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'When I'm on the cricket field my cleft palate doesn't matter. I'm just one of the girls.'

Emily Cooksey is 14 years old. When she was a baby, doctors discovered she had a complete bilateral cleft palette, meaning all of her soft palate and most of the hard palate were missing from inside her mouth. With this came difficulties in hearing, speech and communication.

Four years ago, Emily decided to start playing cricket, and she ignited a passion for the sport she didn’t know she had. Playing cricket has helped her grow in confidence, and she now aspires to play cricket professionally for Australia. These are her words about how cricket has changed her life.

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I think I was in kindergarten at about six when I came into a class one day and had to wear hearing aids. That’s when I started questioning things.

‘What? Why do I have to wear something the other kids don’t? Why does it sounds like I’ve always got a cold?

Back then I never thought about it too much. That was my life, none of my friends really said anything about it, but I knew there was something ‘wrong with me’, but I always just got on with life.

My mum says from the day I was born, I couldn’t be breastfeed, even with a special bottle it was difficult. I had ear infections, hearing problems.

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They found out I have a complete bilateral cleft palette, all of her soft palate and most of the hard palate that were missing, so there’s nothing inside my mouth.

I had my first surgery when I was six months old. But my family and I think I’m very lucky in the scheme of things. I had loads of ear infections when I was younger, and in kindergarten I had to develop a little technique with my teacher to let her know when I couldn’t hear things in the classroom.

Then, around four years ago when I was nine, I saw an ad in the school newsletter to join the cricket team. Mum and dad had been wanting me to play a team sport for a while, and it was Marrickville Cricket Club’s first ever girls team.

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I thought, I’ll give this a go. And five years later, I’m here.

I didn’t know much about cricket when I started, just that my grandma loved to watch it. It wasn’t love at first sight, but my real passion came out in my third season. That’s when I really started to enjoy it and watch it on TV.

I love the fact that with cricket, you have to work as a team. Even though each person has a different role, you all have to combine and communicate to get out on the field and work as a team.

"At the end of the day, we're all equals out playing on the field. We all have a laugh and we're just normal kids." Image: Supplied.

I've never felt self conscious about myself or my cleft. I accept some children have issues, mum says I have empathy for others and their differences. When I see another child having difficulties, I think, 'well, I've got my cleft, and that's what that child has'.

At cricket, my communication skills don't really stop me. No one has ever said anything about my cleft, no one notices, we're all just out there playing cricket together.

If people don't know me and they come out to meet me at training for the first time, they might have to listen a little harder, but I've accepted I'm always just a little bit different.

But at the end of the day, we're all equals out playing on the field. We all have a laugh and we're just normal kids.

Everyone gets along, even short formats of cricket can still feel quite long so everyone has lots of time to chat in the field, whether it's to encourage your bowler, encourage your batting partner or just having a laugh. We all get to know each other in a really good way.

I've always loved sport, but had never really been good at it until I started playing cricket. I'm at the point in my cricketing career where I'm competitive and I'm starting to build my skills and am getting somewhere with it, I'm not just playing for fun anymore. I plan on trying out for the NSW academy when trials roll around, and I'm hoping to move up to the second grade side.

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I'd love to pursue professional cricket in the Women's Big Bash League. The WBBL is amazing and it's so great to see so many young women rising through the ranks. Sixteen, eighteen-year-old's who have made their way through the WBBL and into the Australian side.

Like Amanda Jade Wellington. She's an Adelaide Strikers WBBL player and in the Australian Women's cricket team. I aspire to be like her, she's a fellow leg spinner. I admire her competitive nature, and her wicket celebration is very powerful. The way she bowls is very attacking, like how I would like to bowl.

In the next 12 months, I'll need more plastic surgery. I have to have a sleep apnoea test, from there they'll decide what surgery I'll need. But I asked if we could work around the cricket season. I wouldn't want to miss out because I love cricket and I just want to play. I would definitely get FOMO. I'd rather spend my weekends out on the cricket field than inside on my phone.

Aside from cricket, I'd love to one day go to uni and study design. Playing cricket has given me the confidence to live my life and try new things. It gives you a feeling of success - winning a match or taking a wicket, being able to celebrate success with your team is such a good feeling.

To anyone else thinking of trying cricket, just go for it. You don't have to be the best, the fastest or the strongest. It's about learning skills and working as a team. Give it a go, it doesn't really matter, but it'll bring out the best in you.

It did for me.

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