Cooper heads Stars' new Department of Youth
Where there are clouds, there remain silver linings
Where there are clouds, there remain silver linings. The pall of a controversial World Cup Final defeat still hangs over matters, and the likelihood that several of its key figures will ever again play in the sport's ultimate tournament is equally shrouded in uncertainty. But, for Australia's women's cricket team - the Southern Stars - the future is still decorated by many beacons of light.
One of these rays of hope, unmistakably, is a young Queenslander. A new face among the fourteen-strong squad that the Stars will take with them on the tour of England and Ireland that begins next month, Sally Cooper is exciting, talented, and parades an infectious sense of enthusiasm.
"Shock is a fairly good word to describe what's happening to me at the moment," she remarks of her inclusion in a party chosen at the end of a recent four-day training camp in Brisbane.
"I really didn't expect to be selected; I was very happy just to be named in the 22-strong selection squad. I went away to the camp on the premise that I had nothing to lose. It was an amazing shock to be added to the side."
In the Victorian-born 22-year old, there is a hint of the future of Australian women's cricket in more ways than one. Not only will Cooper embark on the month-long trip at the vanguard of the wave of youth expected to emerge in the lead-up to the next World Cup in 2005. But symbolism in her promotion also lies in her status as a standard-bearer for the contingent of attacking young batsmen expected to slowly infiltrate the Stars' ranks in the wake of that charged Cup defeat last December.
"I don't think I'm going to change my style of game at all," she says of her elevation.
"I'm fairly aggressive because I basically love scoring runs. I don't like to be bogged down. That can be both a benefit to me and a disadvantage in that I sometimes get frustrated but, as far as scoring runs goes, I'm out there for a good time not a long time!"
As Australian women's cricket grieved over that four-run loss that handed home team New Zealand the world title, so its chief strategists became convinced that rejuvenation, regeneration and rebuilding of the side's stocks was necessary. Attention turned quickly to Cooper, the resourceful left hander whose economical backlift belies her devastating power and timing.
Cooper's attractiveness to the selectors might also have been complemented by the fact that she doesn't carry a newcomer's usual handicap of a lack of international cricketing experience. Indeed, for someone who has only recently entered her twenties, the appearance on her (indoor) cricketing CV of membership of a World Cup-winning side and the experience of an Ashes tour already sets her apart from most of her contemporaries.
While her compatriots were heading toward heartbreak across the Tasman, 'Scoop' had already returned home from South Africa with the glory of having been part of a side which had reached the pinnacle of women's indoor cricket. Like the successful indoor tour of England that went before it, it was a heady experience. Albeit that Cooper had already come to the realisation - even prior to her retirement from the indoor game in late 2000 - that the dual versions of the sport were far from wholly complementary.
"Although they're supposed to be the same styles of game, the way that they're played and the different sorts of physical demands that they make I found difficult to mix in with one another. Especially at the start and end of each season. The fact that I made the indoor side for Australia was great and I don't take away from, or regret anything about, that. But indoor cricket changed my batting style too much and it took me too long to get back into the rhythm of outdoor cricket."
By this stage, there was also the completion of an Arts/Law degree at the Queensland University of Technology to consider - she is currently in her second last year of the combined degree - and a body to look after.
"My body needed a break because I'd basically played cricket all year round for a number of years; although my determination was still there, I felt that physically I wouldn't have been able to keep going at the level that I wanted to in the outdoor game."
In the end, nothing truly stoked Cooper's competitive passions as much as the prospect of representing her country in the outdoor version of the game. Progress toward the ultimate realisation of that dream has been aided substantially by consistent form from the time of her National League debut for Queensland in 1997-98. And it was then fast-tracked following a brilliant 2000-01 season that was sensationally capped by an unbeaten 78 (from a mere sixty deliveries) in the opening match of a best-of-three finals series against competition powerhouse New South Wales.
Now comes the prospect of an overseas campaign that will hold Cooper in its permanent thrall. Her opportunity arrives at an interesting point in Australian women's cricket history, not only because this tour marks the first occasion on which the country's men's and women's teams have simultaneously embarked on Ashes tours. It is also a visit which gives the Stars a chance of claiming, for the first time, the women's Ashes trophy inaugurated at the time of the drawn series of 1998. And, tellingly, it will be their first international appearance since the dark day at Lincoln that essentially saw them surrender Australia's longstanding mantle as the world's most outstanding women's team.
"I can understand that there's a bit of pressure there for us, especially for the experienced players in that they've become part of that legacy (of success) and don't want to see that subside.
"But I think that the team's going to continue to be successful because of the quality of the people involved and the determination and drive that the side generates.
"Personally, I'd love to be considered, potentially, as a long-term player for Australia and a long-term part of the side's plans. But, for the moment, I just want to be picked in the eleven, to play to my potential, and to hopefully help the team win."
Exorcising a demon from the recent past will be a pre-occupation for many players on this tour. But it is wise to remember that the traditional touchstones of the Australian women's cricket team's success have been its outstanding skill, its masterful batting, and its mental and physical toughness. If Cooper's emergence is anything by which to judge, there is no need to assume that the future will not be sunny.