Sydney Sixers seamer Lauren Cheatle enters the eighth edition of the Women’s Big Bash League with one central goal in mind — playing all 14 games without fear of her body breaking down.
The 23-year-old, who recently recovered from a fourth shoulder reconstruction in five years, is physically ready for the opening match of a WBBL season for the first time in three seasons, having battled injury for most of her professional career.
And Cheatle shapes as a critical figure in the Sixers line-up this summer — her left-arm swing has proven a dangerous weapon, getting the white Kookaburra to hoop around corners during the Powerplay.
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Left-arm seamers remain a rarity in women’s cricket, particularly in Australia, and Cheatle’s unique ability to swing the new ball back into the right-hander’s pads could be crucial to the Sixers’ success this summer.
Sixers wicketkeeper Alyssa Healy, who has donned the gloves for the women in magenta since its inaugural season, compared Cheatle’s bowling to that of her husband — Australian Test quick Mitchell Starc.
“It’s such an amazing weapon to have,” Healy told reporters last week.
“The fact that she swings that new ball early is a huge advantage for us.
“Hopefully, fingers crossed, she can have a really big summer.
“You’ve seen the way Mitch does it in all the white-ball formats, Cheats is pretty similar.”
Healy isn’t the first person to compare their bowling actions — following Cheatle’s international debut in January 2016, footage of the two left-armers bowling in tandem went viral on social media platforms, and was even broadcast at the teenager’s school assembly.
“I was dreading it,” Cheatle laughed.
“I hid under my jumper, I walked out of the room.
“I was so embarrassed.”
Cheatle asserts that any similarities between herself and the World Cup champion are purely coincidental.
“He’s one of the best bowlers in world cricket, so if I’m somewhat similar, I’m really chuffed,” she smirked.
Cheatle burst onto the scene in 2015, becoming the youngest player in history to earn a state contract for the New South Wales Breakers squad.
She made her Australian debut less than 12 months later, bowling two economical overs in a rain-affected T20 against India at the MCG.
But Cheatle’s career went on pause after undergoing a right shoulder reconstruction and suffering a back stress fracture in 2017, prompting five years of frustration and heartbreak.
In 2019, she missed the entirety of the fifth edition of the WBBL following another shoulder reconstruction — this time on her left — before undergoing a bicep operation the following year.
After recovering from a third shoulder injury, Cheatle was diagnosed with early-stage skin cancer when a melanoma was discovered in her skin in 2021, leaving her bedridden for almost a month.
“Last year was really tough,” Cheatle confessed.
“People say, ‘You’ve done it before, you can do it again,’ but I was probably a bit more glass half empty, and I was like, ‘Yeah I’ve done it before but I don’t want to do it again’.”
The Bowral native returned to cricket five months later, taking 10 wickets in eight matches to finish as the Sixers’ highest wicket-taker in last summer’s WBBL.
But Cheatle required yet another surgery in December 2021 after injuring her shoulder in the final match of the tournament, an injury which prematurely ended her summer.
She has only played nine cricket matches in the last 18 months.
“To have her sitting on the bench is really disappointing,” Breakers teammate and Sydney Thunder rival Sammy-Jo Johnson said of Cheatle last month.
“She’s had so many different setbacks over the years, I don’t know how she does it. She just continues to show up day in day out, get through her rehab and all the surgeries.
“We just keep wishing her well and make sure she understands that we’re behind her.
“When she’s on the park, she’s nearly unplayable with that left-arm swing.
“There’s not many players like her in and around this competition in Australia.”
Cheatle credits the invigorating Sixers team environment as one of the leading sources of motivation for her latest recovery stint.
“I get to train and play with 16 of the most incredible women from diverse backgrounds,” she said.
“We come together to play a sport we all love and call it a career. We travel the country, travel the world, I’ve been to places I could never imagine, playing cricket.
“It’s just something I can never give up if I don’t have to.
“I had one of the best times with the Sixers last year and I hardly played any games, and I think that just speaks volumes for this group and where it’s going.”
The early stages of Cheatle’s career mirrors that of Australian men’s Test captain Pat Cummins; both made their international debuts before rotating in and out of the casualty ward for several years.
Cummins has since established himself as one of the game’s modern greats, while Cheatle is hopeful the 2022/23 season will be a turning point in her stop-start career.
After starting her summer on the sidelines, Cheatle claimed 2/27 from eight overs in her WNCL return last week, helping the Breakers clinch a 58-run victory over Western Australia.
And now focus shifts swiftly towards the WBBL, which gets underway on Thursday.
When asked which player cricket fans should watch out for this summer, Sixers captain Ellyse Perry immediately named Cheatle, who she branded the “unluckiest cricket” she had ever come across.
“The thought of a fit Cheats — fingers and toes crossed, and touch wood — that just makes me really smile,” Perry told reporters at North Sydney Oval on Monday morning.
“She’s a special person, an amazing player, but equally just such a stoic young lady that has been through a lot, on and off the field.
“I’m stoked that she’s on our team, and even stoked that she’s fit and ready to go.”
Cheatle, a self-confessed politics nuffie, is studying for a masters in international politics and serves as an ambassador and support worker for What Ability.
Her brother works in Canberra in politics, which has become a shared interest in the Cheatle household.
“It might be boring to some people, but in our family home it gets a really good run around the dinner table, which saying out loud sounds a bit crazy, but it’s something we can all bond over,” Cheatle explained.
“My dad is really important in my life. He got me into cricket, but he sees me as a person first, and I think that’s really special because you can get caught up in the cricket world. To him I’m just his daughter.
“(Cricket) is just an add-on in my life. It will come to an end … I have everything else to live for.”
Cheatle played the last of her 11 matches for Australia in March 2019, and a long-awaited recall seems unlikely in the near future.
But at 23, time is on her side.
“I’d be lying if I said (representing Australia) wasn’t a goal, I’d hope it’s a goal for all our domestic cricketers to strive for,” Cheatle said.
“I can definitely say it’s probably not in the near future — my goal is just to play as much cricket as I can.
“There’s so much young talent in Australian cricket at the moment, and they’re the world’s No. 1 team (Australia) at the moment for a reason.
“Whether (national selectors) look this way is up to them, but I’m just going to be focusing on myself and what I can do for this team right now.”
Despite boasting a squad packed with superstar talent, the Sixers finished bottom of the WBBL ladder last season with four wins from 14 matches, but they head into the competition’s eighth instalment with a plethora of bowling options,
Accompanying Cheatle is young gun Stella Campbell, reigning Belinda Clark Medal recipient Maitlan Brown and England spinner Sophie Ecclestone, the world’s No. 1 ranked T20 and ODI bowler.
“What’s really special in our Sixers attack is we cover every base,” Cheatle said.
“We turn the ball both ways, left and right handers, seam, swing, which is really cool to be part of.
“We’re in a really good place to hopefully push the competition this year.”
The Sixers get their WBBL campaign underway against the Brisbane Heat at Great Barrier Reef Arena on Thursday evening, with the first ball scheduled for 7.40pm AEDT.