Belinda Clark believes that Ellyse Perry will be forced to rethink her approach to T20 cricket after her returns, with bat and ball, dropped off dramatically at the ongoing edition of the WBBL and the Sydney Sixers missed out on the tournament finals for the second year in a row.
Clark pointed to how Perry has previously reinvented herself as a short-form batter in particular to align herself to the demands of her role in the T20I set-up over successive World Cup wins.
"She's already done it before," Clark told ESPNcricinfo. "She's very technically correct - she was batting down the order a bit in the shorter formats. But then she evolved her game and got herself to a point where she was a lot more attacking and a lot more risky in the way she went about things. She opened up whole different shots for herself.
"Then she's been going through a period where... you can't stay on the top or be at the top of your game 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, it just doesn't happen. She will go away, think about it, find a way, come back. But absolutely I'll back her to solve the problem in front of her, because she's done it before and she'll continue to do it."
Perry's problems in the WBBL are best illustrated by how her pace bowling was targeted by opposition sides to cost the Sixers 8.25 runs per over across the tournament, a long way from her usual rate of a little more than five per over. At the same time, her batting was corralled into a strike rate of 96.53, comfortably down from recent years, even though she has averaged 48.75. Perry also missed out on the WBBL Team of the Tournament this year, a first. That said, the return from the hamstring surgery, which ended her T20 World Cup campaign, has undoubtedly impacted Perry leading into the WBBL.
Clark, who over 118 ODIs compiled 4844 runs at 47.49 - she is still third on the all-time table, despite last playing in 2005 - while also notching the second-highest ODI score of all-time, an epic 229 not out in the 1997 World Cup, said that Perry's battle this season was part of the kinds of evolutions that took place over long and elite careers across cricket.
"This isn't just a female athlete discussion either," Clark said. "If you look at the methods, the technique of all of the players at the beginning of their career and at the end, you'll see marked difference. Ricky Ponting, Justin Langer, Steve Waugh, you name them, they've all evolved their game through a period of time when they're representing their country, and that's because they always want to be better so they keep finding ways.
"If you think that you can stand still and just apply what you've got day in, day out and not continue to try to get better and evolve your game, you won't last very long. Meg is a classic example of that time she spent out of the game with a shoulder injury and she's come back with a whole range of other strings to her bow, Alyssa Healy is continually improving her game, her innings the other day was magnificent.
"This game's all about risk/reward and you need to stack the odds in the favour of those who take the risk, so there's a whole range of playing conditions that were filtered around that concept" Belinda Clark
"People don't stand still, but you go back and watch Ricky Ponting's first Test innings and his last one you'll see some things that are idiosyncratic and the same, but other things that'll be totally different, whether people are more conservative, more attacking, they're playing certain shots, but that's what sport's all about, continually trying to get better."
Having announced she would step down from her role at Cricket Australia at the end of November, Clark has had time to reflect on some of the big moves in the women's game over 20 years of her time in administration at women's, high performance and community cricket roles. She noted that the decision to push T20 very strongly as the best format with which to grow the women's game had been vindicated by how players had evolved to meet what she called the "constraints" of the shortest form.
"The constraints of the game will dictate what the end product looks like, so if you can get the game to reward people taking risk, then the players will find a way and find their own way to make the most of that opportunity," Clark said. "This game's all about risk/reward and you need to stack the odds in the favour of those who take the risk, so there's a whole range of playing conditions that were filtered around that concept.
"I think what we're seeing now is the players have adapted, they're super skilful and they're now playing a game that's shown them they can evolve. If you went and changed all the rules tomorrow, it'll take a little while but they'd find another way to make it entertaining and tip the odds in their favour. That's the beauty of sport, you often don't have to change too much and the players and coaching staff will respond with a tactical approach to overcome whatever you put in front of them.
"I think it's amazing where the game's got to, but absolutely the constraints of the game have led the players to solve the problems in front of them."