Kirby Fenwick spoke with former Australian captain Alex Blackwell about Fair Game, her new book about her record-breaking and trailblazing career playing cricket for Australia.
In the mid-90s, a country kid from NSW played in a schoolgirls cricket competition. Her team won and they were sent some posters congratulating them on their success. Pictured on the posters were women like Belinda Clark, Zoe Goss and Jo Garey—members of the Australian women’s cricket team. It was a life-changing moment for that young girl who, until that poster arrived, didn’t even know there was an Australian women’s cricket team.
After winning that schoolgirls comp, Alex Blackwell would go on to captain the Australian women’s cricket team, playing for her country an incredible 251 times. The story of Blackwell’s nearly 20-year elite cricket career would make for thrilling and fascinating reading but Fair Game, the book Blackwell has written, with Megan Maurice, is so much more than a highlights reel.
On the pages of Fair Game, Blackwell charts the at times rocky transition from amateur to professional for Australia’s women cricketers, her role as an “accidental advocate” for LGBTQIA+ inclusion and the challenges she faced as an elite athlete playing a game that she loved that didn’t always love her back.
Speaking from her home in Sydney, Blackwell describes Fair Game as a “bit of a sign off” from the sport that has been such a huge part of her life.
“The decision to write the book, I think it was somewhat necessary for me as a way of processing a big chunk of my life, and also moving on, and a little bit of a sign off in a way,” she said.
“I have fully participated in my sport, I feel, not just as an athlete, but talking and thinking about the sport, and sharing my views… But it has been exhausting and I’m now moving on to a very different stage in my life, and cricket will be a smaller part.”
Megan Maurice, who worked with Blackwell on Fair Game, says it “isn’t a typical cricket book”.
“It’s not about runs and wickets, it’s about what cricket means in Australia, and how it feels to kind of be so immersed in it, but feel on the outer.”
“I love my sport, but there was a sense of feeling a bit like, the sport wanted me, but only sort of parts of me. That I was helpful to the sport in some ways, but then inconvenient in other ways.”Alex Blackwell
Blackwell’s experience of feeling on the outer, despite being at the centre of the national team as captain and vice-captain, runs through the book. But alongside it, is a desire to stand up for not only herself, but also her teammates, to challenge what she saw as discriminatory words or behaviours or practices.
In 2006, a 22-year-old Blackwell wrote to express her disappointment and frustration with the way the women’s team had been treated at the Allan Border Medal. It was perhaps an indication of the role Blackwell would step into, the “accidental advocate”. That role would be further cemented when in 2013, Blackwell publicly came out, the first Australian women’s cricketer to do so.
“It is a coming out story, which I think is still relevant,” Blackwell says of Fair Game. “People don’t really come out these days and that’s the sign of the times. People are just who they are and it’s not a big deal. But it was a pretty big deal for me. And I’ve documented that becoming the sort of person that’s speaking out publicly for the first time was quite a big deal. And I’m hopeful that my story can be of comfort for other people young and old, growing up and becoming who [they] are.”
For Blackwell, her decision to come out is marked by the knowledge that plenty before her in cricket didn’t feel safe to be all of themselves.
“I fairly strongly call for some recognition of that period of time, where the greats of our games built the foundation of our sport, without the support, without the playing conditions, without the feeling of feeling like really celebrated or free to be completely themselves.
“In the book, I’m asking for cricket to think about those women, and think about what it might have been like for them. And to thank them. I’m very thankful for what they did. And I was in the right place at the right time, I guess, with enough feelings of support around me to be able to go, ‘well, why are we silent about this?’
“I love my sport, but there was a sense of feeling a bit like, the sport wanted me, but only sort of parts of me. That I was helpful to the sport in some ways, but then inconvenient in other ways.
“I feel very privileged and fortunate actually, to be able to say, actually, you know, I feel like I’m a decent human being and I don’t accept that there’s something about me that’s not quite right. And I guess a big part of the book is growing up and becoming myself in an environment that was sexist and homophobic.”
Throughout Fair Game, Blackwell is strikingly honest. She recounts conversations and experiences that simmer on the page, charged with feelings of frustration or hurt. In doing so, she offers the reader an insight into a team that has carved out a special place in the hearts and minds of fans and into the inner workings of Cricket Australia as the women’s team stepped onto a larger and more visible platform. On the page, Blackwell doesn’t shy away from the hard conversations, from the challenging and difficult moments of her career.
“It is open and honest, I guess that’s the type of person I am. And I don’t know that anything is going to be a huge surprise to anybody because I am very upfront and honest at the time.”
“I treasure those difficult times. I think it’s taught me to, well, it’s shown that I like the person I am… that is a real gift. So, through some of the hardships, it’s kind of allowed me to go, well, actually, I believe I’m no better or worse than anyone else.”
For Maurice, that honesty is part of what makes Fair Game so special and so important.
“A lot of the coverage of women’s sports tends to just be like, ‘Oh, isn’t it great, they’re getting out there and having a go’. And there’s not a lot of scrutiny on tactics or what goes on behind the scenes or coaching or leadership. So I think it’s really important that this story is being told so honestly, and that people are getting a broader view, and more nuanced view of what happens in women’s sports,”she said.
“[Fair Game has] the potential to be something really special, just because it’s not a typical cricket book.
“The way that [Alex] goes about what she did, all the things she did, it’s standing up for herself, taking her place, refusing to accept that she wasn’t as good as other people because of who she was. I think those are really powerful messages for young women.”
For all the tough stuff, the tricky conversations and the times when Blackwell felt on the outer, there is a feeling of hope on the pages of Fair Game; an openness to the possibilities, a desire for the door to the pitch to be shoved completely open.
“Cricket is an amazing sport that I’ve absolutely loved,”Blackwell said. “And there’s been a lot of magical moments. It’s really shaped the person I am. And I think it’s a wonderful sport, that I’d love everyone to feel they can equally access and fully participate in.”
“I certainly was a part of the game during a very big period of change… I can’t control really the impact that this book has, but I think documenting that transition from amateur to professional, the evolution of some of the inclusion efforts—I think cricket has opened its doors to more and more people but there’s still more work we can do.”
“I hope it encourages other women to really take their place in sport fully. It’s fine if people just want to go out there and play and not think about the game too much, or, you know, the off-field stuff. But I think it’s really helpful when our women believe they’re a genuine part of this sport, whatever sport it is that they play, and that their voice matters so that they fully take their place and find their voice. Because I think that’s something I’ve done, and I’m happy about that. It’s not all been easy, but I feel like there’s not much more I could have done to fully be a part of my sport.”
Fair Game will be published on January 26, 2022 by Hachette. Pre-order or purchase via your local bookstore or wherever you find good books.