Former Australian captain Steve Smith has made his return to cricket in Australia, hitting 85 from 97 deliveries in NSW grade cricket. However, his innings for Sutherland came to an abrupt end.
There is no such thing as an overnight success in sport. The road to success is littered with sporting talent who either didn’t have the drive necessary to succeed at the top level or who were cut down by injury.
Following her elevation to the Australian Women’s T20 squad for their upcoming tour of India, Naomi Stalenberg is nearing the end of that road.
Now, I should declare upfront that I am her uncle so there may be some level of unconscious bias here. However, being her uncle also allowed me to interview a young sportswoman for The Roar, a privilege that amateur sports writers rarely obtain.
From what is written below, you will see she has taken the long road to what may shortly be seen as an overnight success.
Naomi grew up in north western Sydney and played soccer from six years of age before starting cricket at the age of eight. Two other girls played in her junior soccer teams but she was the only girl in her early cricket teams. That was a bit daunting.
“Cricket against the boys was tough at times, especially as they were a little bit taller and stronger than I was. I had to learn pretty quickly the skills I needed to compete.”
She represented the Hawkesbury region’s girls team at cricket from nine years old but played club cricket with the boys until she was 14.
“I played both soccer and cricket for as long as I could, but there was more opportunity to make representative teams for cricket. I began to realise cricket was the sport I would follow from around the age of 15, when I had made the NSW Under 15s girls team. From that point on, I was hooked.”
At the same time that Naomi made the NSW under 15s girls squad, she started playing First Grade Women’s Cricket in the Sydney competition. It was only at this point that she stopped playing boy’s cricket as the “two clashed on Sundays”.
Naomi represented the NSW juniors all the way through to under 18s but, like so many before her, found the jump from juniors to seniors very difficult.
To gain experience and to learn a little more about her heritage, she spent a gap year in 2012 in the Netherlands playing cricket.
“It would be the same as other girls going to playing a summer in England. It was an opportunity to play more cricket and develop as person as a well. I played some domestic cricket in New Zealand in the same year when I came home. With limited opportunities to make the NSW Breakers team I had to play as much cricket elsewhere to gain experience”.
I asked Naomi about her role models growing up.
“Coming from both soccer and cricket backgrounds, Ellyse Perry was the biggest name in my world as I was growing up and someone I looked up to” (Ellyse made her debuts for the national cricket and soccer team at the age of only 16).
“But as I came through my later teenage years and learnt more about the women in the game, Alex Blackwell became my role model. I had the privilege to play alongside her the past 5 seasons and she even was the person who presented me with my NSW Baggy Blue when I made my debut.”
Naomi did make her NSW Breakers debut in Launceston in 2013 at the age of 19 but struggled to find her role in the squad.
“I was in and out of the squad a lot that season due to injuries and other circumstances. I just had to prepare as if I was playing. It took 2-3 seasons to gain a role in the team and slowly move up the batting order”.
By the time of the recent Women’s National Cricket League final played just a few weeks ago, Naomi Stalenberg was batting at no.5 behind Blackwell and Perry.
Naomi has played for the Sydney Thunder in the first three years of the WBBL and actually made her Southern Stars debut in 2016 only to miss out on a bat. In 2017, her form fell away.
“In all honesty in 2016, I wasn’t ready for the Australian team. I had a few good innings in the first season of WBBL. It came off for me, I played some good cricket but I hadn’t learned enough to play at the next level. By being selected and then missing out ever since; it made me work really hard for every single run I’ve made and everything I’ve achieved ever since.”
“Two years later, I stand a stronger person; physically, mentally and emotionally. I’ve trained ten times harder, hit ten times more balls and played so much cricket in the past year to prepare me for the next step.”
“I learnt that it doesn’t just take a few good performances to get you what you want; sometimes its going to take years of constant, hard work to get you where you want to be. It was definitely something I didn’t understand at the time but looking back now; my outcome driven brain had to change and adjust to understand that the processes of everything you do are what help you achieve your dream.”
This season, the hard work paid off. Perhaps highlighted by her 114 runs against an almost test strength England in their warm-up for the women’s Ashes test, she also had a strong WBBL and consistent season with the NSW Breakers.
Her 48 runs off 41 balls to beat the Sydney Sixers in mid January, after arriving to the crease at 3/21, showed the Australian selectors that she had developed the composure to keep her wicket early and then attack when needed.
A few weeks ago, Naomi was selected for the Australian Women’s T20 squad for their Indian tour. At the age of only 23, she knows that she has a big chance to score runs and solidify her place in the Australian T20 team.
With an upcoming T20 World Cup in the Caribbean and the Ashes next year in the UK, she has a huge opportunity. With all the work she has put in over the last few years, you get the feeling she will take it.