Extraordinary Barty was destined for Ashes call-up - Richards

By Sports Desk June 12, 2019

The "extraordinary" Ashleigh Barty could have been slaying England bowlers in the Ashes next month rather than being a major contender for Wimbledon glory.

Australian Barty claimed her first grand slam singles title with a 6-1 6-3 demolition of Marketa Vondrousova in the French Open final last Saturday.

The amiable 23-year-old has soared to second in the WTA rankings following her triumph at Roland Garros and is well fancied to claim back-to-back major titles at the All England Club.

Yet Barty may have been lifting a different trophy in England if she had persisted with professional cricket rather than end an 18-month hiatus to resume her tennis career in 2016.

That is according to Andy Richards, who wasted no time in offering Barty a contract to play for Brisbane Heat in the Women's Big Bash League (WBBL) after being taken aback by her natural talent.

Barty's former coach Richards told Omnisport: "Without a doubt, another 12 months if she continued playing cricket she could definitely have played for Australia.

"I have no doubt that if she stayed in cricket she would have been in England in a couple of weeks' time for the Ashes.

"I believe it would have been a very natural progression for her and she would have just made it happen. You talk to other people who saw her play and they would say the same. She certainly had the skills to make it happen."

Richards recalls being stunned by Barty's ability when she first strapped on the pads for a net session, seeking a new challenge after quitting tennis due to the demands of life on tour and the expectation on her shoulders.

"For somebody who had never worn a set of pads or gloves, never had a real cricket bat, never batted in a helmet, I fed her probably 150 balls and she missed maybe two to three, probably mistimed six or eight and the rest she hit flush," he said.

"It was most extraordinary. I asked 'are you sure you haven't played before?' And she said just with her dad in the backyard. Her hand-eye ability and ability to access a ball and hit it was most extraordinary.

"Her ability to pick up things was quite spectacular. We have had people come across from other sports, but none even close to her in terms of ability to transfer skills. Going from a cross-bat sport to what is essentially a vertical-bat sport, she was incredible."

Richards added: "She bowled off-spin as well. Hadn't bowled in her life, but I showed her how to do it. She saw Jemma Barsby, who bowls with both hands, and said 'if one person can bowl with both hands, surely I can bowl with one'.

"I showed her how I wanted her to grip the ball and follow through and she just picked it up, it was extraordinary. 

"In her first three games she scored I think a duck, a duck and one - but two of those were against Australia player Jess Jonassen. After that she went out and scored a hundred in a T20 game of club cricket off 63 balls and everything just sort of clicked and she just got better and in the WBBL game she played in she got I think 39 off 27 balls.

"She loved fitting into the team and she loved that none of the girls cared about her as a tennis player, they just cared about Ash Barty as a person."

England bowlers may be relieved Barty will be gracing the lush grass at Wimbledon rather than swinging the willow in the coming weeks.

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