Former Australian women’s captain Belinda Clark is the undisputed champion of Women’s Cricket in Australia just as much off the pitch as she was on it.
She’s passionate about cricket and the growth of women’s sport. When asked what she loves about cricket, the answer was as straightforward as a great Australian sportsperson would say.
“I love the challenge of the bat versus the ball, of getting a team together and seeing people of all ages, backgrounds and gender laughing as they play on the beach,” Clark said.
She’s right really; sport is about community, spirit, team camaraderie, diversity, inclusion and having fun. And beach, love a good hit-out on the beach.
As a player, she represented Australia from 1991 to 2005, and captained from 1994. She also magically combined her player and captain duties with that of chief executive of Women’s Cricket Australia.
She has led by example, averaging over 45 in both Tests and one-day internationals. In 1997 she captained Australian to their fourth World Cup, but despite cracking 91 in the 2001 final, Australia lost to New Zealand by four runs. Clark's revenge came in 2005 when she led Australia to another title in South Africa, where her side did not lose a game.
She holds the women's record one-day score of 229, made against Denmark at Mumbai in 1997. At Test level Clark was, if anything, even more prolific, and her best score of 136 was made against England at Worcester in 1998. She holds Australia's record for Test and ODI runs and also for ODI appearances. She retired at the end of the 2005 Ashes series, but like her male counterparts, it was as part of a losing side.
As the team captain, Clark opened the batting. She’s a natural leader and her strength and passion on the field has transferred to what she now does off the field.
Staying in the game
Now, Clarke works within Cricket Australia’s administrators, as the Senior Manager of Team Performance and essentially looks after all the pathway programs for males up to Australia A and all the pathway programs for females, up to and including the Australian women’s team.
Her leadership in Cricket and for sport in Australia is second to none. Clark is the Alan Border of Women’s cricket and earlier this year it was Ellyse Perry who won cricket’s highest honor, the Belinda Clark award at Cricket Australia’s night of nights. Thus, she’s the obvious go-to for mentorship, although when she can.
“I’m probably too close to the administration to be mentoring too many of them but yes, obviously certainly always available,” Clark said
“And there are people that are playing in the team now that I played with, Alex Blackwell, Ellyse Perry, I remember seeing her involved in youth championships etc. So yes, the door is always open, but they need to forge their own way as well. That’s important; that the way I went about playing cricket is not necessarily the way for them,” Clark said.
Ellyse Perry in fact won the “Belinda Clark award” at Cricket Australia’s night of nights, the same night the male counterparts are awarded the Alan Border medal.
The Belinda Clark award is now Women’s Cricket’s highest honour.
Sports Heroes and modern day mentors
And now, with the exposure women’s cricket is getting, Clark believes young girls now have a few more role models to call on, unlike how it was when she grew up.
“I grew up playing many sports and my first heroes were tennis players, anywhere from McEnroe to Navratilova, Evert-Lloyd, that era, Boris Becker. And then the Australian Cricketers in the late ‘70’s, so Kim Hughes, Greg Chappell, Kev Lavesael, those sorts of people.
“I had no understanding that a role model should be male or female, I just enjoyed all of them and I didn’t really see any barriers there. I didn’t really understand that there was an Australian Cricket team at the time, but that didn’t stop me playing cricket or wanting to emulate my heroes in the backyard."
“They certainly weren’t all female athletes, but the important point is that the ones that were female were actually tennis players and the reason for that was probably they were the ones I was seeing on television. I played hockey as well and I didn’t have female hockey heroes because they were almost invisible, as were the cricketers at the time.
“That’s significantly different now to what it was growing up in the ‘70’s,” Clark said.
But now, as the exposure and professionalism of women’s cricket has increased, younger girls have athletes to look up to and career pathways to forge.
“I don’t think that stops girls having admiration for heroes that are males, but I think it just changes the dynamic to say, ‘Well, I can admire what they do but I’ve actually got a pathway myself and it’s through that channel that I’m going to express myself in the sporting context,’.
"[It's] really exciting and hopefully we’ve got lots of young girls growing up looking at the likes of Ellyse Perry and Meg Lanning or whoever saying, ‘Okay, there’s an avenue for me to do this professionally.”
On Women’s cricket becoming professional
So when Clark played, it was for love, and not money and for little exposure. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m quite comfortable with my career as it was and I enjoyed my time, I had a great time, I gave a lot of effort and I feel like I’ve got a lot out of it as well.
“So whilst the money is nice, it doesn’t actually replace any of the experiences or opportunities that you remember. That’s what I hold near and dear and I’m really pleased with the fact that the girls are now being rewarded for their effort,” Clark said.
“I take great pride in the fact that we’ve reached this point. It’s been a lot of hard work for a lot of people. I’m still working in the administration of the game so I’m reasonably close to the advances of being able to contribute in other ways.”
“From an overarching perspective I think it’s terrific that we’re in this position,” Clark said.