Cathryn Fitzpatrick February 10, 2013

'I wanted the captain to throw the ball to me in any circumstance'

Cathryn Fitzpatrick, the Australia women's coach, can teach her charges plenty about work ethic, though she doesn't think they are less mentally tough than their predecessors

Cathryn Fitzpatrick is probably the greatest fast bowler the women's game has seen. In a career that stretched from 1991 to 2007, she took 180 ODI wickets, still the record, and she was instrumental in Australia winning the World Cup in 1997 and 2005. Fitzpatrick was so fit when she retired at 39, she felt she could have gone on "for another year or two". She is currently coach of the Australia women's team and spoke to ESPNcricinfo in Mumbai during the Super Six stage of the World Cup.

Why did you take up fast bowling?
When I was growing up, my older brother and I used to play cricket. He would want to bat all the time, so I had to bowl all the time. When I got him out, he would say he did not want to play anymore. I would want to, so I would keep bowling. So it had something to do with my brother's unsportsmanlike behaviour in the front yard!

You look at fast bowlers, they come in different sizes. You look at somebody like [Shabnim] Ismail from South Africa. She's tiny but she just looks like she really wants to bowl quick. I think a fair bit has to do with your genetics and mechanics also. I did it because I just wanted to do it. I wouldn't put it down to anything else.

What made you so mentally strong? You lasted for so many years.
I am a competitor. I love the competition, the tactical component of the game. I loved bowling to the good batters, trying to work out where the weaknesses were and getting the right sequences of deliveries to get them out. In my entire time, I never stopped enjoying that challenge.

Where does that toughness come from? I guess it comes down to being the youngest of three siblings. My brother was close to my age and all his friends were boys. When you are the only girl hanging out a lot with a few boys, you have to be tough to survive.

Did your body ever tell you to stop?
No. Only when I wanted to go on and coach. At that time I felt I could keep going for a year or two more, but it just seemed the right time. I had a lot of injuries throughout my career but we had really good physios and medical people that gave me the confidence that I would get myself right and go again. Pre-seasons are always tough. The older you get, the more you have to prove yourself to the young kids coming through.

You just train smarter as you get older. When you are young, you are not much on the physio table. I always thought I had to do a lot of bowling to feel good. So I was never one to skip training. You could even say towards the end it gets a bit easier as you get smarter with what you have to do.

What excited you most about fast bowling?
I loved the battle. I wanted the captain to throw the ball to me in any circumstance. To be confident enough to turn the game for the team was something I loved. When you plan something and it works, that is what I loved seeing. Trying to upset a batter's footwork and make them go for a nick or trying to exploit a gap between bat and pad. It wasn't any specific type of dismissal.

You built up quite a reputation as you went on. How much did that egg you on?
It is not something that you set out to do. There is an expectation that you have to perform. I didn't mind that. It drove me to keep working hard on my fitness. Having that reputation, I think I picked up some wickets I shouldn't have. I didn't mind that. That is part of what I try to teach our girls. We have some talented batters and I talk to them about having a presence. You can have that presence at the crease, and that can create doubts in the bowler's mind.

You once said cricket has cost you a lot of money and time but there is something about it that keeps you going.
Our girls are semi-professional now, but back when I played that wasn't the case. You just played for the cap and the honour. You go to any male players who played in the '40s - they'll say the same thing. It involved a lot of leave without pay from work. That changed towards the end of my career. The investments were worth it, though. For whatever reason, the desire to have the badge on your chest was always there and I never took it for granted. I am more than happy to have had it at a cost.

You paid that cost. But the world around changed massively through your career. Did it get harder to go on?
If things hadn't changed for female cricketers I would have probably struggled to play for such a long time. That's because your commitments change as you get older. You can't just keep changing jobs. You have different responsibilities with your finances. Had it not become easier for females to play, I might have had to make a different decision. We got a little bit of compensation and things balanced out for me.

"When you are young, you don't have worries about money. You just get by. It means you drive a shitty car. You don't go out as much. I chose to spend my money on playing cricket rather than buying new clothes. I don't have any regrets about any of that"

What were the finances like in those days?
We paid to play as well as took leave from work. So that is your holidays gone, plus leave without pay. That was a choice we made. These players now haven't experienced it so much and that is a good thing. The women that played for Australia in the '30s had it harder. Our role - people like myself, Belinda Clark, Karen Rolton - hopefully made it easier for these girls to come through. Certainly no resentment towards that. I feel proud that we paved way for girls coming through now.

Did the lack of limelight ever bother you?
When you play, all you want is respect from your team-mates. The people in the dressing room count the most to you. When you stop playing, it is what those people have to say, and that is your legacy, that this player played with determination - that is the legacy you want. I don't think you play for the experience of the limelight.

You think the current generation is like that?
I think so. I can speak for our girls, not for others. Our girls understand our legacy. Being the coach of this team, I take the responsibility of ensuring the legacy of previous players goes on. We have talked about that a lot. That is part of our tradition that we respect. We don't take it lightly and we respect the badge, which means everybody that played for Australia before us.

How much of your time was devoted to cricket and how much to your job?
It was cricket most of the time. Early on, I did jobs that allowed me to get to training on time or where there was a fitness component involved. I ran behind a garbage truck for four or five years early in the morning. I was on a pushbike delivering mail. Every day of the week had a cricket component. You certainly watched what you ate all the time.

You worked with the postal department.
Yeah, for about five or six years. Started on a pushbike, which was good for fitness. I finished riding a motorbike because they wanted to motorise, as it was a lot more efficient. I would do the rounds for about three to four hours. When I was running behind the garbage truck, it was similar - three or four hours of just running, which was a fantastic. That is not for everyone, but I didn't mind getting up in the morning and getting the work done so that it allowed me to work on my cricket skills in the afternoon.

Were you recognised on those rounds, being an Australia fast bowler?
Not a whole lot. At work I was, because a lot of my work environment was male-dominated and a lot of the guys loved cricket and wanted to talk about it. On my rounds, the only reason anybody would know was if someone else was doing them when I was off playing cricket. When I'd come back, they'd say, "You didn't tell me you played cricket for Australia."

Was it difficult maintaining that duality in your life?
Not for me. It was never a problem. I always knew because I was away playing when I came back I had to be the best at what I worked at, so that people didn't begrudge me for nicking off all the time and going and doing other stuff. As a member of the Australian team, I also had to make sure I did everything right at work and not cut corners.

Was money ever a concern? How did you manage?
I didn't save money at that time. When I did, I would spend it on cricket. When you are young, you don't have worries about money. You just get by. It means you drive a shitty car, you don't drive big shining cars. You don't go out as much. I chose to spend my money on playing cricket rather than buying new clothes. I don't have any regrets about any of that.

What would it have been for you if it hadn't been cricket?
When I was finishing high school, I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to work with young people. I guess I didn't have to think about it. I am lucky it was cricket.

How much has the game changed from the time you started playing?
A whole lot. The confidence and skill of the players has improved. Someone like Belinda Clark did not have a power game but her timing was second to none and would still hold up in today's environment. Now there is nowhere to hide for players. Before, there might have been three or four players who would have been picked solely as a batter or a bowler. Now when we pick a team you have got to be able to field, do at least two of the three skills. The playing and travelling demands are more on the girls now. The fitness requirements to be able to cope with those demands are also more.

The scores have changed, which partly has to do with getting better wickets. Previously we would not get to play in stadiums like these [Brabourne Stadium]. We were not playing at the MCG. We were playing on wickets that were not as well prepared. The power in the game has changed a lot. The girls are doing more with the ball and the batters are hitting to more areas. The men's game has gone a similar way.

Today, a 17-year old Holly Ferling has an Ellyse Perry to look up to.
The beauty of Ellyse Perry is that she is a dual international. What that does back home for girls considering playing one sport or the other is to show them they don't have to choose. Holly Ferling also plays netball at a good level. So now Holly can look at Ellyse and say, "I can do both, I don't have to choose." Ellyse is a great role model and Holly will become a good role model as well. We get more coverage at home. Young girls being able to have idols that they see all the time is invaluable for us to attract and retain more girls in our sport.

Would you say cricketers from your era required more mental strength? Or these ones do?
These girls are in the spotlight a whole lot more, with games on television. It is a tough one. We had girls that were mentally tougher than others and we also have that now. That is a hard one to compare, really.

Is it easier for women players to multi-task, to balance different responsibilities?
It is not easier but more accepted. These girls play, they study, they work. If they live away from their homes, they are running their households. It has become more acceptable for girls to be out pursuing sporting careers. It goes back to these girls being role models - that you can work full-time and you can travel the world playing cricket.

Was it difficult for you, being a role model?
I think it is harder for the girls now as they are more in the spotlight. I didn't feel I was in the limelight so much. I always felt, though, that I had to be a good representative. That flowed on into my work environment as well, where people knew I was an Australian cricketer, so I ensured I lived up to my values as best as I could. Not everyone can do that. I possibly was a role model but not as much as these girls, so I can't say it was difficult.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo