Naomi Dattani reflects on life at the True Blues and how her Aussie experiences have improved her game
Eighteen months ago Naomi Dattani was struggling to make the Middlesex First XI and when she did it was just as a bowler. Then she headed to Prahran CC for the 2015/16 season where she was given many opportunities and changed her game, becoming a top-order batting allrounder. Her improvements saw her open for Middlesex where she played a number of good innings, including 71 against Sussex. This knock led to her being invited to train with the England Women’s Academy, which also gave her the opportunity to play several games for them, including against Pakistan. Though missing the first four rounds of the current Australian season due to visa problems, she is looking forward to the second half of her summer with the True Blues.
Though her decision to return to Melbourne was described as ‘just about perfect’ for her by her Middlesex captain, Isabelle Westbury, it was a tough choice. After finishing university in 2015 – graduating with a degree in Sports Science from Loughborough - Naomi took a gap year and spent her first summer in Melbourne. She still has ambitions to continue studying but decided after a successful English season, now was the right time to focus on cricket and felt she needed to return.
I caught up with Naomi to find out more about her cricket, what she has learnt from playing at Prahran and what she enjoys about her time in Melbourne.
Your cricket improved so much last year – especially noted at Middlesex – what do you put that down to?
I still can’t process it. Sanjay, the new Middlesex coach, kept saying surely you weren’t that bad before. And I said, ‘I wasn’t bad but I wasn’t playing the shots I am now.’ And he said all the girls are saying, I’ve come back ten time better and things like that. I think it’s the opportunity to actually train. Back home I’d have a net every two weeks. I’d have to drive 40 or 45 minutes to get somewhere to train for an hour, and that was the main difference. I think he [Sanjay] understands that now and is more willing to help me out and help the girls out back home. Hopefully I can just pick up whatever I learn here at Prahran and take it back home and try to change some things there. That’s the main goal, to take what I learn back home to Middlesex and Finchley [her English club].
Your success at county-level led to a call-up to play for the Surrey Stars in the inaugural Kia Super League (England’s equivalent of the Women’s Big Bash League) – how did you find the experience?
It was a very good experience. For months and months I was down after not being picked [not named in an original squad]. Not that I’m saying I deserved to be picked, but I would at least have liked to be considered. When I talk about the Super League, everything happens for a reason. Unfortunately Kirstie White had her injury and the girls said, ‘ring Datts up, she’ll come and play’. It all happened within four days. White injured herself on the Tuesday, I got the call on Thursday or Friday and signed the contract on Saturday. I was very happy to be a part of it. It’s a big stepping-stone for women’s cricket. And playing in front of 1000 people, it’s nice. People are coming to watch us. I would have liked to have done better personally but you’re playing with international cricketers – half the team are internationals. I can’t complain, I was in the XI for three games. It was a good experience and I learnt a lot from it, in terms of all the mental stuff. I was so nervous, it was such a weird feeling. Seeing my name mentioned on Twitter, it sounds silly but it was the first time someone thought I was good enough. I didn’t actually think I was any good, but I played and it was fine. Hopefully I get another chance to actually prove I can score runs and take wickets, but just to be a part of the first Super League – I’ll remember that forever.
When you became captain of Finchley did you use anything you learnt in Australia?
I took over the captaincy and wanted to bring over the Prahran culture. I tried to do selection dinners. It didn’t all work out but people are staying for food or a drink after training and I think the culture was a success at training. There are good things from Prahran that I brought over and obviously it paid off [winning the National Club title]. Everyone was working together, socialising and having fun on the pitch. It wasn’t even that we surprised ourselves when we won, but we felt we deserved it. So the aim is to try and get two out of two next year. I enjoyed captaining Finchley and will do it again.
What are your aims for this season at Prahran?
This season is probably more about technical and tactical skills, more playing against spin, although obviously in Australia the ball doesn’t turn that much but just learning the fundamentals of playing spin. Routines of batting and actually becoming a proper allrounder. Going back to my bowling this time and working hard at it and putting my hand up next year at Middlesex and saying; ‘I want to bowl ten overs’ in the middle overs or the death. So probably it’s a mix of mental routines batting and bowling, and continuing doing what I’m doing with batting and aim to bowl more overs.
What’s the best thing about playing in Melbourne?
I guess it’s the lifestyle I enjoy in Melbourne. You play your game, then there’s always something going on in the city, you go after, everyone’s a bit more social and it’s competitive and then everyone has a good time afterwards. I think that’s what I enjoy; the closeness we have as a club, rather than everyone just driving home after a game or disappearing kind of thing, and not seeing them for a whole week. So that’s what I like about Melbourne; everything’s there, you’ve got facilities, people, a good city round the corner, everything’s perfect.
What are your goals internationally?
My main goal after playing at Prahran last season was just to be on the radar. Between 16 and 22 I’ve basically been in the shadow and 2016 was just getting myself out there and my name known. The Super League and Academy games were a bonus. So 2017, I’m on the radar and hopefully can prove something at county level at least, get more runs and show that I can be a good left-handed allrounder. I’ve just got to learn how to cope with being on a big stage.
Written by Georgia Isaac