If anyone knows about turning a corner in cricket after years of struggle, it's Danni Wyatt. If any team in the Women's Big Bash League reflects that trajectory, it's her Melbourne Renegades. As such, there's no better player to guide her team-mates through it, or to show them where such a change in direction can end up.
Wyatt spent nearly eight years of international cricket as a bits-and-pieces type of allrounder. Her bowling was economical but didn't return many wickets, while her batting record was poor. That all changed late in the Women's Ashes of 2017, at the North Sydney Oval. With England struggling at 16 for 4, Wyatt came out and smashed her first milestone innings of 50 off 35 balls.
She was only stopped by a run-out, and England ultimately lost. But coach Mark Robinson saw her confidence and pushed her up the order to open in the final match of the series in Canberra. There, following a brilliant century by Australia's Beth Mooney, Wyatt produced an even better hundred to run down a huge target and let England draw the series. "I like to think I am on this upward curve starting with the Ashes getting that 50 then the hundred at Canberra then another in India and since then I have been doing alright," she told ESPNcricinfo.
She can say that again. More like, Wyatt's career changed overnight. In 49 T20 innings for England before Sydney, 28 of hers had never made it into double figures. In her 18 trips to the crease starting that night, she made two hundreds and three fifties, including the England record T20 partnership of 147 with Tammy Beaumont.
The Renegades also weathered their winters in summertime. When the WBBL started out, the red team from Melbourne was actually the green team from Melbourne, with no star players and a host of young nobodies. They struggled accordingly. Through the second and third seasons, struggles continued. New Zealand skipper Amy Satterthwaite brought some much-needed experience, as did pace bowler and fellow New Zelander Lea Tahuhu. But the biggest names of the sport still went to play elsewhere, leaving the Renegades to grow their own.
On-field efforts improved, but the Gades were the heartbreak team of the league. They managed to lose the close games in an ever-expanding range of ways, occasionally producing their best but then slipping back. Across three seasons of hard work, they never made the finals.
At last, in WBBL04, they have, and will face competition leaders the Sydney Sixers on Saturday after some early-season stumbles. "I'm not going to lie, I didn't think we were going to get there, not after the first few games," Wyatt says. "But we hit the form at the right time and we are playing really well as a team with different people stepping up at different times."
In a happy example of growth through adversity, their route to the finals was driven by young players who had endured the club's struggles. Molly Strano and Sophie Molineux were spinners who have been at the club since its first season. Teenage legspinner Georgia Wareham joined them before making a bolt into the Australian side. This season, all three conceded fewer than seven runs an over, as did Tahuhu.
Hunting as a pack has worked. "Our batters are stepping up as well not leaving it to one or two people, which is what happened in the past," Wyatt says. "Now it is all coming together and we're going to give it our all on Saturday, that is for sure."
There's some modesty there from Wyatt, who led the team for runs with 357 ahead of Satterthwaite's 323. Molineux added to her bowling by chipping in 299 with the bat, and former Australia player Jess Duffin made 222. There were no all-star performances like their opponents the Sixers have kept producing, just a consistent group effort.
But that could be enough. While the Sixers have smashed some huge totals this season, three of their losses have seen them kept to totals of under 100. If any side can restrict the Sydney power game, the Renegades' bowling unit should be a chance.
That Wyatt will be around to take on the Sydney juggernaut is a triumph of flexibility. Originally, Mark Robinson, the England coach, had laid the ground rule that his players would have to return home at the end of the regular season in to get some valuable rest ahead of their March tour of the subcontinent. But a text from the Renegades coach, Tim Coyle, convinced him to allow Wyatt to stick around for the club's first post-season game.
"I came straight to Australia from the World Cup and spent seven weeks here after that time at home [two weeks] I go to India and Sri Lanka for seven weeks," she says of the helter-skelter schedule "Then, into the summer we have the West Indies at home and the Ashes. So I can see where the coach is coming from, it is important I get that rest."
As for the benefits of playing in the WBBL as far as the England team is concerned, Wyatt has no doubt. "The other girls have also found it a really great standard and really tough competition and it can only be beneficial," she says. "We also have the World T20 here in March 2020 so it is only going to help us, I reckon. To see the Aussies lift that [WT20] trophy in the West Indies was hard to take. This is a massive year for us. We haven't won the Ashes for a while now and we want that on home turf. That would be amazing."
In the immediate term, it is in her underdog Renegades that Wyatt has faith that something special is possible in this semi-final. "Drummoyne Oval is quite a slow track, so it might suit us with our slow bowlers and spinners," she says. "We just saw them get rolled by the Stars so it shows anything can happen in T20." It sure can, as Wyatt's own story demonstrates better than most.