The might of Sampson
"Let's just play rallies." One of the world's fastest women bowlers is relaxing on an Adelaide tennis court ahead of her first World Cup. "Just a knockabout." But within seconds Emma Sampson is subconsciously firing down winners past my hopelessly lunging racquet.
Tall and athletically lean, the 23-year-old Sampson is a born sportswoman, but for all her innate competitiveness she does not come across as ruthless off the pitch. Rather, the naturally gifted Australian fast bowler is hugely relaxed - though not necessarily laidback.
She shares with her club and country captain, Karen Rolton, a quiet determination and a sense of always being in control of the situation. There must be something in the Port Adelaide water.
Sampson's best mode of play is calm. "In the lead-up to a game I just normally try to stay as relaxed as possible," she says. "Then we have some music playing in the changing room and everyone gets to pick a song. I like Linkin Park, but you're lucky if you get your song played, as there are about 20 songs on the CD. Then we focus in our warm-up and have a group huddle."
Sampson bowls at about 118kph (73mph) , and her bouncer is her most dangerous - and, I detect, favourite - weapon. Allied to nagging accuracy, hers is a potent potion. Best of all, she is that rarest of creatures - a thinking fast bowler. From 26 ODIs, her average of 21.94 doesn't tell as true a story as her economy-rate of 3.65.
Sampson's entry into cricket is a familiar tale of growing up playing alongside the boys on the street. "I was always the annoying one when I was little, I always had to win. Playing with the boys, you had to be fairly competitive." And was she as good? "I think so," she giggles, almost embarrassed.
She chose cricket because it was what she was best at, and from there progressed easily through the ranks. With an ability to field in many positions and a solid left-handed batting technique that enables her side to bat right down the order, Sampson represents all that is good about Australian cricket. But she is also kept on her toes by the ever-abundant talent stream of the domestic game. "You have to make sure you're doing all the right things and keeping your form good."
The contracts have helped - now she is recompensed for time away from work, and when not on tour she works as an administrator for an industrial company, Adelaide Inspection Services. She has, she says, been lucky to find such an accommodating employer. "My boss and the directors are all very understanding and supportive. I also have a job to come back to!" she adds, implicitly referring to the fact that she was dismissed from her previous job purely for playing too much cricket.
Her new boss, by contrast, has allowed her to work four days a week. "It's good to have a day off to catch up on your washing and so on!" she smiles. He lets her have as much time off as she needs and will be following her scores closely in the upcoming World Cup. He could even watch her on Foxtel whenever Australia play at North Sydney Oval, which is also where the final will be held. Though all games are in New South Wales, there is expected to be plenty of support from South Australia, with friends, family and clubmates heading out from Adelaide.
Sampson, in her first World Cup, is excited as she prepares to help her country try to defend the trophy. "I can't wait. It's what you train for as a cricketer. Home advantage will help - we all know what the climate is like and the pitches are like in Australia. The New South Wales girls will be able to help us, although we've all played quite a bit in Sydney. "
She won't be drawn on whether she would prefer to win the World Cup or this year's Ashes, where Australia have lost the last two series. "Both!" she smiles.
For now, though, her eyes are on the one-day prize.
Jenny Roesler is a former assistant editor at Cricinfo