Alex Blackwell, who has announced her retirement from international cricket after a 15-year career representing Australia, will go down in history not just as a cricketer who scored over 5,000 international runs, but as a courageous political campaigner who used her status as one of the premier batsmen of her era to help change the world.
Blackwell and her twin sister Kate, who also went on to play for Australia, were born in rural New South Wales in 1983 and were educated at Barker College – a posh independent school near Sydney with impeccable cricketing credentials, whose other alumni include Lisa Sthalekar and Alyssa Healy.
After debuting for Australia in 2003, Blackwell was part of the team that won the 2005 World Cup in South Africa, making 4 Not Out in the final against India; but she failed to really establish herself at international level and found herself in and out of the team.
At domestic level, however, Blackwell blossomed as New South Wales continued to dominate the WNCL. As New South Wales won 10 straight titles from 2005/06, Blackwell averaged over 50 for five consecutive seasons from 2008/09, and she was appointed state captain in 2010 – a role she will finally relinquish next Saturday as she plays her last WNCL Final against the Western Fury.
After re-establishing herself in the national side, Blackwell acted as stand-in captain for the injured Jodi Fields on a number of occasions in 2010-11, most significantly during the 2010 WWT20, lifting the trophy as Australia beat New Zealand in a low-scoring final at the Kensington Oval in Barbados.
But despite this success, the “bridesmaid” was passed over in favour of Meg Lanning when Fields stood-down in 2014, and though Blackwell was given the consolation prize of the official vice-captaincy, she was again overlooked when Lanning was injured during the 2017 World Cup and subsequent Women’s Ashes.
Why? We will probably never know the truth, and there is little doubt that all involved would deny it now, but it is difficult to wonder if it was not perhaps related to Blackwell’s outspoken refusal to pretend she was something she wasn’t, at a time when gay players were still being advised to keep their sexuality private.
Blackwell was the first “top” female player to come out in 2013, and married her long-time partner, Lynsey Askew – herself a former international, who won a handful of caps for England in the late 00s – in England in 2015. At the time of the wedding, Blackwell made a number of media appearances criticising the fact that the marriage would not be legally recognised in Australia, and she subsequently became a figurehead for the campaign to legalise gay marriage in Australia which was finally won at the end of 2017.
And as she heads towards her retirement, this is perhaps the most important of the many trophies she will take with her – countless WNCL titles, the inaugural WBBL and World Cups and Women’s Ashes galore attest to a glittering career as a cricketer; but as an activist for gay rights, she ultimately deserves to be remembered for something more – a glittering career as a human being.