The Sporting Capital is a sports series by Lachlan Roberts, who has intimate conversations with Canberra’s sports stars. For the fifth article in the series, Lachlan chatted with Sam Bates, who plays for the ACT Meteors and the Sydney Thunder in the WBBL. She was the Meteors leading wicket-taker and selected in the WNCL team of the year. Lachlan grabbed a hot drink with Sam and chatted about why she moved to Canberra, how women’s cricket has improved over the last couple of years and how cricket helped her self-esteem as a shy teenager.
“I had really bad asthma as a kid and I used to come home from school and be on this monitor for like two hours. I hated it soo much, and I remember that my dad and my brother would play cricket in the backyard, and I would literally sit at the window and watch them play. I always wanted to get off the monitor and one day I asked my mum could I go outside and play with my brother, which was weird because my brother and I didn’t get along. So she was shocked and let me go outside and play cricket with my brother.
“My brother would always want to bat first and if he didn’t bat well would chuck a fit and go inside. So I would have to bowl to myself. So I can blame my brother why I am not a great batsman now.
“My parents put me into the local boy’s competition back in Newcastle when I was 10 and my good friend and I played on a team together and it was really great. Playing with boys, and I still say it today, is way better than playing with girls. If something happens on the field, boys don’t care. They just have a bit of a dig at each other and move on. With girls, there can be all this bitchiness. My friend Phoebe and I went on to captain the boys’ team until we were under 17. The boys were fine about it, and we played a lower grade so it wasn’t too competitive.
“A lot of people in Newcastle stay in Newcastle and just have the normal life of growing up, getting married and have kids. Cricket made me move to Canberra, and while it sucked when I first moved here, I got to experience a different city and I have gone to Dubai and England and all over the world. So I don’t regret it all.
“As a kid, I was really shy. My mum and dad put me in dancing class and it took me nine years to finally muster up the courage to tell them that I hated it. That’s how much of a shy kid I was. If Mum bought me a dress that I hated, I wouldn’t tell her, I would just wear it. After joining a sport, it helped me come out of my shell. It took me a couple of years and I eventually became confident. Cricket definitely helped my self-esteem.”
Packing up and moving
“This is my fourth year in Canberra after I moved here for cricket. Cricket ACT pretty much gave me an ultimatum to move here or not play for them. I debuted for them when I was 17, so I travelled back and forth throughout the week for training and games. My mum used to drive me which was pretty cute.
“When I was younger I used to be a pace bowler and in the NSW team, there were three pace bowlers so they had to leave one out and I was always the one that missed out. Under 17s ACT asked me to play for them because they were looking for a fill-in, so I filled in for them. That year I played for there second 11 side, and the following year they asked me to play in their first team.
“10 out of the 11 girls in the NSW team were playing for Australia, so there was pretty much the whole of NSW fighting for that one spot. So I decided that I would rather play in a team that is probably not going to win but at least I will get a go. ACT gave me a shot and I am thankful for that.
” I lived off dollar soups from Aldi for a while, but in a way that was good, because when you hit the bottom part of life, you pick yourself up and respect what you have. Now we are professionals and we are getting paid a bit of money. I wouldn’t have to work if I didn’t want to, I could live with that quite easily.”
Telling my Dad he is right
“I changed to a spin bowler after needing a knee reconstruction after an accident at my first soccer training when I was 16. It was just like a local team when I was in Newcastle, and because cricket wasn’t that professional at all, I joined soccer to keep my fitness going. I did my ACL after we were practising headers and I jumped up to header a ball and I came down and twisted my knee. Apparently, it was inevitable, because my ligaments are really thin at the time.
“I was really stubborn and wanted to get back really quickly and we were in our off-season which was good, but I wanted to train. My physio said I could start bowling spin and it was about four months after the surgery that I started bowling again.
“My dad had told me for years to bowl spin because I would bowl it every now and then and I would actually turn it and be alright with it. He kept telling me that I needed to change and I kept saying no to him. I wanted to be a fast bowler because my Dad and brother were fast bowlers and it was kind of a family thing. I now have to tell my Dad all the time that he is right.
“I wanted to be like Andrew Symonds for a while and interchange between pace and spin, but teams started picking me to play spin more than pace and eventually pace left and I was stuck with spin. I do tell my teammates quite a bit that I am going to bowl pace again but I have kind of adapted my spin in a way with a quicker ball that I don’t think I would be able to bowl if I hadn’t of bowled pace for so many years.”
“That phone call was unexpected when Thunders coach said that they were really keen to sign me for the year. No one really had a vision of what WBBL one would be, and no one really understood contracts and all that sort of thing. I was just happy to be there and I was fortunate to play the first couple of games and then broke my arm in the fourth round. I was fielding and dived for the ball and landed awkwardly and had a compound fracture in the forearm.
“This one hurt a lot because I had to sit on the sideline for 10 games and watch the Thunder win the whole comp in the first WBBL. I still get a medal for that but it doesn’t feel the same. The last two seasons I have played, Thunder hasn’t won. So am I the weakest link?
“In cricket, you can get a lot of people who can bring the team down, and the Thunder were really big on getting rid of the people who weren’ team plays. The first season, the team was amazing and got along really well. The second season, we were losing, and when you are losing, things come out. But the last season it was back to the first season with a really good team culture.
“There are a lot of kids who know who I am, which is kind of scary. I am just used to going about my day without people knowing who I am. I like where women’s cricket is at the moment, where we can go to Big Bash, where we are kind of famous and we get to live that life. And then I can come back to back to Canberra where people don’t really know who I am and I can just kind of live my life.”