This article was first written for and published by the Roar.
If Lauren Cheatle is selected to represent the NSW Breakers in today’s WNCL clash against Victoria, it will mark the end of a year and a half away from cricket and a period where she has only been able to play about three matches in the space of two years.
“It feels like the longest pre-season ever, but I’m ready to play now and I can’t wait,” said Cheatle.
“I’m so keen, I know I have the support of everyone at Cricket NSW.”
To say that Cheatle has been impacted by injury during her career would be an understatement.
Since making her debut for the Australian Women’s Cricket team back in 2016 in a T20 World Cup match aged just 17, Cheatle has spent most of her time on the sidelines.
Cheatle missed most of the 2016-17 WBBL season because of illness and the in early 2017 sustained a shoulder injury while preparing for a T20I series against New Zealand.
After coming back to make her ODI debut in February 2017 and being selected in Australia’s preliminary World Cup squad for that year, she was later ruled out of that tournament because she needed a shoulder reconstruction.
Later that year she also suffered a stress fracture in her back which ruled her out for the remainder of the year.
The 2018-19 season was a highlight. Cheatle remained injury free for the Sydney Sixers entire WBBL04 campaign and was recalled into the Australian ODI squad. But then injury struck once again.
Over the last year and a half, Cheatle has been nursing a left shoulder injury. In November 2019, Cheatle had a left shoulder reconstruction and then had to have minor surgery again in June.
During all that time on the sidelines, there has been one thing that has kept Cheatle focused and motivated; love of the game.
“I think it always comes back to how much I love cricket,” said Cheatle.
“It connects me to my family and my mates. I grew up playing the sport and I could just watch it hours on end.
“I love training, improving and I love everything about the sport, so to be involved in any way I can is what I want to be doing.
“To be able to benefit from the structure in the women’s game now and rehab properly is also something I haven’t taken for granted.
Cheatle’s return is not the only storyline for the Breakers as they head into this season of the WNCL. This week, the Breakers may have three potential debutants; Erin Burns, Sammy-Jo Johnson and Anika Learoyd. For Burns in particular, her eventual debut will be one she has been waiting for for over a decade.
Burns has played for both the ACT and Tasmania in the WNCL because at the time she was unable to break into the Breakers squad.
Hannah Darlington has also been named vice-captain alongside captain Alyssa Healy. Darlington is just 19 years of age and last week was named the Betty Wilson Young Cricketer of the Year. That award caps off what has been an outstanding year for Darlington and this award will no doubt look good alongside her WBBL06 Champions medal.
“We are all really excited for Sammy-Jo and Burnsy to make their debuts and run out together at whatever ages they are,” said Cheatle.
“We have so many stories. That makes this team unique and I think has helped us bond in a way that other teams haven’t.”
The Breakers are Australia’s most successful women’s cricket team. The Breakers have made it to all 24 WNCL finals that have ever been held and have won 20 titles.
But given the growth in women’s cricket, the Breakers have not been as dominant in recent seasons.
Their opening matches against Victoria will be a big challenge given that Victoria boast some of the best female cricketers in the world including Meg Lanning, Sophie Molineux, Ellyse Perry, Molly Strano, Annabel Sutherland, Elyse Villani, Tayla Vlaeminck and Georgia Wareham.
But while every team likes to win, for the Breakers and for Cheatle this competition in exciting given the depth of cricketing talent across Australia.
“We want to grow as a state and to be challenged as much as we have been over the last couple of years has been confronting, but it has driven our training,” said Cheatle.
“We want to be the best domestic team, not just in Australia, but in the world and I think we have the talent to be able to do that.
“To know that every other team is getting better and is catching up is not just great for the competition, but it’s great for us too.”