- By Stephan Shemilt
- Chief cricket writer
From the Ashes is a series of features and podcasts which dig deeper into tales of pain, despair and sometimes triumph in cricket’s fiercest and most storied Test series.
It took Sarah Elliott 24 hours to decide she could juggle motherhood with being an international cricketer.
She had been offered a new deal with Cricket Australia, but was in the early stages of her first pregnancy. Elliott, a batting all-rounder, initially told selector Julie Savage she could not accept.
But Elliott instantly had second thoughts. A day later, she called Savage back and set in motion a chain of events that would result in an Ashes hundred the following year, made while breastfeeding baby Sam during intervals.
Sam was born in October 2012 and was nine months old when Australia were looking to defend the Women’s Ashes in England in the summer of 2013.
Elliott, who made 81 not out on her Test debut against England in 2011, had done the calculations.
“I knew I had to play half of the domestic season in Australia to be in contention for the Ashes,” the now 41-year-old, tells BBC Sport.
“I was in the gym a couple of weeks after Sam was born, but Cricket Australia wouldn’t clear me to play competitive cricket for six weeks.
“I would have played sooner, but I’m glad they held me off. That first game of club cricket was pretty tough.”
An added complication was that Elliott, who is a physiotherapist, was living in Darwin but playing her club cricket in Victoria.
Whereas most new parents find a trip to the supermarket needs military planning, Elliott, her husband Rob and baby Sam were flying four hours to matches for Dandenong Cricket Club.
“There was a game when Sam was crying and I was fielding,” says Elliott. “One of the opposition who was already out said she would sub-field for me so I could go off and feed him.”
Two weeks after her club return, Elliott was back playing state cricket for Victoria. She did enough to earn her place on the Ashes tour.
While her team-mates only had to worry about putting themselves on a plane, Elliott had to plan to get Sam and her support network – Rob and her parents made the trip – halfway around the world.
Whenever Elliott was part of a travelling squad that contained an even number of players, she would pay for an extra hotel room for her family. If there was an odd number, she would ask the captain, who usually had her own, if she would give it up.
“We had to hire a car because Sam couldn’t travel on the team bus,” she says. “All of these things, and decisions on who paid for what, were groundbreaking because they hadn’t been made before.”
It was decided Elliott and her family could travel from Darwin, on a separate flight, so Sam wouldn’t be a distraction to the rest of the squad on the long journey.
On their arrival in the UK, preparations for the Test at Wormsley in High Wycombe were made around Sam’s sleep – or lack of it.
Elliott was waking to feed him every two or three hours, including the night before the Test. With Australia batting first, number three Elliott found herself at the crease inside the first 10 overs.
“Despite the tiredness, I was happy to be batting first,” she says. “I was there for a purpose – to bat in two innings. Once I stepped over the line, it was about watching the ball and hitting it.”
Wormsley is a tight, picturesque, intimate ground, the kind where spectators can sit on the boundary edge if they wish. Even during her innings, Elliott could see what Sam was doing.
“You absolutely tune into those things, the switching on and off, then getting back into the game,” she says.
“I knew where he was, either on the baby mat having a bit of a play, or being walked on a lap of the ground by Rob or my parents.”
In the intervals, rather than relaxing, Elliott did not have time to take her pads off before she was handed a hungry Sam.
“The minute I came off at a break, it was straight to feed Sam,” she says.
“When I was batting, there was nowhere else to go other than the changing room with the other girls, which got a real laugh from them.”
It was an eye-opening experience for a squad that contained youngsters like Meg Lanning, Ellyse Perry, Alyssa Healy and Megan Schutt. Schutt is now a mother herself, while Healy regularly retells the story of the “duck” noise of Elliott’s breast pump.
Elliott batted for the remainder of the first day, reaching the close on 95 not out.
“I would have loved to tick off the century that night,” she says.
“The minute I came off at the end I was tuned into what Sam needed to eat and then to get to sleep. There was no downtime there. It was a rough night.”
The following day, Elliott completed her Ashes century, reaching three figures against an attack that contained Katherine Sciver-Brunt, Anya Shrubsole, Jenny Gunn and Laura Marsh.
“There was a distant eye contact with Rob,” she says. “It wasn’t a pretty innings, but knowing what it had taken to get there, that we had pulled it off. To perform and make those runs, was really, really special.”
Elliott made headlines as the mum who had made an Ashes hundred while feeding her son throughout. To her, though, the important part of the achievement were the runs she scored.
“I was just doing my job, focused on a goal that I wanted to achieve,” she says. “I was oblivious to the significance that other people attached to it.
“The significance for me was that I’d never made a Test hundred before, as opposed to being a mum that had done it.”
The Wormsley Test was drawn, thanks to a famously stodgy half-century from Marsh that took more than five hours.
England won the Ashes, just as they did the following winter, when Elliott played in her final Test. Sam was still being breast-fed, though not as frequently, and his sleep had improved.
That Test in Perth in early 2014 turned out to be Elliott’s final game for Australia, but she continued to play domestic cricket around the birth of her second son, Jacob.
In her final professional match, for Adelaide Strikers in the Women’s Big Bash League in 2017, she was pregnant with daughter Jocelyn.
“Sam is at that age where he’s proud of what I did,” says Elliott. “He’s pulled out the baggy green cap to take it to school and show off. He thinks it pretty special.
“I was picked in the team against the odds to do a job and I was really pleased to score those runs. To be able to play Test cricket and have my son with me was really special.”
The men’s Ashes begins on 16 June, with the multi-format women’s Ashes getting under way six days later. BBC Sport will have comprehensive coverage across TV, radio and online of both series.