Talented Sydney Thunder players chasing teenage dreams in the WBBL

Australia World

The Women’s Big Bash has always been a stage set for upcoming Australian players.

And this year is no different in that respect, with plenty of teenagers enjoying life in the WBBL village.

But there is one team that boasts more teens than any other this season, and that team happens to be leading the ladder.

The Sydney Thunder have consistently tapped into Cricket NSW’s strong pathways over the six seasons the league has been played, blooding young players and evolving their game with the crash and bash format.

Some — like all-rounder Nicola Carey — have even pushed into the Australian team after showstopping performances with the Thunder, and have since gone on to sign elsewhere as a marquee player.

In 2020, the team has six teenagers that have taken the field so far: Phoebe Litchfield, Hannah Darlington, Rachel Trenaman, Anika Learoyd, Gabrielle Sutcliffe and Kate Peterson.

Darlington earned the WBBL Young Gun award last season, after some impressive performances with the ball and in the field.

A Sydney Thunder WBBL player hits out to the leg side as the Brisbane Heat wicketkeeper looks on.A Sydney Thunder WBBL player hits out to the leg side as the Brisbane Heat wicketkeeper looks on.
Exciting batter Phoebe Litchfield burst onto the WBBL scene last year for the Sydney Thunder.(AAP Image/Joel Carrett)

Litchfield caught the eye of the Australian public with her brilliant batting technique and fearlessness of facing some of the world’s best players at such a young age.

On debut in 2019, she shone with an innings of 26 from 22 balls in a tough night for the Thunder against the Sydney Sixers — she ended last season with an average of 20.77 and a strike-rate of close to 100.

A further two players in the squad are also in their early twenties: Tahlia Wilson and Saskia Horley.

This makes for a bit of a divide between them and the majority of the rest of the team with international experience, in their late twenties and early thirties.

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Kate Peterson made her debut this week at Blacktown against the Perth Scorchers — the whole team waited outside her door and cheered as she emerged from a period in isolation.

Peterson — who has already learnt a lot from Sammy-Jo Johnson on the bowling front — said it was a really nice moment and an example of the fun and supportive environment at the club.

“This is probably the longest I’ve been away from my family and away from home,” she said.

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Apparently it can get quite noisy on the Thunder’s level of the village hotel, with the older players getting involved with some of the teenager’s antics.

“Most of the time we’re all together in the hallway of our rooms, doing stuff like shooting nerf guns or having water balloon fights,” Peterson said.

“But I guess there are some times where the older ones do have more admin to do.”

Youth development a key for Thunder coach Griffin

Thunder coach Trevor Griffin is really proud of the work being done to continue the development of players that have come through the NSW Breakers and Thunder Academy ranks.

A cricket coach claps as his players get ready for a WBBL match.A cricket coach claps as his players get ready for a WBBL match.
Thunder WBBL coach Trevor Griffin says managing young players’ expectations is extremely important.(AAP: Gary Day)

Griffin has previously worked with the England women’s team and academy back in the UK, and also guided the Western Storm to two Super League titles.

He says one of the most important things about working with young players is managing their expectations at the top.

“The best players never get to the top on a straight line and they all have their challenges, dips in form or injuries that they have to overcome.

“The Thunder’s Heather Knight is a great example. She came out and scored 80-odd in her first game and got out very cheaply in the second. That’s the beauty of cricket.”

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Part of managing these expectations comes down to communication between the coach and player, ensuring that young ones especially know what their role is in the side.

“For some players, they’re used to playing in every game.

“And while Phoebe Litchfield made her debut in her first season and had a superb tournament, Hannah Darlington spent two-three years on the bench before she made her debut.

“So it’s definitely about helping players understand that it is a learning journey and we need to be really clear about their role, how they fit into the squad and if they’re not being selected, what they need to do and how we can help them with that.

“Some of these young women are now playing alongside their idols, in a move that shows how far exposure of the game has come.”

And while they have a lot to learn from the more experienced heads in the team, Griffin says there is always a mutual exchange of ideas.

“They certainly keep us on our toes,” Griffin says, chuckling.

“They bring this energy to the group that the more experienced players love.

“We love to see that freshness and nervous excitement and I think that helps drive the energy within the senior players as well.”