Ellyse Perry is Australia's greatest cricketer of the last 50 years

Ellyse Perry: Garry Sobers-esque Ryan Pierse / © Getty Images

This is an extract from the book The 50 Greatest Australian Cricketers (Affirm Press), in which Dan Liebke charts the careers, characteristics and enduring legacies of the finest Australian players of the last half-century.

'She's totally amazing' - Amy, Her

'Watch the ball. Make good decisions' - Ellyse Perry

If I told you that Australia had a batter who averaged 78.10 in Tests, 52.10 in ODIs and 29.07 in T20Is, you'd probably consider them the kind of player you'd want batting in your top order.

If I told you that Australia had a bowler who averaged 18.19 in Tests, 24.29 in ODIs and 18.97 in T20Is, you'd surely want them to lead your bowling attack.

If I told you that those figures belonged to the same cricketer, you'd probably smack me upside the head and tell me to stop lying. After all, the Australian men's team, as a rule, haven't had a true allrounder - one who could comfortably hold their spot with their prowess in either discipline - for decades.

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In the last 50 years, which man comes close? Shane Watson was handy with the ball, but if you had to choose him as a bowler only, you'd be in a perilous state of affairs. Steve Waugh in his youth was a handy ODI allrounder, as was Simon O'Donnell. But neither reached that standard in Tests. Mitchell Johnson has a Test century, but no sane person would ever have picked him as a specialist batter.

However, over in the women's side, we have Ellyse Perry, the most genuine allrounder imaginable.

Perry made her debut for the Australian ODI side in 2007. She was 16 years old, the youngest ever cricketer to represent Australia. Her T20 debut came six months later, where she was awarded player of the match for her 29 not out with the bat and her 4 for 20 with the ball. Her Test debut came two weeks after that. Not yet old enough to vote or legally drink, Ellyse Perry was an allrounder in all three formats of the game.

At this stage, however, she was primarily a bowling allrounder, who batted in the bottom half of the line-up and was only expected to contribute occasional runs. This would be her position for the first half of her career.

This slightly reduced role didn't stop her from having an impact. In the 2010 World T20, the still-teenaged Perry was given the last over of the final, with New Zealand needing 14 to win and the big-hitting Sophie Devine at the crease. Perry saw the game out, using her football skills to intercept with her foot a straight drive from the final ball that would have sent the match into a Super Over. She was player of the match.

Three years later, in the 2013 World Cup, Perry was struggling with an ankle injury. She'd missed a good chunk of the tournament because of it, but was determined to play in the final against the West Indies. She batted with no apparent discomfort, contributing 25 not out (22) to help Australia to 259 for 7 from their 50 overs.

When it came time to bowl, however, with the West Indies moving comfortably along at 32 for 0, Perry's ankle wouldn't support her. Attempting to bowl her first ball, she was forced to abort her run-up, and limp back to the top of her mark. Her second attempt was no more successful, the pain evident with every step.

Yet somehow, Perry fought through the pain and forced herself to bowl the over. It was a maiden. A wicket maiden to be precise, as she removed Kycia Knight lbw from the final ball of the over. From the first ball of her next over, she caught the edge of Stafanie Taylor's bat. However, the third umpire adjudicated that the ball didn't carry to Meg Lanning at slip. So three balls later, Perry had Taylor caught and bowled instead. Still no runs had been taken from her. In her following over, Perry had Natasha McLean lbw. After three overs, she had the figures of 3 for 2 with two maidens. West Indies were done. Ellyse Perry had won the World Cup on one leg.

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Even if you only considered her bowling feats at this stage of her career, that would have been enough to see her acknowledged as one of Australia's finest ever cricketers.

From the middle of 2013 on, however, Perry suddenly decided to become not just a handy lower-order batter, but instead one of the best batters in the world. Perhaps, given that her international soccer career was winding down, she was bored and looking for a new challenge.

The improvement in Perry's batting from 2013 on was most noticeable in the longer forms of the game. Her batting average in ODIs, which was 21.86 from 54 matches up to the 2013 World Cup final, transformed into an average of 70.58 from 58 games afterwards. In Tests, her batting average of 22.66 from three Tests prior to 2013 jumped to 111.20 from five Tests afterwards.

Granted, those Test figures are a very small sample size. On the other hand, they're the only Tests that the women get to play, and jumping from 22.66 to 111.20 is certainly better than moving in the other direction. Furthermore, given the jump in her ODI batting records, which is over a far more statistically significant sample, it's not crazy to think Perry's Test batting might genuinely have improved dramatically as well.

Certainly, when she was compiling a patient 213 not out in the 2017 Ashes Test and then following it up with 116 and 76 not out in the 2019 version, one got the distinct impression that her batting at Test level had advanced a notch or two.

Regardless of how precisely Perry's astonishing Test batting figures reflect her true ability at that level, there's little doubt that she's one of the elite batters in women's cricket these days.

Oh, and her bowling has also maintained its previous spectacular standard throughout this period of her batting improvement.

All of which makes Ellyse Alexandra Perry an impossibly good package of a cricketer.

A decent trick question a seasoned cricket fan can ask a more casual fan is to name the greatest cricketer of all time. Most such casual fans will unhesitatingly blurt out "Bradman" as the answer.

But Bradman was merely the greatest batter of all time. The more nuanced answer is to consider both batting and bowling and pin your vote on Sir Garfield Sobers, who had a batting average of 57.78 and a bowling average of 34.03.

Despite the difficulties of comparing different eras and the different formats played, it's not crazy to consider Ellyse Perry the Sobers of women's cricket. She's got a similarly mind-boggling record with both bat and ball over a similarly long career.

And so if I told you that Ellyse Perry was Australia's greatest cricketer of the last 50 years, you'd have to at least consider the possibility that I was telling the truth.

Which is convenient, because that's exactly what I am telling you: Ellyse Perry is Australia's greatest cricketer of the last 50 years.

This excerpt has been edited lightly to ESPNcricinfo house style