Belinda Clark, the girl who first picked up a cricket bat in the schoolyard of Spring Ridge Public School, was honoured by her peers when a bronze statue to her was unveiled in the grounds of the famous Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) last week.

The statue is located just inside the SCG Gates, only a few metres away from the statue of male cricketer Steve Waugh, and shows Clark playing her signature onside pull shot, the first sculpture of a female cricketer anywhere in the world.

The unveiling underlines Belinda Clark’s status as the most decorated player in the history of Australian women’s cricket.

She played 14 seasons of international cricket, captained the national team for 11 years, scored more runs than anyone in Tests and World Cup, including a double century, and was the first female player to be inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.

Her influence isn’t confined to the cricket pitch but extends to the administrative field, promoting the spread of the game in every cricket-playing nation in the world and through her managerial roles in Women’s Cricket Australia.

It all started in Spring Ridge, where her father Allan taught for a few years in the 1970s. 

The Clark family has strong ties to the Boggabri area – Allan Clark’s parents bought Glenaire, a property on the Blairmore Road (now Clarks Road), in the late 1920s, the farm remaining in the family name for 75 years before it was sold.

Belinda’s father didn’t stay on the land, he became a schoolteacher and in his career of more than 40 years he spent four years as principal of Spring Ridge PS in the early 1970s.

It was there that he started throwing cricket balls to his son Colin in the schoolyard nets, with Belinda “foxing” the balls and bringing them back to him in two hands.

Now 92 and living in Brisbane, Mr Clark was represented at the SCG by son Colin and his wife Jane, and younger daughter Sally and her husband Wayne Birchall, formerly of Gunnedah and now living in Brisbane.

At a family function a few years ago, Allan Clark recalled how he had first become aware of Belinda’s ability to hit a cricket ball.

“I think that she was only two or three at the time. One day when I had finished throwing balls to Colin, I felt a tug on my shorts – it was Bel and she said ‘me too, Daddy.’

“So, when I said OK, she ran to the kit bag and tried to put on a pad which came up to her ears. I had to talk her out of using it. 

“I then under-armed a ball aiming to hit the bat but she actually hit it and straight away I thought, ‘there’s something there’ and after that, I had to throw balls to her, too.”

As a teenager, Belinda became the first female cricketer in the Newcastle district grade competition and was there on the ground floor as pathways began to open up for women and girls.

In 1991 she broke into the Australian women’s team, making her national debut against India. By 1994 she was Australian captain, leading the team for the next 11 years, which included World Cup wins in 1997 and 2005.

In 15 Tests she scored 919 runs at an average of 45.95 with two centuries, as well as amassing 4844 runs at an average of 47.49 in 118 one-day internationals and 4074 runs, average 53.60, in 89 league matches, altogether scoring 14 centuries.

She became the first-ever batswoman to score a double century in a women’s one-day international, when she made 229 not out against Denmark in the 1997 World Cup. It was the first double century, of any gender, by any Australian player in ODIs.

In 1998 she was named Wisden Australia Cricketer of the Year and in 2011 she was inducted into the International Cricket Council Hall of Fame.

Belinda set records for most matches as captain in World Cup games (23), most runs by an Australian in World Cup (1151), most matches as captain of Australia in all formats and most runs (1997) in a calendar year (1997). 

There were honours, too, off the field. In 2000 she was named a Member of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the Australia Day honours list for “service to cricket, through the Australian women’s cricket team and to the promotion and development of the game for women and girls.” In 2018 the award was upgraded to an Officer of the Order of Australia for “distinguished service to cricket as a player, captain and administrator, through support for national and international professional councils and as a role model for young sportswomen.”

In October 2019 she was named winner of the Arts, Sport and Culture category in the Australian Financial Review’s 100 Women of Influence Awards.

Belinda’s burgeoning cricket career opened up on another front when she joined the staff of Cricket Australia (CA) not long after her elevation to Test captain. She remained on CA for the next 25 years. 

After her retirement, she took on the role of manager of the Australian Cricket Academy, then Manager of the National Cricket Centre in Brisbane, where she oversaw the development of the Southern Stars.

In 2018 she was appointed executive general manager of game and market development at Cricket Australia, filling that role for two years until her career took another direction – she set up how own business model, Leadership Playground, which aims to develop the confidence and capability of girls, aged 10-15.

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