is Making a Name
S he may be a slow bowler but things happen quickly for Amanda-Jade Wellington.
The star South Australian, Test and Adelaide Strikers leg-spinner has had a meteoric rise to the top and it shows no sign of slowing down as this summer, still just 20, she made her Ashes Test debut and was named in the world Twenty20 Team of the Year.
Wellington was first thrust into the spotlight when she featured on Today Tonight as a 10-year-old cricket prodigy banned from batting in under-13 games because she hit the ball too hard!
Being ahead of her time has become the norm. At 12, the young gun claimed figures of 5/21 and scored an unbeaten 66 in first-grade SACA ranks.
Aged just 15 she became the youngest cricketer – male or female – to represent SA at senior level, breaking a record that had stood unchallenged for 120 years.
And the record she broke was held by a former Test captain whose stature was so significant in SA he has a statue in his honour at the southern gates of Adelaide Oval. Champion batsman Clem Hill was 16 years, nine days old when he debuted in 1892-93. Wellington was 15 years, 150 days “young” when she first played for SA in 2012.
As a 16-year-old Wellington claimed the stunning figures of 7/20 against New South Wales in the national under-18 carnival.
She gained nationwide recognition as an 18-year-old in the debut WBBL season when former Test great Adam Gilchrist described her as the new Shane Warne as she spun her web around the Perth Scorchers, snaring 3/13 at Adelaide Oval.
When she won her first baggy green cap, aged 20, the comparisons with the Australian master spinner emerged again, her dismissal of England’s Tammy Beaumont compared to Warney’s “ball of the century” that clean bowled England’s Mike Gatting.
Her rise to the top rivals that of young Afghanistan leg-spin sensation Rashid Khan. So how amazing for Adelaide both these talented tyros have been setting the Big Bash competitions alight for the Strikers.
Rashid, a freakish talent at 19, was a regular matchwinner in the Strikers’ historic first BBL winning campaign. Wellington played a crucial role in Adelaide’s first appearance in the WBBL finals. Rashid was the leading wicket-taker for the Strikers and in the BBL – with 18. Wellington led the way with most wickets for Adelaide in the WBBL – with 17 – and was fourth in the league.
Rashid is rated the world’s No. 1 Twenty20 bowler. Amanda-Jade has just been named in the ICC T20 world XI.
The dynamic duo worked together in the Adelaide Oval nets as the Strikers came close to achieving a double that a year earlier would have seemed impossible, as the men finished sixth and the women claimed the wooden spoon.
Amanda is congratulated by Tegan McPharlin after taking the wicket of Ellyse Perry of the Sixers.
“I loved working with Rash,” Wellington said. “To get the opportunity to have a couple of net sessions with him was just incredible.
“In the past few years we’ve had (star leg-spinners) Ish Sodhi and Adil Rashid playing at the Strikers and I really wanted to work with them but I was just too shy to ask if we could have a net session.”
Getting the chance to work with the incredibly popular Rashid was “probably the best experience yet” and Wellington has the greatest admiration for the spin sensation.
“He’s bloody amazing,” she said. “No-one could read him and no-one could really hit him in the Big Bash. Some of the dismissals he’s had with his wrong’uns and leg-spinners have been incredible. He’s fantastic to watch.”
Rashid’s appeal is worldwide but the adulation for him in Afghanistan borders on hero worship. “It’s great to see someone like him making everyone in his country so proud,” Wellington said. “He is someone they look up to … they can see someone from their country doing well and it shows if they put in the hard work like he does they can get to where he is one day.
“He’s 19, he’s played in the IPL, played for Afghanistan, played CPL, we now see him signing up with Sussex … to be so young and achieving so much is just incredible.”
But wait a minute, isn’t that just like you? “I guess so,” Wellington says, probably preferring not to be compared with Rashid as well as Warne.
Rewind 10 years to Today Tonight, Channel Seven’s current affairs show. A news item is introduced by presenter Rosanna Mangiarelli.
“Now to the little tonker who is really knocking Adelaide’s cricketing circles for six,” she declares. “At just 10 years old Amanda Wellington is a star batter, bowler and fielder with a swag of trophies to prove it.
In fact Amanda’s so good one league’s banned her from batting because she hits the ball too hard. That’s left her to play with women more than double her age.” So young and achieving already.
“She’s a little champ – she’s certainly going to be something,” her coach at the time, Allan Bach, said. “It can be dangerous praising someone so young, so highly but I’d be disappointed if she didn’t play for Australia.”
Organisers of the under-13 competition banned her from batting for “safety reasons”. “She hits the ball a lot harder than the rest,” Bach said. Amanda-Jade wasn’t too concerned – after all she was playing another three games a week, including in the B grade where she actually was allowed to bat, showing no fear facing up to adults who quickly learned it wasn’t a great idea to try to take it easy on her.
Wellington has a look at the DVD of the news report every once in a while and reckons it’s “funny to watch”. “I was just taller than the stumps. And you could see me whacking the ball and trying to run in these great big pads.”
But even then she mostly enjoyed bowling. Asked who was her inspiration, she said: “I watched Shane Warne mostly before he retired.”
It wasn’t the last time the two names would be mentioned together.
Fast-forward almost a decade to this summer. It’s North Sydney Oval and the first day-night women’s Test between the oldest and fiercest cricketing rivals of all, Australia and England. And Wellington has proved her coach right, earning a baggy green cap. It’s the second innings and she’s already picked up her first Test wicket – Strikers team-mate Tammy Beaumont, caught at first slip from a well-flighted leg-spinner in the first dig.
Amanda celebrates with team mates after taking the wicket of Tammy Beaumont of England during the Women’s Test match.
She’s again bowling to Beaumont, who’s on 37, after making 70 first time around. A beautifully-flighted ball curves in the air to leg-stump and drops sharply as the batter plays back, desperate to keep it out.
But the ball spins viciously away, beating the bat and hitting the top of off-stump. The batter looks down the pitch in disbelief, then on the long walk to the pavilion turns and glances at the wicket, mystified by what has just happened. Sound familiar? The name of the batter could be either Beaumont or Mike Gatting. The bowler, Wellington or Warne.
Warne’s big-turning leg-spinner that dismissed Gatting in the first Ashes Test at Old Trafford in 1993 was instantly dubbed “ball of the century” and it’s been replayed over and over, the most unforgettable of his phenomenal 708 Test wickets.
No sooner had Wellington spun this one down – “it landed middle and leg, I was lucky it spun a bit more than it normally would with the pink ball,” she recalled – than the Warne v Gatting vision was being wheeled out again.
She was a good story at 10. Nothing had changed a decade later.
“Wellington channels Warne for Ashes wicket,” Cricket.com.au reported. And there were plenty of other headlines – “Amanda-Jade Wellington produces own ball of the century”, “Australia’s Wellington recreates Shane Warne’s ball of the century”, “Amanda Wellington’s Shane Warne-like ball leaves fans mesmerised” and “From Warne to Wellington – the leg-spinner who demands comparisons”.
Warne’s ball and Wellington’s were played alongside each other on a clip for fans to compare – and admire.
“Obviously I really appreciate all the comparisons,” Wellington said, “but I don’t really like to think of it too much because you see it so much in social media … it blows up too much, too quickly. There can be some positive comments and then negative comments but I don’t like to really read into it too much. I just take it in, take it out, next game, next day … next day’s a new day.”
But new days still bring messages about that ball and talk of Warne and the Gatting dismissal. “I’m like, thank you for your comments but in my eyes I can’t see myself being compared with someone like that. The way he bowled and the way he attacked, what he did for Australian cricket … he was phenomenal.”
Two years earlier, Wellington had not been as well equipped to cope with the comparisons. Her phone went into meltdown the morning after Gilchrist suggested she and Warney had plenty in common.
“Twitter blew up, Facebook blew up, I think overnight I had 500 messages … you know, ‘Gilchrist said this’, ‘you are the next Shane Warne’. It was a shock to the system. I was kind of scared at that stage, being so young I didn’t really know how to approach it and handle it. I spoke to someone at SACA … ‘what do I do, how do I deal with this?’ The comparisons haven’t stopped since that day, I guess.”
Wellington and Warne certainly are alike in being big spinners of the ball. Wello has given the ball a huge rip since the days both her wrists were in casts at Elizabeth Downs Primary School. In the very early days she had loved nothing more than charging in and trying to bowl fast. But “as a 10-year-old I did a flip off the monkey bars and broke my wrists … all of a sudden I started spinning the ball and just kept at it.” Spinning a cricket ball obviously came much easier to Wellington than spinning from the monkey bars and she landed on her hands, rather than feet, breaking both wrists and leaving her with concussion. “I still played cricket with casts on but I could only hold the ball in my fingertips … I just all of a sudden started spinning it.
“I was bowling with the casts on because I didn’t want to miss a game. I didn’t bat, I only bowled and fielded … I think they put me behind the wickets to save me. All I wanted to do was play cricket.”
It’s a long way from cricket with plaster casts in Adelaide’s northern suburbs to the grounds of India but that’s where Wellington headed as soon as her hectic Australian summer was over. She was excited about giving the ball a rip and looking for big turn on the famous spinning Indian wickets – and that’s exactly how it turned out.
On her first tour of the famous cricketing nation she made an immediate impact, snaring 3/24 and 2/20 in the opening two one-dayers as Australia claimed a stunning 3-0 series win.
Like Warney – if we’re allowed to make another comparison – Wellington is very much a one-off. She’s quirky, loves having a laugh but is willing to put in the hard work necessary to make the most of her prodigious talents. She’s a collector – she loves everything from Pokémon cards, to vintage console games – “I have the old Nintendo 64 … I’ve got all the Crash Bandicoot games” – to classic cars she keeps in the large Elizabeth backyard in which her father Ken set up cricket nets for her to practice on. “I’ve got a Volkswagen combi, I’ve got a two-door Torana, I’m looking to buy a Ford Mustang, I’ve got my Jeep.”
She has some sports cards as well – mainly basketball ones – but her mum Heather has all the cricket cards on which Amanda-Jade is featured. It’s up to six, Wellington reckons, but there’s no doubt there are plenty more to come.
But among her collections, one possession clearly is the most prized – Wellington’s baggy green cap.
“It’s framed,” she says. “I’ve got a special frame for it and you can take it off, you can take it out. I love it. My dad loves it as well. There’s photos of me everywhere in the lounge and the main one is me, mum and dad and my baggy green.”
The cap was presented to her by former Australian skipper Belinda Clark, who offered some sound advice. “She said something about TEST – time, eating, skills and team. Then, after the game, she asked me if I remembered it and I was like ‘yep, done that’.” It’s advice she’s taken on board from someone who has been there, done that, Clark Australia’s record-holder for one-day international runs.
The drawn Australia-England day-night Test “was a massive tick on the bucket list”. “A Test match is the pinnacle … it’s something I always looked forward to playing and for it to be a pink-ball Test, it was an experience I won’t forget,” Wellington said. “I was so proud to play and debut alongside Beth Mooney and Tahlia McGrath.” Playing alongside SA and Strikers allrounder McGrath is something Wellington has been doing for a long time. They played under-13 SAPSASA and State under-15s and under-18s together before also making their ODI debuts on the same day – in a tie against South Africa in Coffs Harbour in November 2016.
Wellington’s Test debut was all the more memorable because her family drove “14 hours straight” from Elizabeth to see her bamboozle Beaumont.
Wellington has an uncanny ability to make a sudden impact. She kicked off her international T20 career with 3/15 off four overs against New Zealand at the MCG in February last year, following up with a stunning 4/16 against the White Ferns at Adelaide Oval. She looked intent on creating more carnage at the start of the Strikers’ rebel WBBL|03 campaign, humbling Hobart Hurricanes with 3/9 from four overs at Glenelg Oval.
When you’ve had such a meteoric rise to the top, it’s hard to think you can let too many self-doubts creep in. But when Wellington claimed just three wickets for 134 in five games in the middle of this year’s WBBL campaign, they did.
Wellington always sets high standards and has great expectations. She admits she put too much pressure on herself. “I think every game I am going to take a huge amount of wickets but in a few of the games I was devastated because I wasn’t taking them.” Strikers assistant coach and former Test allrounder Shelley Nitschke pointed out to the attacking spinner there was more to bowling than taking wickets. “She was like, mate, you’re going at six an over – that’s great that is,” Wellington said. “Yeah but I’m like, ‘I’m not taking wickets – I’m a wicket-taker’. It frustrates me but I’ve got to realise I’m doing well for the team. I’ve got to put ego aside … I was pretty happy with the way I ended my season.”
She snared 17 wickets at 20.9 to be joint leading wicket-taker for the Strikers with superstar Kiwi allrounder Sophie Devine.
Just weeks before the Strikers’ first WBBL semi-final appearance – unfortunately a 17-run loss against the star-studded Sydney Sixers – Rashid Khan had encouraged her to stick with what she had done so well for so long, despite any doubts.
“We talked about pace, how fast he bowls and how fast I bowl,” she said, with a giggle. While Rashid whips the ball through at a quick pace, making him almost impossible to pick, Wellington uses flight, swerve and big spin to outpoint opposition batters. Bowling to the Strikers men in the nets she was bowling faster to try to avoid being hit around. “I was rushing in and trying to bowl as quick as I can. But he was like, ‘oh, don’t worry about your pace, what you do is amazing, you spin it, that’s the main key’.
“I need to keep telling myself just keep doing me rather than trying to change myself too much. Stick to the basics and stick to your strengths. We talked a lot about the mental side … not every ball is going to be the same, you’ve just got to keep bowling what you do, don’t try to change too much.”
Rashid’s wrong’un is the deadliest going around – and he helped Wellington with hers. “He told me about his wrong’un and helped me with mine because I could never spin it. Apparently I was holding the ball wrong. He taught me how to use my fingers a bit more and now I can actually spin it,” Wellington said. “I am more confident to bowl it in a game now because it’s more consistent and it’s spinning.”
Wellington kept in touch with Rashid as he ripped through Zimbabwe’s batting line-up, taking 16 wickets at an incredible average of 7.9 as Afghanistan claimed a stunning 4-1 limited-overs series win in February.
Wellington and Rashid Kahn talk strategy in the nets.
While Rashid is the young king of T20 bowlers, Wellington had more quietly been making her mark – until being selected in the ICC Team of the Year.
“That was unexpected,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking of anything like that in my first year but to be in a team with those great players was a massive honour, to be recognised like that – I couldn’t believe it. When I saw it, I was like, ‘oh, you’re kidding me, this is my first year and I am in this team’. I was stunned but my family was very happy. They were very proud.”
Wellington hasn’t got anything for this achievement yet, hoping a certificate might still be coming in the post. Strikers team-mate, swing bowler Megan Schutt also was named in the select line-up. She found out about being named in the team on social media!
But the recognition keeps coming – and unlike women cricketers of previous eras, Amanda-Jade, Megan and Co. are starting to be recognised everywhere they go.
“I get noticed quite a bit (on the streets),” Wellington said. “It’s funny … it’s fantastic to see people in the streets actually know who female cricketers are these days. To be recognised in the streets and in the shopping centres, it’s weird but it’s cool.”
It’s been what Wellington describes a “massive year for women in sport” and she is grateful it’s happening as her own career is booming.
As AFLW is making its presence felt with bumper crowds and high television ratings and the Matildas soccer side and national rugby sevens team have captured the public’s imagination, so, too, Australia’s women’s cricketers are firmly in the limelight.
WBBL|03 was bigger and better than ever after the Ashes series of Test, one-dayers and Twenty20 clashes created huge interest. Being part of the side that regained the Ashes was yet another highlight for the gifted South Aussie.
Having just returned from the gala Allan Border Medal night in Melbourne gave Wellington a chance to reflect on how times had changed for our women cricketers.
“It’s a great time to be in the sport of cricket right now … it’s such a privilege,” she said. “It was fantastic to see Karen Rolton getting inducted to the Hall of Fame. We have to thank our past players for setting up what we’ve got now. They were playing for basically nothing … paying to play. And now look at us. I’m 20, playing cricket for Australia, travelling the world and getting paid for it.”
Wellington remembers playing against Australian Test record runscorer Rolton in SA A-grade ranks well before reaching her teens. She recalls standing on the boundary and regularly watching the ball sail over her head. “It was awesome to see her getting recognition in the Hall of Fame.”
Because of the likes of Rolton and Belinda Clark, Wellington now is getting the credit she deserves. And making a name for herself. No comparisons needed.
By Peter Cornwall