How Zoe Cooke defied the odds

This article was first written for and published by Siren Sport

ACT Meteor Zoe Cooke’s cricketing days seemed to be over when a back injury reared its head, but she’s now returned to the WCNL action.

Zoe Cooke is an important cog in the ACT Meteor machine. Sourced: Cricket ACT
Zoe Cooke is an important cog in the ACT Meteor machine. Sourced: Cricket ACT

When Zoe Cooke’s doctor told her to stop playing cricket, his words had the opposite effect.

“When the surgeon suggested I needed to look at a new career path, it only made me more determined to get back and play cricket,” said Cooke.

Cooke started playing cricket in the backyard. Her pop played, so did her dad and so did her older brother. She would spend hours bowling to her older brother in the backyard (and that may be the reason why Cooke is a batter whilst her brother is a bowler).

For many years, Cooke has been considered a rising star in Canberra cricket. She was first offered a contract by the ACT Meteors as a 17 year old rookie and went on to win four consecutive SJ Moore Medals which is the Cricket ACT Women’s Player of the Year Award.

But a back injury threatened to change all that.

“I had a bulging disc in the L4/5 spot and it was pushing on my nerves,” said Cooke.

“It got to the point where I couldn’t feel my legs or if I did it was just pins and needles or a burning sensation.

“I’m not sure what was worse, but both were pretty painful.”

For two seasons, Cooke had been managing back pain. But all of a sudden, the pain increased significantly. Cooke saw her surgeon and just five days later she was in surgery.

Quite incredibly, Cooke has defied the odds, come back from injury and has been re-contracted with the Meteors. Last weekend against Victoria, Cooke played her second match back and is enjoying every moment.

“It has been a bit of a shock to actually be back playing, so even though we haven’t gotten the wins we have wanted to, it has just been fun to get back out there and play cricket,” said Cooke.

To date, the Meteors season has not gone as planned. The team has won one game and was most recently beaten by 155 runs by the competition high-flyers, Victoria.

What is so exciting about the WNCL this year is the immense talent that is spread out across the states with the likes of Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry playing for Victoria, Ashleigh Gardner and Alyssa Healy playing for New South Wales, Megan Schutt and Darcie Brown playing for South Australia and Nicola Carey playing for Tasmania.

Victoria are a particularly formidable opponent, featuring eight women that have represented Australia at the highest level.

This is great experience for a player like Cooke.

“Even though we were being convincingly beaten on Sunday by Victoria, I was getting ready to bowl and I saw Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry talking about the field they were going to set for me,” said Cooke.

“At that point I was thinking ‘I don’t think it matters, you can set anything you like and it’s not going to matter’.

“There was another moment where Meg was talking to Tayla and I couldn’t stop staring.

“I just thought about how cool it was to be playing the Australian captain, bowling to her and almost getting her out.”

Although Cooke didn’t manage the big scalp of Lanning, there will be plenty of opportunity for big scalps this week when the ACT Meteors play the NSW Breakers on Friday and Sunday.

“It should be fun and I’m looking forward to playing them here at home because it’s going to be a challenge,” said Cooke.

“The games against Victoria were a bit of a disappointment but we know what we can do.

“We need to believe it, walk out onto the field and just play the best we can.”

Whilst cricket is the primary focus, another focus for the ACT Meteors is the impact that the squad can have on the community. For Cooke, this community engagement is crucial to getting more women involved in cricket in the ACT.

“One of our values at the Meteors is community,” said Cooke.

“So every time we go out into the community we remember that this is an opportunity for more women and girls to see us playing cricket and recognise that they can also play cricket and have a lot of fun doing it.”

Recently, following a push from Meteors player Ange Reakes (who is associated with Lifeline), the Meteors did a fundraiser for Lifeline Canberra during their match against South Australia.

The team managed to raise over $10,000 with each player making a contribution. Cooke contributed one-third of her match payment.

“Especially now with a pandemic, it’s more important than ever to come together as a community,” said Cooke.

“We are so lucky we can still play and watch sport, so it was a great opportunity to give back to the community again.