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Mid-November is a time of stress for most 17-18 year olds in New South Wales. Rows of students organised in cold bricked halls across the state, tapping pens and gliding fingertips along the outlines of HSC papers. A flurry of rustling emerges as reading time begins. For Phoebe Litchfield, who sits in a hotel room in Mackay glossing through the same paper, the challenge is even greater.
Her team manager, sitting across from her on his laptop. Keys click as he types away. “Oh yeah, your reading time is up I think. I guess you can start?” he says.
At 12:30pm her time is up, and at 5:30pm she grabs her bat, ready as the Thunder face up against the Melbourne Renegades.
The Women’s Big Bash League was finally underway, and with COVID disrupting both her season and her exam timetable, Litchfield found herself on the striker’s end of a very busy few weeks.
“Yeah it was basically: get on the books for two weeks, study your arse off, play some cricket and try nail your exams,” says Litchfield.
At the end of it, there was no time for a ‘drinks break’, not even at the Beach Hotel in Byron Bay. At a time when other high school leavers would be torching their notes, trading blazers for ironic Schoolies tank tops, Litchfield would be making the move out east to Sydney.
She landed on the doorstep of Sydney University’s St Andrew’s College as a Freshman. Monday morning training rolls around each week. NSW Breakers coach Gavan Twining walks up to her before each session. “How was the party at college last night?”.
Litchfield denies these activities. Twining steps closer for further inspection, looking at her eyes for any signs of a big night. Studying a Bachelor of Communications in Media Arts and Production at UTS, this semester Litchfield has made the shift to part-time student to accommodate full-time cricket. “The next two months will be full on. I don’t want every spare second to just be studying,” she says.
With the next two Women’s National Cricket League games out in Orange, ‘The Kid’ as some of her older teammates call her, grins at the thought of stepping out again in front of her hometown. “I miss home quite a bit. So when I do get to go home, well, it’s just the best”.
As well as the role of dad, Andrew Litchfield spent a chunk of his daughter’s career as her coach at Kinross Wolaroi. “The only times I’ve been genuinely worried for her were a couple of the mens games,” he says. It was a hot Summer back in 2018. Word had spread across Orange that little Phoebe Litchfield, at just 14 years old, would be making her debut for the men’s first-grade side in the local competition.
“I’ve spent my whole life playing against boys. The men were just bigger,” she says. “It helped level up my ability to be exposed to this sort of fast-bowling so early on”.
Waiting to bat she looks over. Mum Catherine, Dad Andrew, Grandma ‘Lizard’ and Granny Sue smiling from the stands. “In those moments when you see them, you think of all the trips, all the sacrifices, all the money. You just think, this is for them”.
Sitting on 99 off 101 balls, Litchfield drives it down the ground to find the boundary and her first century. She takes her helmet off, raising her bat to the dressing room as the NSW Breaker’s youngest centurion. In hindsight, a very low-key celebration for her first ton. “I’m copping a bit of flak for it from the girls. I didn’t really know what to do in the moment”.
Litchfield will step out again this season for Thunder in the eighth instalment of the Women’s competition, their first game kicking off just next week against the Hurricanes at Blacktown Oval.
Along with last week’s milestone performance, her debut stepping out in the lime green was one of those watershed moments – a Litchfield highlight. The call-up was last minute, but shortly after, she was in the car driving out to Sydney Oval to face the girls in pink. “I remember being at the non-strikers’ end. The Sixers girls, Ellyse Perry, Alyssa Healey and Ash Gardner were in a huddle chatting out a plan,” she says.
“It was surreal. Under the lights. My family in the crowd – that’s when it felt like I had sort of made it”.