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Ash was no mug in the field, either. She had a good arm on her and would alternate between the circle and then on the boundary. She had good agility because of her tennis training, being able to turn and run, and bowled a bit of handy off-spin.

 

I remember watching her play a few times and the girls all saying, ‘If she wants to, she could easily play for Australia one day.’ I still stand by that. With another two or three years under her belt, she could’ve held down a spot in the middle order for the national team. She had natural talent but, more than that, she had real drive and determination.

 

In my experience, people like that will always find a way to succeed.

 

Ash was also a bloody good teammate. None of us were like, ‘Oh my God, it’s Ash Barty!’ when she arrived because she’s just not like that. She’s very laidback, humble and loves the banter.

 

Jemma Barsby is the little chihuahua of our group and she was always on Ash’s case. ‘Don’t you know who I am?’, Jemma would joke. ‘I’m Ash Barty, the tennis star!’ And Ash would be like, ‘Good on you, Jemma, you little yapper.’

 

Ash gave as good as she got. She loved getting involved.

 

 

 

A SECOND WIND

Ash didn’t talk about her tennis all that much and we didn’t push her on it. We figured she’d switched to cricket to get away from tennis. We treated her like any other teammate and I think she appreciated that.

 

Still, it was pretty obvious that her underlying passion for tennis remained strong.

 

She took us to Pat Rafter Arena for a hit a few times. Before our first visit, I told her I’d have no problem returning her serve. I said something like, ‘Give it your best shot!’ which, in hindsight, probably wasn’t the cleverest thing to say to a former junior Wimbledon champion.

 

Pretty much every time she’d serve, the racquet would jolt out of my hand. That’s how hard she hit the thing! Forget about taking a point off her … I felt like I was winning if I held onto the racquet.

 

I remember watching her play a few times and the girls all saying, ‘If she wants to, she could easily play for Australia one day.’ I still stand by that.

 

The Heat missed out on the WBBL finals that year and I remember having a few beers with Ash in Adelaide after our last game. She mentioned to a few of us that she had made the decision to return to tennis, but she wasn’t sure how to tell the group. We said to her, ‘Just be honest with them, they’ll totally respect your decision.’

 

That’s how it played out. Everyone understood. She was an amazingly gifted tennis player and no one at the Fire or the Heat begrudged her chasing her dream. She took a year off to play cricket, lived in the real world and found some perspective.

 

That’s what she had been looking for. She returned to tennis refreshed and recharged.

 

 

For me, the best aspect of Ash’s year in cricket is the fact we’ve all stayed good mates. She watched the Heat’s semi-final win against the Thunder on the weekend and as soon as we were off the field she texted us to congratulate us on making the final.

 

In the middle of probably the biggest tournament of her life.

 

How good’s that.

 

And I know all the Heat girls have been glued to the TV whenever she’s been playing at the Australian Open. I was screaming at the TV in her round of 16 match against Maria Sharapova. She was up 4-0 in the third set and Sharapova started to fight her way back. I was like, ‘Don’t do this to me, mate! Just hit it in! Stop the fancy stuff and get it in!’

 

I can be a bit whatevs when I’m watching tennis normally, but it’s totally different when Ash plays. I’m all-in. I want every bit of positive energy going her way. If that means yelling at the TV, I’m OK with that!

 

We were texting each other last night (I told her she needed to stop wearing Sixers colours on the court and get back to the teal). She said we’d all catch up after the Open and the Big Bash for a quick beer before we all hit the road again. Our schedules don’t make getting together easy but, whenever the opportunity pops up, we’ll grab a bite or head over to her place for a barbecue.

 

I don’t pretend to be a tennis expert, but this much I do know about Ash: no matter how much success she has, no matter how famous she becomes, she will never pretend to be someone she’s not. She grew up in the Ipswich and Springfield area and she doesn’t forget where she comes from.

 

To me, more than any title or trophy, that’s the best thing you can say about a person.

 

I’m glad cricket helped her find her second wind in tennis.

 

I can’t wait to see how far she goes with it.

 

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