India have become the first side since the West Indies in 1988 to win a Test against Australia at the Gabba, a Rishabh Pant masterclass guiding them to a famous victory and retention of the Border-Gavaskar trophy.
I speak with Belinda Vakarewa a couple of hours before she is due to board a plane from Tasmania to the Brisbane bubble to join the remainder of her teammates from the Australian women’s cricket team ahead of the upcoming series against New Zealand.
After a year like no other, Vakarewa is excited about the prospect of joining her teammates and just playing some cricket.
“I remember getting the call that I had been selected and I was just shocked,” she says. “I didn’t expect it. I wasn’t hoping for anything. The only way I could describe it in that moment was shocking.
“But now that I have had some time to process it, I can’t wait to join the team getting back on the field.”
While Vakarewa may have been shocked, many were not, as her selection is a fitting reward for what has been a very good few years.
It’s been a while since Vakarewa was part of the Australian squad. The last time she was selected was in March 2018 when she travelled to India as part of Australia’s one-day international squad. At that time Vakarewa was hoping to get more game time following her single ODI appearance the year before during the women’s World Cup. Unfortunately, Vakarewa came down with a bout of food poisoning and didn’t get the chance to play.
Despite not featuring in the Australian squad since, Vakarewa’s career has continued to flourish with selections for several Australia A home-and-away tours and participation in the Governor-General’s XI earlier this year, with many speculating that she may have been a smoky for selection in the Australian women’s T20 World Cup squad.
That speculation came following a breakout year in WBBL05 after moving from the Sydney Thunder to the Hobart Hurricanes. Vakarewa took 20 wickets at an average of 15.80. These were the third-best figures in the competition and Vakarewa was again rewarded, named the WBBL05 player of the year for the Hurricanes.
For Vakarewa, moving to the Hobart Hurricanes was a chance she couldn’t say no to.
“When I got the call to go down to the Hurricanes I was being offered a lot of opportunity with the ball. It was an offer too good to refuse, especially with my mum living in Tassie.
“I just fell in love with the game again.”
Vakarewa is unsure whether that was a direct result of her success on the field or just simply having more opportunity with the ball, but having a group of supportive teammates helped, especially the likes of Nicola Carey and Maisy Gibson, who Vakarewa had also played with during her time at the Sydney Thunder.
“We all had a lot of fun off the field, but both those players were crucial for the Hurricanes last season,” says Vakarewa.
“Maisy had an unbelievable season in the NWCL and WBBL. She is a key player in our side and Nic Carey, who got so much more opportunity with the bat and ball, and it was so good to see her take that opportunity.”
Vakarewa isn’t the only player to be recalled into the squad, with Tahlia McGrath also returning. For Vakarewa the young talent coming through has the benefit of a national structure that includes pathways like the Australia A squad but also the opportunity to play in the best domestic competition in the world. Maitlan Brown is another player who has benefited.
“Domestic cricket in Australia is the best standard in the world,” Vakarewa says. “You play against the world’s best internationals in the WBBL, and while it’s challenging, it plays a huge role in preparation of players.”
It also has its benefits for those who make the Australian squad.
“Going into this hub, we are playing New Zealand and a lot of their key players, like Sophie Devine and Suzie Bates have played in the WBBL. We have tactics around them all and can study their footage and they can do the same for us.”
There are also opportunities for young players to represent their country.
“You think of someone like Annabel Sutherland, who was part of the Australia A squad, played really well against India in December and got selected as part of the Australian squad. To play for your country against some of the best in the world is a good chance to showcase your skills.”
Cricket Australia have already announced that tickets for the entire series are sold out. While there is reduced capacity at Allan Border Field for this series, it’s positive to see the continued momentum behind women’s cricket following the final of the women’s T20 World Cup.
“People are probably just excited to get out of the house and watch some sport,” says Vakarewa.
“It’s really special to see where the game has come from and where it is heading. Even though a pandemic has hit we still have a sold-out series to look forward to.
“When I was a kid we didn’t have female cricketers to look up to. It wasn’t, ‘I want to be Ellyse Perry or Nicola Carey’, it was, ‘I want to be Shane Warne or Adam Gilchrist’. To see how much it has changed is amazing. It wasn’t like that a couple of years ago.”
The series against New Zealand commences on Saturday, 26 September, with three T20 internationals followed by three ODIs.