Having earnt selection in Australia’s T20 squad for its tour of India, emerging batter Phoebe Litchfield is potentially only days away from making her international debut. Should it eventuate, Litchfield will be fulfilling her childhood dream.
Litchfield’s consistent performances at domestic level and in the WBBL over recent seasons were ultimately rewarded by national selector Shawn Flegler, seeing the 19-year-old board the plane to India earlier this week.
The five-match series presents a golden opportunity for several players to put their best foot forward ahead of a looming T20 World Cup in February next year. It also marks the beginning of an era of Australian women’s cricket post Rachael Haynes, with the 35-year-old recently calling time on her decorated career.
Prior to receiving the news of her inclusion from Flegler, Litchfield says that her focus was primarily directed at performing strongly on the domestic cricket scene.
“At the time I was pretty much just focusing on the NSW Breakers and the Thunder. It obviously crosses your mind, but I didn’t think it would come so soon,” Litchfield explained.
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A lot of water has gone under the bridge since a 16-year-old Litchfield first appeared at WBBL level, with the talented left-hander announcing herself to the Australian cricket public back in 2019. In just her second outing for the Sydney Thunder, Litchfield passed 50, putting her name up in lights as one of Australia’s brightest future prospects.
She has since become a mainstay for the Thunder, occupying a position at the top of the order. Across 52 WBBL appearances, Litchfield has amassed 903 runs at an average of 23.15.
The youngster is also fresh off her most productive WBBL campaign yet, despite the Thunder’s woes as a collective. Scoring 280 runs at a healthy strike rate of 117.64, Litchfield registered two 50s in WBBL|08.
Reflecting on her growth as a player since making her WBBL debut, Litchfield credits much of her improvement to becoming better equipped to deal with the mental burdens of the game.
“I think it’s sort of a mixture between both my temperament and then obviously my game as a cricketer. I think I’ve improved a lot as a batter both with [my] power and learning how to read the game and set up an innings,” Litchfield said.
“And then my temperament’s definitely improved from a silly 16-year-old!
“I’ve been learning how to sort of manage those emotions out in the middle when it’s that pressured situation.”
Adding to this internal pressure to perform has been the weight of expectation held by cricket onlookers ever since Litchfield first burst onto the scene as a technically gifted 16-year-old. Her rapid rise has meant that she has often carried the tag of being the ’the next big thing’ within women’s cricket circles.
Whilst acknowledging the influence of external pressures and expectations, Litchfield believes that this outside noise doesn’t compromise her on-field performance.
“I’d be lying if [I say] it doesn’t cross my mind. The pressure of scoring runs always plays on your mind, especially as a young player with the media going ‘oh you’re the next big thing’,” Litchfield explained.
“So it’s been on my mind, but as soon as I hop on the field it sort of disappears which is nice, and I just focus on scoring runs and actually having fun.”
In light of Rachael Haynes’ retirement, many are now looking to Litchfield as a long-term candidate to fill the void of the departing superstar. Given her age and similar batting attributes, there are plenty of signs pointing towards Litchfield being Haynes’ natural successor in Australian colours.
However, despite the obvious comparisons, Litchfield wants to maximise the time spent in the Australian setup on the subcontinent, regardless of where she fits in.
“I guess I’m like-for-like for Rach – as in a top-middle order batter, leftie, and a fielder.”
“That’s the spot that’s free in the Aussie setup (middle-order), but I’m not looking for anything at the moment, and I’m just relishing the time in the group and learning everything I can.”
Accustomed to batting in the top three for the Thunder in the WBBL, Litchfield may instead likely be deployed lower down the order should she feature against India. This potential shift in position doesn’t bother Litchfield, who is determined to play her role for the team wherever and whenever required.
“I think it’ll depend on the squad setup. I’ve been told about middle-order and then just roaming the boundary, roaming the field, trying to stop as many runs as I can.”
“So [I’m] really excited if that happens, but I’m not expecting too much.”
“T20 is a cutthroat game. You can either face 50 balls or 10 balls and it just depends on the game.”
“I think for me it’s just [about] doing what the team needs, especially in this setup. I’m not really worried about how it goes, I’m just here to learn, and if I do get an opportunity, going out there and doing what the team needs and just really relishing the opportunity.”
Although entering unchartered territory in India, Litchfield is set to see a familiar face in the opposition ranks. Having spent the entire WBBL|07 campaign working alongside Indian opener Smriti Mandhana at the Thunder, Litchfield gained valuable insights from one of the premier batters in women’s cricket.
“Smriti was awesome to play with. She’s a class above,” Litchfield said.
“As a leftie, I learned a lot from her. She helped me through those innings’, and I definitely made the most of her [time] over [in Australia] and picked her brains.”
“I’m excited to actually catch up with her potentially over here because she’s probably one of my favourite left-handers to watch.”
Whether Litchfield will break into the Australian line-up during the tour remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the enormity of potentially debuting for Australia isn’t lost on her.
“It would mean the world. To play for Australia has been my dream for so long and if I get the call up it would be awesome.”
Australia’s five-match T20I series against India begins on Saturday morning (AEDT) in Mumbai.
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