Ella Hayward has represented both Victoria and the Melbourne Renegades over the past few seasons. (Photo: cricketvictoria.com.au / Design: Will Cuckson)

After earning her second Victorian contract for season 2022-23, promising young all-rounder Ella Hayward has burst onto the cricketing scene in the last 12-18 months and is looking to continue to further her game in the upcoming summer.

At the age of 16, you’d be forgiven for not having a clear picture of what life might look like beyond the walls of high school. Yet for Ella Hayward, she was already living out her childhood dream, playing the sport she’s loved from a very young age for the Melbourne Renegades in the WBBL.

Recently earning her second Victorian contract for season 2022-23, the promising young all-rounder burst onto the cricketing scene in the last 12-18 months and is looking to continue to further her game in the upcoming summer.

Since making both her WBBL and WNCL debut for Victoria during the 2020-21 season, Hayward has emerged as an exciting talent in the women’s game, with plenty of untapped potential still yet to be on full show.

Coming off the back of her first season as a Victorian contracted WNCL player, Hayward is excited to have signed on again for 2022-23, having gained some valuable learning experiences from last year’s campaign.

“I took a lot out of last year. I think the biggest thing was just getting the opportunity to play and train alongside the Aussies and getting a taste of what it’s like to play State cricket,” Hayward told The Inner Sanctum.

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Hayward’s rise to State cricket and the WBBL has been no coincidence, having been a consistently strong performer at the under-age level and in Premier Cricket for many years.

Earning her premier firsts debut for Melbourne Cricket Club at the age of just 14, Hayward has since been an integral member of two premiership-winning sides, the most recent success occurring last season.

Hayward is presented with her cap ahead of her Premier Firsts debut for Melbourne Cricket Club in 2018. (Photo: melbourne.vic.cricket.com.au)

An outstanding campaign in 2021/22 led to Hayward being rewarded with selection in the Women’s Premier Firsts Team of the Season, with the now 18-year-old producing prolific numbers with both bat and ball. Amassing 345 runs at an average of 34.50, Hayward also took 25 wickets for the season at a remarkable average of 10.16.

She said that she is pleased to have been able to positively contribute to her side’s recent success.

“It’s obviously an honour to kind of get that recognition. You play to win for your team so to have actually contributed as much as I did for my team last year was really good and I enjoyed it a lot.”

Hayward celebrates a successful Premier Firsts season in 2018/19. (Photo: cricketvictoria.com.au)

For Hayward, a love for cricket surfaced at a very young age. Playing in her first State championships at the age of 11 or 12, a passion for the game was ignited within. Realising cricket was something she wanted to pursue, Hayward drew further inspiration from the stars of women’s cricket at the time.

A testament to her dedication and hard work, Hayward now finds herself mixing it with some of her childhood heroes who she’s admired from afar, none more so than recently re-signed Melbourne Renegades WBBL captain and off-spinner Sophie Molineux.

“I met her for the first time in Under 15 trials and we got along really well. I looked up to her so much so to get to play alongside her is such an amazing feeling and I feel super lucky to do,” she said.

As a proud Indigenous woman, Hayward has also drawn inspiration from fellow current players Ash Gardner and Hannah Darlington, both of whom are respectively the second and third Indigenous cricketers to represent the Australian Women’s Cricket Team in its history.

“They’re both amazing players and really big inspirations for me and my cricket and have shown and paved the way for players like me that are coming through.”

Now well and truly on the path to forging her own cricketing identity, Hayward has taken everything in her stride since arriving on the domestic cricket scene. Last season’s WBBL campaign saw the young off-spinner exposed to a new challenge, having been entrusted with the responsibility of bowling in the powerplay on multiple occasions throughout the tournament. In 15 overs bowled within the powerplay, Hayward had an average economy rate of 6.5, conceding five runs or less in an over on seven occasions.

Hayward believes that it served as a great opportunity to add another string to her bow and continue to develop her craft.

“I think a big thing for me, especially for the T20s, is probably being able to bowl at any stage of the game. I loved opening the bowling early on last season and taking on that challenge,” she said.

“Obviously our game plan for a little bit there was just to go spin early and really use that, so I felt very privileged and lucky to actually get the opportunity to bowl in the powerplay. It was definitely a challenge, but it was one that I really loved and something I learned a lot from.”

Yet the challenges didn’t stop there for Hayward in WBBL 07.

Off the field, Hayward found herself sitting her final Year 12 exams, all the while simultaneously preparing to perform at her best for the Renegades in its pursuit of a spot in the WBBL finals.

In what can only be described as a truly unique experience, Hayward believes that despite the added stress at times, she wouldn’t change a thing.

“When I needed it to, school kind of took my mind off cricket and vice-versa,” she said.

The opportunity presented by the WBBL to rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in the women’s game also isn’t lost on Hayward. Last year’s edition of the tournament saw Hayward join forces with international recruits Harmanpreet Kaur, Jemimah Rodrigues, and English wicketkeeper batter Eve Jones.

Hayward says that she found herself in awe of some of the performances of her overseas counterparts while watching from the sideline at times.

“I think there was a game against the Strikers where we were well out of it and Harman just absolutely smashed them everywhere and I did kind of have that moment where I just had to take it all in.” she recounted.

“It’s such an unreal experience at times and you pinch yourself a little bit but it’s something that I’m really grateful for and I love getting to do.”

Beyond just admiring some of the stars of women’s cricket, Hayward has also relished the opportunity to bowl to some of the best batters in the world, picking up some big scalps along the way. Her very first WBBL wicket was none other than prolific English all-rounder Nat Sciver, a day which saw Hayward collect career-best figures of 4-16 off 4 overs against the Melbourne Stars and announce herself on the big stage.

Meanwhile, the most recent WBBL campaign saw the right arm off-spinner pick up the wickets of Australian superstars Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry, an early indication of the talent Australian cricket has on its hands.

Hayward explains that she isn’t afraid to take responsibility with the ball and enjoys the challenge of testing herself against such a high calibre of players across the WBBL.

“I think always wanting the ball in your hand is a real positive for your game. At any moment I’m ready to go and I like those opportunities.”

“You have to kind of have your plans, stick to them, and just back yourself. I think that was something I did a little bit better this season.”

Perhaps even more exciting for Australian cricket fans is the fact that we are yet to see Hayward fully showcase her talents with the bat in hand at a domestic level. Accustomed to being used as a top-order batter in Premier Cricket and under-age cricket, Hayward has primarily been utilised as a spin bowler for both Victoria and the Melbourne Renegades in her short career thus far.

But it might not be too long before a promotion up the batting order ensues, with Hayward notching three half-centuries to her name in Premier Cricket last season along with scores of 76 and 52 in the Under 19 National Championships.

Hayward is hopeful of gaining more opportunities with the bat moving forward, however, is remaining patient for those chances to present themselves.

“It’s something that I’m definitely working on and I’m very lucky to bat high up in my age group and for Premier Cricket. So by continually performing there and continuing to work on my batting, hopefully, I can work my way up but obviously, I know that takes time,” she said.

“I’m definitely shooting for a hundred really soon in Premier Cricket or under-age cricket, that’s something I want to tick off.”

Sharpening her focus to the season ahead and Hayward is keeping things simple, hoping to keep building and progressing her game in all facets.

“In general, my goal is always to improve every year and continue improving from the last season,” she said.

“I just want to extend my cricket further forward and keep working on my batting, bowling, fielding and keep improving as a cricketer.”

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