From the Ashes is a series of features and podcasts that delve deeper into the stories of pain, despair and sometimes triumph in cricket’s fiercest and most legendary Test series.
It took 24 hours for Sarah Elliott to decide she could juggle motherhood and being an international cricketer.
She had been offered a new contract with Cricket Australia, but was in the early stages of her first pregnancy. Elliott, a versatile drummer, initially told coach Julie Savage that she couldn’t take it.
But Elliott immediately had doubts. A day later, she called Savage back and set off a chain of events that would result in a hundred ashes the following year, performed while nursing baby Sam at regular intervals.
Sam was born in October 2012 and was nine months old when Australia looked to defend the Women’s Ashes in England in the summer of 2013.
Elliott, who went 81 unscored on his Test debut against England in 2011, had done the math.
“I knew I had to play half the domestic season in Australia to be in contention for the Ashes,” the 41-year-old told BBC Sport.
“I was in the gym a few weeks after Sam was born, but Cricket Australia wouldn’t let me play competitive cricket for six weeks.
“I would have played sooner, but I’m glad they held me back. That first club cricket game was pretty tough.”
A further complication was that Elliott, who is a physiotherapist, lived in Darwin but played cricket for his club in Victoria.
While most new parents find a trip to the supermarket requires military planning, Elliott, her husband Rob and baby Sam flew four hours for Dandenong Cricket Club matches.
“There was a game where Sam was crying and I was on the court,” Elliott said. “One of the opponents who was already out said she would make a dungeon for me so I could go feed him.”
Two weeks after returning to the club, Elliott was back in state cricket for Victoria. She did enough to earn her spot on the Ashes Tour.
While her teammates only had to worry about getting on a plane, Elliott had to plan to fly Sam and his support network — Rob and his parents made the trip — halfway around the world.
Whenever Elliott was on a traveling team that contained an even number of players, she paid for an extra hotel room for her family. If there was an odd number, she would ask the captain, who usually had his, if she would give it up.
“We had to rent a car because Sam couldn’t travel on the team bus,” she says. “All of these things, and the decisions about who paid what, were groundbreaking because they hadn’t been made before.”
It was decided that Elliott and his family could travel from Darwin, on a separate flight, so that Sam would not be a distraction to the rest of the team during the long trip.
Upon arrival in the UK, preparations for the test at Wormsley in High Wycombe revolved around Sam’s sleep – or lack thereof.
Elliott woke up to feed him every two or three hours, including the night before the test. With Australia at bat first, number three Elliott found himself in the crease inside the first 10 overs.
“Despite the fatigue, I was happy to be the first at bat,” she said. “I was there for one purpose – to hit in two innings. Once I crossed the line, it was all about watching the ball and hitting it.”
Wormsley is a narrow, scenic and intimate ground, the kind where spectators can sit on the edge of the boundary if they wish. Even during his rounds, Elliott could see what Sam was doing.
“You absolutely connect to these things, the on and off, and then back to the game,” she says.
“I knew where he was, either on the baby mat playing a bit or being walked around on the floor by Rob or my parents.”
In the intervals, rather than relax, Elliott didn’t have time to remove his pads before receiving a hungry Sam.
“As soon as I came out on break, it was straight to feed Sam,” she says.
“When I was beating, there was nowhere to go but the locker room with the other girls, which made them really laugh.”
It was an eye-opening experience for a team made up of youngsters like Meg Lanning, Ellyse Perry, Alyssa Healy and Megan Schutt. Schutt is now a mother herself, while Healy regularly tells the story of the “ducking” sound of Elliott’s breast pump.
Elliott hit for the remainder of day one, closing on 95 not out.
“I would have loved to tick off the century that night,” she says.
“As soon as I came out at the end, I was tuned in to what Sam needed to eat and then go to sleep. There was no downtime there. It was a difficult night.”
The following day, Elliott completed his century of ashes, hitting triple figures against an attack that contained Katherine Sciver-Brunt, Anya Shrubsole, Jenny Gunn and Laura Marsh.
“There was distant eye contact with Rob,” she said. “It wasn’t a great run, but to know what it took to get there, that we were successful. To run and do those races, it was really, really special.”
Elliott made headlines as a mother who made a hundred ashes while feeding her son throughout. For her, however, the important part of success was the points she scored.
“I was just doing my job, focused on a goal I wanted to achieve,” she says. “I was oblivious to the importance that others attached to it.
“The significance for me was that I had never done a Test hundred before, unlike a mother who had.”
Wormsley’s test was drawn, thanks to a famous half-century of Marsh that took over five hours.
England won the Ashes, just as they did the following winter, when Elliott played his final Test. Sam was still breastfeeding, but not as frequently, and his sleep had improved.
That test in Perth in early 2014 turned out to be Elliott’s last game for Australia, but she continued to play domestic cricket around the birth of her second son, Jacob.
In her last 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’ve done,” Elliott says. “He pulled out the baggy green beanie to take to school and show it off. He thinks it’s pretty special.
“I was picked into the team against all odds to do a job and I was really thrilled to score those points. To be able to play Test cricket and have my son with me was really special.”
The men’s Ashes will start on June 16 and the women’s multi-format Ashes will start six days later. BBC Sport will have full TV, radio and online coverage of both series.