Australian women’s cricket had never seen anything like the destructive power of Lindsay Reeler at the 1988 World Cup held on home soil.
The right-hander smashed 448 runs at an extraordinary average of 149, with two centuries and two half-centuries. But her unbeaten 59 in the win over England in the final would be the last time she padded up for Australia.
Reeler was lost to international cricket at the peak of her powers, aged only 27.
“It was absolutely outstanding. Those figures don’t lie,” Reeler’s Australian teammate Denise Annetts told ABC Sport.
“Lindsay being an opening bat, when she got in, that was it. She was just way above so many of the other teams in her ability. She just took them apart and was a very dynamic player, beautiful cover driver, lovely pulls, cuts, you name it.
Reeler had been battling an injury that got progressively worse during the World Cup.
The more weights she did to strengthen her left leg, the more damage she was doing.
“I had two surgeries [on my left knee] after the World Cup,” Reeler told ABC Sport in her first interview in more than three decades.
“In 1989, I saw an orthopaedic surgeon and he fiddled around with it and said, ‘Do you know you don’t have an anterior cruciate ligament?’ and I said ‘No’.
“And that took something like three years to come to terms with.”
Reeler had suffered the injury as a 17-year-old and it happened well away from the sporting arena.
“It’s a ridiculous situation, there was a pile of timber decking in the carport, the car was backed up against this pile, I was getting stuff out of the boot, fell backwards, my foot got stuck in the pile of decking and my whole upper body twisted with a fixed foot so it was a huge wrenching injury,” Reeler said.
It didn’t stop the sports-loving Reeler from playing hockey in the winter and starring for New South Wales representative cricket teams in the summer.
“I could never sidestep off my left leg, my left thigh was never as strong as my right.
“It didn’t collapse on me as can happen to people who’ve lost their anterior cruciate.”
Records stand test of time
Despite the injury, Reeler took apart bowling attacks and broke numerous records during an all too brief international cricket career that started with a score of 60 in a one-day game in India in 1984.
In her penultimate Test, she made a career-best 110 not out against England in Wetherby, West Yorkshire. When Annetts strode to the crease to join Reeler, Australia was struggling at 2-35. It wasn’t long and the pair had the English bowling attack at their mercy.
“She was scoring at such a fast rate that I was the back-up really, the support show for her.”
The two right-handed batters put on 309 runs. Nearly 35 years have passed and it’s still the highest partnership for any wicket in women’s Test cricket.
Reeler was chuffed when she was informed by ABC Sport that she and Annetts remain the record holders. Her batting partner looks back on the day with great fondness.
“We had to declare and I was trying to get to my 200, then we had our one moment in our whole career I think when we had a run out.”
Annetts was out for 193, which at the time was the highest ever score in a women’s Test. The right-hander from Sydney would finish her 10-Test career with a stunning batting average of 81.90.
It’s the highest in the history of women’s cricket and second only to Don Bradman’s 99.94 when men’s cricket is included. Annetts was made for the longest form of the game.
“I loved Test cricket ever since I was a very small child,” Annetts said.
“When I got a Test match, I had good concentration which you need. I loved the thing so much I didn’t want to leave the arena, playing on some of those grounds you just don’t want to get out.”
World Cup campaign
Australia went into the 1988 World Cup as the favourite and demolished the Netherlands in the opening game in Perth.
“I certainly remember being quite nervous, thankfully it was one of the minnows of women’s cricket, which meant for a few of us who were nervous, we managed to find our feet,” Reeler said.
“I managed to get a few runs in that game which I think helped to get me into the tournament.”
At the time, Reeler’s unbeaten 143 against the Dutch was the highest ever score in women’s one-day internationals.
Convincing wins followed against Ireland and New Zealand, with Reeler scoring an unbeaten 108 against the White Ferns in Melbourne while Annetts made 51.
“Cricket, being the game it is, there is a lot of sitting around, so if you’re a batter you’ve got to make the most of it,” Reeler said.
“[Being an opening batter] there was an opportunity to bat as long if not longer than anyone else.”
Just when Australia was in cruise mode, came a rude reality check in the form of a 15-run loss to England in Melbourne. Both Reeler and Annetts made single-figure scores.
“It made a difference to how we played when we eventually had to play them in the final.”
Triumph over traditional rivals
The decider was at one of world cricket’s great colosseums, the MCG. This was a significant upgrade for the women who’d played the rest of the tournament on suburban grounds.
“To have the final on the MCG was at that time pretty major [for women’s cricket],” Reeler, who was born in Zambia and moved to Sydney at the age of 10, said.
“The actual stadium is unbelievable, these towering concrete stands and they were pretty much empty.”
The crowd figure was only 3,000 in a stadium that held 100,000. The days of Katy Perry singing in front of 86,000 at the women’s T20 World Cup final were more than three decades away.
“Three thousand was a big crowd [then for women’s cricket] but in a place the size of the MCG … it was an amazing thing to play at the ‘G and it was a full size, it was a big field too, not the full boundaries but certainly very big boundaries,” Annetts said.
Batting first, England’s run rate was so sluggish that the sightscreen attendant fell asleep. The home team was set only 128 runs for victory in what were 60-over games.
Reeler and Annetts came together with Australia a precarious 2-14. The proven combination stood tall again and steered the home team to victory. Annetts had the opportunity to hit the runs to win the World Cup and made the most of it.
“Lindsay and I had been fairly conservative and I remember thinking ‘I think I should play a big shot here, for the crowd’,” Annetts said.
It was Australia’s third straight World Cup victory but the celebrations were low key. Drinking for hours in the dressing room before singing the team song wasn’t a consideration.
“In those days there was no big medal ceremony or any sort of, ‘Here’s the World Cup’ sort of thing,” Annetts said.
“We all just kind of went back and quite quickly dispersed and went straight back to our jobs.”
No-one at the MCG, including Reeler herself, would’ve thought the unbeaten half century was her final act for Australia.
“Lindsay was an athlete really, she was beautiful to watch … always enjoyable to be up the other end,” Annetts said.
Reeler had taken only 23 innings to reach 1,000 runs in one-day internationals which remains a record in women’s cricket. Her last three Test innings were 110 not out, 53 and 75. This was a player with the world at her feet who was only getting better.
“Having always loved all physical sport, just to be playing is what I loved to do, in those days batting was my thing and I just loved to do it so the more I could do it, the better,” Reeler said.
“Cricket probably suited me in that the technique part of it was attractive to me, fine-tuning that aspect.
“I just loved batting so did my best to do that as long as I could.
Cup win plays part in rise of women’s cricket
The 1988 triumph on home turf helped lay the foundations for the on and off-field success of the current Australian women’s team.
“When you win a World Cup, especially on Australian soil, I think that does have its inspiration,” Annetts said.
“Winning is always something that other people gravitate towards, they want to play and they want to win.
Annetts likes what she’s seen from the Australian team and has also been impressed with the depth of talent at the current women’s World Cup in New Zealand.
“The competition right across the board is very strong,” Annetts said.
“In ours [World Cup in 1988], a lot of the teams were developing teams.
No thoughts of an international comeback
After her knee surgeries, Reeler played club cricket and coached in Adelaide. It wasn’t the elite level her game deserved but it satisfied her need for competitive sport.
“There was the possibility of playing for South Australia but I just knew that any more stress on it [the knee], it was probably not going to take it.
“I didn’t think about playing for Australia again, I didn’t think that far ahead,” Reeler said.
Once she was finally at peace with her international career being over, Reeler focused on what was in front of her rather than looking back at her meritorious achievements.
A private person, she doesn’t attend cricket reunions or functions. The 61-year-old sees her time in the baggy green as a small but rewarding part of her journey.
“A particular phase of my life that I got a huge amount of enjoyment out of, and all sorts of privileges like travelling to different countries, going to England, India, New Zealand,” Reeler said.