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Trailblazing Ashleigh Barty pioneers a new code hope

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Ashleigh Barty (Image via Brisbane Heat / @HeatBBL)

With Ashleigh Barty swapping sports from tennis to cricket, Lachlan Barker looks at the history of code hopping, before looking forward to the next test between Australian and New Zealand.

Code hopping is a relatively well known thing in sport. Mostly, it is done in search of more money, but other factors, such as a sportsperson seeking to prove themselves in a new medium, can be a powerful driver as well.

Probably the best known Australian code hopper of recent times is Jarryd Hayne. Hayne – a quicksilver, jinking runner in rugby league – realised his skills had application to American football, and so took a gamble and made the move to the San Francisco 49ers in California.

Currently, he has been cut from the main team, but is still training with the 49ers’ practice squad and so his dream, if not still flourishing, at least still has breath.

I might add, Hayne has shown that you can play sport and still take notice of the world around you, as he has recently taken time out of his hectic schedule to express his support for climate action.

Hayne is of Fijian ancestry and, so, recognises the threat sea level rise poses to so many living on atolls across the Pacific.

Other big name code hoppers include Anthony Mundine — rugby league to boxing. Going back a bit, leading players such as Wally LewisRay Price and Michael O'Connor went from rugby union to league. Of the current crop, Israel Folau and Sonny Bill Williams are undoubtedly the two best known players who have played both union and league. Folau has a particular place in history, having played three footy codes, Aussie rules being the third.

And so to the latest code hopper, Ashleigh Barty, a top flight tennis player, having competed in three grand slam doubles finals. Now she has made the switch from tennis to cricket.

This is a new one – as far as I know – as no one, either male or female, has done this before.

Barty indicates that she has found it hard playing the long lonely road of the world tennis tour and is seeking the greater camaraderie of a team sport.

While her mates back in Queensland were going out and having fun in groups, she was sitting in airport lounges across the world waiting for her flight to be called. This was a theme explored so brilliantly by 1980s band Redgum in their song Just another Moment on Your Own’, about the loneliness of playing tennis across the world.

Barty has signed with the Brisbane Heat in the women’s domestic 20-20 cricket league. Reports are she is already picking up the game fast. There will be nuances of technique and tactic she will need to learn, but of course the main skill, hitting a rapidly moving projectile with a hand held implement, is already in her repertoire.

Indeed, she may be at a considerable advantage, fast serves in women’s tennis run at around the 200 kph mark, while the fastest bowlers in women’s cricket come in around 120.

Her team, the Heat, play their first match on 5 December against the Melbourne Stars at Junction Oval, Melbourne.

And since we’re in the world of flannel foolery, I will take a moment to mention the men’s cricket.

The second test against New Zealand ended in a draw last week leaving the series at 1-0 to Australia with one match to go.

Australia batted first and moved with menace to a towering total of 559 when captain Steve Smith declared five wickets down. Opener Dave Warner again took heavy toll with 253 supported for much of it by number three bat Usman Khawaja with 121.

Considering how Australia dominated the first test match, also batting first and posting a mammoth total, most were already downgrading New Zealand’s chances to "sell" (to use a stock market analogy).

However, the Kiwis are a good cricket team – and never more so than when playing the big brother from across the Tasman – and so they went out and played like one.

Despite the early losses of both openers – the out of form Martin Guptill (1) and Tom Latham (34) – New Zealand played on undaunted.

Kane Williamson, fresh from his brilliance in Brisbane, notched 166 batting at three, however he was ultimately overshadowed by former captain, number four batter Ross Taylor.

Taylor put his head down and scored a record 290 including 43 boundaries. This was the highest ever score by a touring player in an Australian test match.

The previous high water mark was 287 from Reg Foster for England at the SCG in 1903.

With Taylor’s heroics, New Zealand was able to pass Australia’s score, finally being all out for 624.

Australia then posted 385 in their second dig, leaving the Kiwis with an unlikely 321 in less than a day to win. New Zealand however, having come so far, weren’t losing this match for any money. So they batted steadily until close to the end of play, when both captains agreed a result was not possible and so called time on the match.

The 1,100 runs in the first two innings strongly paved the way for a drawn match and so it proved. However, Taylor’s score did what the ticket sellers of Adelaide – the location of the next test – dearly wanted. He breathed life back into the series.

Taylor showed that New Zealand will not give up at any point and must now be considered a show in Adelaide with the possibility of squaring the series.

On the down side, reports have it that no Australian players congratulated Taylor when he was dismissed. I didn’t notice this at the time, but would hope that, if true, things will change fast for the next test.

Playing hard cricket is one thing – bowling quick, fielding tightly, batting with grit etc – but an achievement like Taylor’s was surely worthy of generous and good-spirited approbation.

Australia’s great fast bowler Mitch Johnson retired in Perth after having a terrific career. He is Australia’s fourth highest wicket taker with 313 wickets. He certainly had his tough times, particularly at times in England when he couldn’t seem to hit the pitch let alone the stumps.

However, Johnson is nothing if not resilient and, by dint of hard work, he was able to pull it back together and join the 300 wicket club, before finally retiring at Perth at the top of his game.

The test in Adelaide begins this Friday and is a day-night test, so there is much interest already. The game will be played with a new pink ball, which apparently is easiest to see under lights. Already, the chatter has begun around how this ball will behave and so, as usual in a sporting fixture, the passage of the ball will be of paramount interest.

So in the next 30 day period we wish to see:

  1. Ashleigh Barty have a great debut with the Brisbane Heat.
  2. The pink ball behave well.
  3. Plenty of congratulations for any New Zealander who plays well, and
  4. Australia win the test.

Lachlan Barker blogs at cyclonecharlie88.blogspot.com.au. You can also follow Lachlan on Twitter @CycloneCharlie8.

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