccer, it was a big part of my life for ten years," Alex says. "But I felt that I always wanted to do whatever I was doing to the best of my ability.
"Sometimes you can bite off more than you can chew, and sometimes you push yourself a little bit hard but in the end it keeps you disciplined and it helps you in your sport, your attitude to training. It makes you realise that what you're doing is important to you and you want to make the most of each moment you're out there."
|With the rise in the amount of cricket played, some Australia and New Zealand players have lost jobs due to the time demands. England have just introduced contracts and Alex hopes that deals for Australia players won't be far behind|
Blackwell also points out that work is actually good medicine when it comes to putting cricket into perspective. "Cricket's a big thing and I'm really excited about it but I'm excited about this new opportunity in teaching. It's actually nice to have an outlet to take my mind off the cricket. The life balance is important and with the increase in the cricket we're playing, that's going to become more and more important."
Not everyone has a sympathetic employer, though. With the rise in the amount of cricket played, some Australia and New Zealand players have lost jobs due to the time demands. England have just introduced contracts and Alex hopes that deals for Australia players won't be far behind. "The fact that the England girls are able to put more time into their cricket and really prepare themselves well going into the World Cup, that's a real added bonus. I think it's a positive step for them.
"Given the amount of cricket we will be playing in 2009, it's almost a natural progression that if the team is going to be the same throughout each series, it's going to need to move into that semi-professional capacity, I think. It's very difficult to maintain a full-time job.
"I'm not sure what position we're in. Cricket Australia support us well while we're away and while we're competing, with training grants. They see women's cricket as a big area to keep developing. They want their national team to be the best in the world."
Australia are the best in the world at the moment and dedicated, level-headed athletes such as the Blackwells are aiming to keep them there. Contracts would be a big help, though. "Hopefully it moves in that direction," she says, "and hopefully it's closer than we think."
Jenny Thompson is an assistant editor at Cricinfo