When an injured Ellyse Perry found a way

Australia's captain and coach took a punt on an injured Ellyse Perry in the Women's World Cup final four years ago. Here's what happened next

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
From behind the stumps, Australia's captain Jodie Fields could tell things were badly wrong. In attempting to deliver her first over of the 2013 World Cup final in Mumbai, Australia's outstanding allrounder Ellyse Perry had stopped in her run up not once but twice.
Among a leader's most vital attributes is the ability to give the appearance of calm even when things are going awry. For Fields, the task of maintaining an even strain amid Perry's ankle problems was difficult in the extreme. "I must admit at the top of the mark there a couple of times my heart sank a bit," Fields said at the time. "I thought 'oh no'."
Perry's selection for the final had been a major gamble due to ankle troubles that required a painkilling injection before the game and would lead to surgery a matter of days after it. Her contribution to the tournament itself had been minimal due to the injury, leaving the teenager Holly Ferling to perform ably as a pace bowler in Perry's stead.
But for the final, Fields and the coach Cathryn Fitzpatrick had chosen to back Perry, and for a few minutes it looked like a failed gambit. West Indies had made a serviceable start in pursuit of Australia's 259 for 7, with the power of Deandra Dottin and Stafanie Taylor to come. In obvious discomfort after two failed run-throughs, Perry remembers her approach to the wicket feeling decidedly unnatural, in contrast to the smooth rhythm, gather and speedy delivery that had made her such a fearsome prospect for all comers. At the time Perry feared she would be "in for a bit of a long night", and four years on she admits it was a step into the unknown.
"It was a little bit uncomfortable and something I hadn't felt before with my ankle leading into that match," Perry says, ahead of Australia's 2017 World Cup opener, also against West Indies. "But I just needed another shot at it to work out how to bowl."
What followed the halting start was a passage of play that emphasised not only Perry's value but also the beauty of pace and spin working in concert
The importance of finding a way to the crease was underlined by what was on the line - this was not only the competition decider but also the final match for Perry's longtime state and national team-mate Lisa Sthalekar, who had just bowled the previous over. Equally, it was a stern test of the judgement of Fields and Fitzpatrick, four years on from a horrid World Cup campaign on home soil that had forced plenty of behind-the-scenes change to Australia's coaching setup. Australia's batting had delivered a strong total, but nothing beyond the reach of Dottin in particular.
"In a final, when you put runs on the board, it's really important to shut down the opposition early in your bowling innings and just not let them get any momentum," Perry says. "West Indies are probably the most powerful team in world cricket for both men and women, so we were really well aware of their dangers."
After a brief break, Perry tried for a third time, pushing through a contrasting combination of pain and also lack of natural feeling in the joint. It was not the smoothest approach, but she got there, whirring her arm over at pace and getting the ball through to Fields, who followed up by running down to her bowler for an encouraging word or three. With each delivery, Perry's rhythm improved, then sixth ball she pinned Kycia Knight on the crease to win an lbw verdict. There was as much relief as elation in Australia's huddle.
What followed the halting start was a passage of play that emphasised not only Perry's value but also the beauty of pace and spin working in concert. Sthalekar wheeled away distinctively, Australian cap firmly in place, and gained expansive turn from the Brabourne Stadium pitch. Meanwhile Perry gathered speed and venom as her ankle warmed up, following up with two more quick wickets to have the figures of 3-2-2-3. Having for a moment looked like chasing Australia's total without having to deal with Perry at all, West Indies were soon in a world of pain.
"In that period we bowled really well in partnerships," Perry recalls. "Lisa bowled incredibly well at the other end and we just started to put a bit of restriction on West Indies, and I think in a final when you build that kind of pressure it often leads to wickets or mistakes being made by the opposition, so from that point of view I think everyone found their role in the team on that day.
"I've been very fortunate to spend a lot of my career playing with Lisa or her coaching me when I was a junior, so to be on the field when she finished her international career in such fantastic style, from the team's perspective it was a real pleasure to be able to send her out like that and give her what she deserved after such wonderful service to Australia."
Thanks in no small part to Perry's persistence, Sthalekar's night turned into just about the perfect send off: she delivered a pair of classical offbreaks to defeat Dottin and West Indies captain Merissa Aguilleira, and then closed out the match with a stunning snaffle at short midwicket off the bowling of Julie Hunter. Sthalekar was in many ways a forerunner for spin bowling in Australia's armoury, going from a time when she was commonly the only slow bowler selected to a 2017 when Meg Lanning's team may select as many as three in the one side - caps on and all.
"I noticed that there weren't a lot of spinners in the women's game," Sthalekar says. "Especially in NSW, we didn't really have any spinners coming through the ranks. I think the next one was Erin Osborne and she made her debut in 2009. For a long period of time I was the sole spinner in NSW. I certainly felt that, knowing spin played a crucial role. But the funny thing is I never really got coached in my bowling either.
"Never really had access to any specialist coaches, maybe David Freedman every now and then at a NSW Breakers training session, but nothing next to what the girls get now. It was almost like the coaches involved were predominantly batting or fast-bowling coaches - spinners were left to their own devices.
"I'm glad to see a lot of them are bowling with their caps on as well, that's what I'm really proud of!"
Perry's effort, meanwhile, was described by Jarrod Kimber in these terms: "Perry bowled her entire 10 overs, often limping in between balls or overs, but she just kept going until Australia had won the World Cup. In her last over, Perry bowled a bouncer. It was a special effort, courageous and skillful... what Perry did deserved to be added to illustrious list of Australian cricket propaganda. It'll start as a gutsy effort that won a game Australia should have always won. Yet, in a few years time, as people forget the details and just remember the result, it'll be known as the World Cup Ellyse Perry won on one leg."
After surgery, Perry was able to return to Australia's line-up in time for the Ashes later that year. Four years on, she is back at the World Cup, ready to have another tilt at the trophy. "Any success we've had in World Cups sits really high in my memories, and all of us as a team really hold on to those memories because they're really special, some of the proudest moments of your career," Perry says. "The ankle injury didn't really change that experience."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig