The reinvention of Ellyse Perry

Ellyse Perry prepares to go aerial Getty Images

Usually, numbers should illustrate a story. Sometimes, the numbers are worth a story in themselves. The number for today is 690.

Some other numbers will put it into context. The Women's Big Bash League (WBBL) regular season allows a player 14 innings. The nature of T20 is that even good batters make low scores about half the time. So topping 300 runs reflects a very good WBBL season. A great season might top 400. For the first two seasons, only Meg Lanning managed to top 500.

Lanning is the outlier's outlier, notable for her vast volume of scoring in her still-young career. When she was injured for the third season of WBBL in 2017-18, Ellyse Perry and Elyse Villani stepped up to cross 500. But they both had the advantage of two finals matches, and even with those extra hits, Lanning's mark of 560 from the first season remained the highest.

Until now, in the ongoing fourth edition of the tournament, when Perry bettered it by about a quarter. Opening the batting for Sydney Sixers, Perry smashed her way to 690 in the regular season alone, with two hundreds and five fifties. She'll again have the chance of two finals to swell those numbers.

Unsurprisingly, her Sixers went top of the table. Where team scores in the first WBBL were most often around 120, the Sixers had nine totals between 150 and their season high was 206. Perry was a big part of this, with a season strike-rate that lifted from the 90s in previous years to 126.6 in this edition. It was a major renovation to her approach.

"Twelve months down the track from last season, I've worked on things and tried to develop my game," she tells ESPNcricinfo. "The demands of the game itself have really evolved. You look at all teams across the competition, they're striking at a higher rate. Scores have gone up. It means that players have had to adapt to that as well. I was aware of that even towards the end of last season, that I wanted to respond to that."

It wasn't just about hitting harder, though. There were even more aggressive players like Alyssa Healy and Ashleigh Gardner batting around Perry, while she provided the solidity through almost every major total. Five times she batted the full 20 overs, and once through a run chase of 171.

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So how does a player achieve this balance and consistency?

"It's no secret that I'm a fan of hitting a lot of balls," she says self-deprecatingly: her obsession with the nets has long been a source of humour for team-mates. "It's about making sure that I've got different options against the same delivery, and then making the right choice at the right time about which to play. That can change over the course of the match. And every match is different: you have different opponents, different situations, different conditions. So there's no one approach that's going to work all the time."

Relentless self-improvement is her style. In a way, though, her current iteration is perhaps reinventing something dormant rather than inventing something new. When Perry first entered the one-day international game as a bowler batting at nine or ten, she was happy to give the ball an almighty whack. Her late flurry of 25 was decisive in the 2013 World Cup final.

But as her career went on, she morphed into a top-four ODI batter with 25 half-centuries and an average just under 50. In that role, she was happy to play accumulator rather than aggressor, and has been stranded in the 90s on three occasions for her troubles.

Now, she seems to meld the best of her caution and aggression. Having found the knack of scoring hundreds in 20 overs, doing it in 50 should be well within her grasp. "The one-day game has changed a lot the last few years as well, teams are getting bigger scores there too," she says. "So potentially that role will develop too."

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Given the heights her batting has reached, it seems comical to reflect that she was listed at No. 7 for Australia in their recent World T20 victory in the Caribbean. The player of course insists that it didn't matter as long as her team won, and the situation shows off the other batting riches at Australia's disposal. But after her dominance for the Sixers, don't be surprised if Perry goes back up the order in green and gold.

There's just over a year before Australia have to defend their title in the World T20. To make it more of a challenge, the tournament will be on home soil, with the women's game getting more coverage than ever. There will be plenty of expectation on the players, both to win and to put on a show. But Perry is taking a broader view, bigger than what role she might play or even how her team might fare.

"I guess my ambitions are more global. I just want it to be a really successful tournament primarily, there isn't so much of a personal consideration. There are things we can achieve with visibility of the sport, not just with the final at the MCG but also a semi-final at the SCG, which could be great especially for girls."

Over a career that has continued to redefine what is possible and what one player can be, there's already plenty of inspiration for those watching on. Just when you think you know what Perry's career is about, she turns around and does something else. Don't look away.