Annabel Sutherland is at the end of year 11 studies at Methodist Ladies College. Born a few months after her father became CA chief, Annabel is a prodigy in the truest sense.
She made her Women’s Big Bash League debut for the Melbourne Renegades at just 15, took 4-20 in her first game after crossing to the Melbourne Stars last summer, has toured South Africa with Australia’s under-19 side earlier this year, and is this season opening the bowling for the Stars.
A fortnight ago at the Junction Oval the medium-pacer was galloping in bowling to Australian champions Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy. On Saturday at Casey Fields it will be the much-vaunted Perth Scorchers top order charged with dealing with Sutherland’s eye-catching bounce.
Sutherland hasn’t dominated early in the WBBL season but nor is she a mile off the pace. Her best effort in three games to date was figures of 2-30 from four overs in a win over the Hobart Hurricanes last weekend, and the teenager says captain Erin Osborne’s show of faith has made her feel more comfortable at the level.
“If you would have said to me this time last year that I’d be opening the bowling in the first three games of the season I wouldn’t have believed you,” Sutherland said.
“I’m feeling alright. I feel like I’ve got some good control. Erin’s been really good supporting me and has got full confidence in me which gives me the best opportunity to do the best I can on the field.”
For all the supposed perks that come when your dad heads the game’s national governing body, there is much that is typical about Sutherland’s cricket journey. She honed her skills with countless hours bowling to Will in the backyard, and for a long time was the only girl in her cricket teams at Malvern Cricket Club. She also played footy with the boys at East Malvern, until Heidi played a big part in setting up the club’s first girls team.
Annabel’s early memories revolve around sport.
“It was either footy or cricket. [Will] loved it, and I just wanted to follow what he was doing.
“I think when you have a brother two years older than you, you have to step up pretty quickly.”
Where Sutherland’s cricket story differs is that if she eventually plays for Australia it won’t be an altogether foreign experience.
Every year Christmas and New Year has meant a week at the Melbourne and Sydney Tests respectively, and the travel didn’t stop there.
“Pretty much any family holiday was based around where the next Australian tour was,” she said.
There was a trip to England for the 2015 Ashes, and a visit to India for the following year’s World Twenty20. Going to the Taj Mahal was a highlight.
Children of famous sportspeople have been known to bear the brunt of sledges about their parents. Annabel doesn’t have such stories.
“Being the only girl in the team is kind of enough! [But] the boys were all pretty good about it. My teammates were really good. They never really saw any different. That was awesome to have that kind of support from them. Maybe my brother would have a couple of different stories.”
A professional career was never what drove Annabel. She just loves sport. However the recent World Twenty20 success of Victorian teammates Tayla Vlaeminck and Georgia Wareham, not much older than her, has made the prospect of international cricket a bit more tangible. It doesn’t seem as far from her reach as it might have previously.
For now she is intent on helping to deliver success to the Stars and Victoria. She’s also getting to see some different places too. Last weekend it was Burnie on the north-west coast of Tasmania. Her adult teammates have made her feel welcome, and fellow youngster Nicole Faltum, 18, knows what it’s like to be an underage player in a senior team. Faltum has become something of Sutherland’s “personal chauffeur”.
“She’s got her licence,” Sutherland said.
“It’s a bit frustrating that I can’t go anywhere without someone else driving me around. It’s awesome to have someone who’s just a little bit older than you but you get along pretty well with.”
Heidi and James are also good for a lift.
“It’s been good having dad around a bit more. And mum’s always there for me,” Annabel said.
Like too many young quicks, Annabel’s body has already caused her some issues. She had a shoulder reconstruction last year, and the issue still needs to be managed.
She has plenty of footy talent too. Annabel was best afield for MLC in a Herald Sun Shield final in 2016, and is an avid Geelong fan – Jimmy Bartel is a big hero. She is benefiting from the increased professionalism in women’s sport, but is also aware that the growth in both cricket and footy will likely mean the latter will have to give, although she was still playing a bit for her school this year.
Even so, cricket isn’t the No. 1 priority.
“School comes first, as much as I would sometimes prefer it not to.
“Cricket’s not around forever. You’ve got to do as well as you can, and that kind of sets you up for whatever comes next.”
Daniel is an Age sports reporter.