Young gun’s ‘devastating’ WBBL debut

Few cricketers have started their professional careers in as tumultuous circumstances as 18-year-old Anika Learoyd.

Signed by the Sydney Thunder amid a global health pandemic, the rising star was forced to quarantine in a biosecurity bubble at Sydney Olympic Park with her teammates last month.

The sacrifice paid dividends, however, when Learoyd was named in the starting XI for the Thunder’s opening fixture against the Sydney Sixers at North Sydney Oval.

But in a cruel twist of fate, Sydney’s unpredictable weather ensured her professional debut ended as an uneventful washout. Because the toss had already taken place, the result was a “no result” rather than “abandoned”, even though a ball had not been bowled.

Learoyd got another opportunity in the Thunder’s second fixture, against the Melbourne Stars at the same venue.

Once again, rain intervened, and the match came to a close after just four overs.

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Learoyd unfortunately has not been selected in the starting XI of a WBBL game since, so her professional record stands at two games, zero balls bowled, zero balls faced.

“It was a little bit devastating,” Learoyd told “I was obviously really excited to be in the 11, and for it to be rained out was a bit devastating.

“But it was also devastating from a team point of view. We were really hoping to get on the park that weekend, so to not be able to do either of those things was quite disappointing.”

Anika Learoyd of New South Wales raises her bat.Source:Supplied

After two washouts, the Thunder were thankfully able to string together a few wins to put them in contention for a spot in the semi-finals.

And the final stretch has been particularly brutal for the eight WBBL clubs, with each team required to play six games in nine days to complete the group stage.

“It’s a lot of cricket,” Learoyd said. “For us, we’ve just made sure that we’re doing what we can to recover well, recover quickly and rest as much as we can.

“It’s going to be quite hectic, and it can get a little bit frantic at times, and almost a little flustered.

“We’ve just got to try and be as prepared as we can off the field.”

Growing up in Coffs Harbour, Learoyd found herself playing cricket whenever she could, whether that be in the backyard or on the beach.

Other sports caught her attention, but nothing came close to the thrills of competitive cricket.

She slowly made her way through the pathways program before securing a two-year contract with the New South Wales Breakers and Sydney Thunder earlier this year.

The young gun also moved out of home in June, migrating to Sydney to help with study and cricket. She no longer has to travel six hours each way to play grade cricket on her weekends.

“It was brutal,” she sighed.

Anika Learoyd of New South Wales.Source:Getty Images

Unlike many Australians, Learoyd was home-schooled throughout her childhood, which assisted her chaotic sporting schedule.

“Lots of people often ask me, ‘Is it better than school?’ I don’t actually know, because I never even went to school, so I can’t actually compare at all,” Learoyd said.

“For me, it worked, especially with my heavy training program and playing program and all the travelling that I had to do.

“My learning could be flexible around my training if needs be, whereas for most people, it would be the other way around.”

Learoyd’s family live on a 22-acre property on the north coast of New South Wales, an ex-dairy farm which was essentially an abandoned paddock when they first moved in.

But with the guidance of Anika’s father, the family were able to transform the property into a thriving wildlife sanctuary.

“We’ve actually planted 3000 native trees,” Learoyd said. “Now we have an abundance of birds, kangaroos, turtles.

“You name it, we’ve got it.”

Learoyd is currently studying wildlife science at university, hoping to get into the field of wildlife conservation and management.

Hannah Darlington and Anika Learoyd.Source:Supplied

A proud Gumbaynggirr woman, Learoyd was not aware of her Indigenous heritage until her early teens, the topic bizarrely brought up in casual conversation.

Since then, Anika and her family have actively tried to find out more about their culture.

“My mum is actually in the process of doing a lot more research right now,” Learoyd said. “She’s trying to put together a family tree with the help of a couple of relatives who she hasn’t spoken to for a while.

“If we could get that up and running, that would definitely shed a bit more light.”

During NAIDOC Week, several WBBL players took part in a Barefoot Circle to celebrate the Indigenous culture and acknowledge the traditional owners of the land.

“It’s actually been an amazing week,” Learoyd said. “I’d never really done too much with NAIDOC Week before.

“It’s been big at schools, but again, I didn’t go to school.

“The WBBL has done a lot towards it. To be able to do that and educate a couple of the players and teams was really cool.”

Learoyd is one of five Indigenous players in the WBBL, a quintet led by World Cup champion Ash Gardner.

The Sydney Sixers all-rounder has established herself as one of the most formidable players in the women’s game, and her influence extends beyond the boundary.

The five Indigenous cricketers in the WBBL.Source:Supplied

Gardner recently established her own foundation, which aims to encourage schooling and reduce incarceration numbers among Indigenous youth.

Before joining the Australian squad in 2017, Gardner competed in the National Indigenous Cricket Championships alongside Learoyd.

“I was able to see the impact she was having,” Learoyd said. “There was all this media about Ash and what she was doing for the Indigenous culture, and I thought that was really cool, and really inspiring.

“To be able to come back to a sport where I’m meeting up with Ash again, and we’re doing out bit to try and inspire the next generation and give a bit of an education and give people a bit more knowledge surrounding their Indigenous culture.”

With two games remaining in the regular season, the Thunder are desperate to rediscover some momentum leading into the finals series at North Sydney Oval.

There are still six teams in contention for the semi-finals, but only four can qualify beyond this weekend.

“We’re just really looking to hopefully pick up back to where we were at the start of the tournament,” Learoyd said.

“We would really love to be able to do that, especially for our fans, because they’ve been unreal coming out to support us for any game that they can.

“If we can get the results on the board that we’d like to, I know that would make a lot of people happy, including ourselves.”

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