Phoebe Litchfield’s half-century against the Heat has created a buzz in the WBBL. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett)
In a career spanning almost two decades, former Australian captain Alex Blackwell cannot recall a more assured arrival in domestic women’s cricket from a 16-year-old.
- Phoebe Litchfield announced herself in the WBBL with an unbeaten half-century for the Thunder in their win over the Heat last weekend
- Litchfield was recruited by the Thunder after a tweet of her batting in the nets went viral in July
- She is still at school, studying year 10 at Kinross Wolaroi School in Orange
Phoebe Litchfield made 26 in her WBBL debut for Sydney Thunder against the Sixers at North Sydney Oval last Friday night and then hit a match-winning 52 not out against defending champions Brisbane Heat two days later.
“I heard her name before I even saw her,” Blackwell said.
“A kid from Orange, and then I saw the talent in the nets, but to actually go out and perform under pressure in your second game and win a game for your team, it is something quite special.
“I haven’t seen someone have such an impact so early in their WBBL career.”
Litchfield experienced turbulence on her flight from Orange in central western New South Wales to Sydney for training this week and admitted her stomach was also churning before her debut match.
“Extremely nervous, all the training and all the building up over the last few years was riding on this sort of moment,” Litchfield said.
“A lot of thinking before I went to bed and played scenarios over in my head.”
Fortunately for Litchfield, the 36-year-old Blackwell was her batting partner in both matches last weekend.
“It was amazing, I’ve just learnt so much from her from the past two games, [such as] how she keeps her head, her mental game’s so brilliant,” she said.
“She kept me level-headed and it was good to have her out there. She said: ‘Keep your head, you can’t worry about balls that have just happened, all we can do is try to keep scoring runs’.
“Especially in the second game when it [run rate] was getting up to 10 [runs] an over she just said, ‘We’re level with par here so [there’s] nothing to worry about’, and kept me a bit calm, which was nice.”
‘This is so cool’
The left-handed Litchfield struck nine boundaries against a Heat attack that featured international players Jess Jonassen, Delissa Kimmince and Amelia Kerr.
“It just felt like a dream, obviously it was real but it was like, ‘This is so cool’,” Litchfield laughed.
“I didn’t expect it, I probably should’ve been out first or second ball, so I was lucky to raise the bat I guess but it was a pretty cool feeling.”
Litchfield caught the Thunder’s eye in July when the NSW Breakers posted a social media clip featuring a series of classical strokes in the nets and a technique that looked like it belonged in the Australian team.
@NSWBreakers video tweet: “Some pretty good shots here. Introducing Phoebe Litchfield.”
The clip has had almost 143,000 views. Thunder coach, Englishman Trevor Griffin, was among those who saw the footage.
“I saw her online on social media,” Griffin said.
“Reports I had from New South Wales indicated she was a talent and it’s just the way she went about her training, the way she’s looked to take on feedback and develop and just the way she played in the nets.
“That showed she’s got some skill and I’m one for making sure we back our younger players.”
The Thunder is carefully managing Litchfield and they do not expect her to dominate the bowling every weekend.
“The key thing for us now as coaches and players and as Sydney Thunder is that we keep her feet firmly on the ground,” Griffin said.
“Cricket’s a wonderful game, you can score 52, win the game one day and turn up the next week and get a first-baller. It’s just helping her through and understand that it’s a long way to go with her career but it’s certainly an exciting one.”
Litchfield juggling WBBL with high school
After her player-of-the-match effort against the Heat, Litchfield was just another year 10 student when she returned to Orange’s Kinross Wolaroi School, albeit one who had starred on national television.
“It’s really nice to go back there and be a normal kid, go to school and talk about 16-year-old stuff and it was nice to snap back to reality,” Litchfield said.
“School is really supportive with sending me work each day and if I miss a few days they don’t worry too much. At least it’s only year 10 now, maybe in a few years it will be a bit more serious.”
Litchfield (right) has quickly become a fan favourite at the Thunder. (ABC News: Duncan Huntsdale)
Litchfield is also a member of the Australian under 16s All Schools hockey team but said cricket was her long-term priority.
“In the hockey season I try and do as much hockey as I can and try to have a break from cricket to keep my head off cricket for a bit,” she said.
“But definitely in the next few years, cricket’s going take its toll, I think, and hockey will just be a fun thing to do for fitness.”
For those wondering where Litchfield’s batting technique comes from, the answer could lie with her father and junior coach, Andrew, who works as a vet in Orange.
“He’s been so influential,” she said.
“I think sometimes if he wasn’t actually in my life I don’t think I’d be even a cricketer or the cricketer I am today.
“He’s played a massive part and the technique everyone’s seeing, I’m not saying it’s a good one but he’s the main one for that.”
Blackwell said Litchfield and other teenage girls now knew they could choose cricket as a professional sport and it could lead to a lengthy career.
“It’s really an exciting time for players of her age who are coming into a professional set-up,” Blackwell said.
“The conditions are wonderful, [there’s] education grants, [and] policies that enable players to think about having families and not delaying.
“So it’s all set up for her on the back of legends of our game like Belinda Clark. She [Clark] … probably behind the scenes has done more for cricket than anyone.
“I’m sure Belinda would’ve been watching and been really pleased to see what platform is there for players like Phoebe.”
Blackwell said Litchfield could enjoy a successful career if she remembered several factors based around remaining true to herself.
“To bat in the way that she’s proud of, [to] understand what she enjoys about the game and especially her art of batting, and to try and deliver that every time she plays, whether that be for her club Parramatta or Sydney Thunder,” Blackwell said.
Litchfield (right) took a lot away from batting alongside Alex Blackwell against the Heat. (AAP: Joel Carrett)
Litchfield did not have a cricketing hero that she based her game on as a young girl, but she found one recently in Blackwell.
She said Blackwell’s example had helped mould her future goals in cricket.
“In the past two months I’ve sort of modelled it on Alex Blackwell because I just think she’s the best player ever,” Litchfield said.
“But it’s more just aspiring to [join] the Australian cricket team. I sort of see them and think they’re all so cool so I’d just really like to be there one day.
“But I’m not expecting anything for now, just to keep on getting better.”