To grasp the clout of the Women’s Big Bash League, look no further than the story of Sophie Molineux, Australia’s new first-choice spinner.
Three years after the semi-professional competition’s inception, the 20-year-old left-arm tweaker is integral as any component of the side that will play its World Twenty20 semi-final on Friday morning against the West Indies.
For Molineux, the domestic Twenty20 competition propelled her on to the big stage as a teenager, something she credits with why her progress to international ranks has been so seamless.
Three years ago, during the competition’s inaugural season, she had yet to play for her state when, aged 17, she got the chance to join Melbourne Renegades. Accurate spin and punchy top-order contributions earned her a position in the Governor-General’s XI.
Fast forward a year and the southpaw from Bairnsdale had her picture splashed on the front page of The Age after a match-winning performance on opening weekend.
Further recognition came at the end of that WBBL season, when Molineux was named the first recipient of the Betty Wilson Award as the young woman cricketer of the year.
First she showed off her skills on the decks, now Sophie Molineux has taken out the inaugural 'Housemates Table Tennis Championship'!
We're sure this wouldn't be a competitive household at all…😂 pic.twitter.com/j0475Ge1dN
— Australian Women's Cricket Team 🏏 (@SouthernStars) November 19, 2018
Sure enough, 12 months on and last March she was on a plane to India to make her international Twenty20 debut. As Molineux told The New Daily, these early moments combined to give her the vital feel for what life as a professional cricketer might be like, before her big break arrived.
“It gave me an idea of what I wanted to be able to do consistently and I’m working hard towards that,” she said.
“The WBBL has certainly put a lot of young players in good stead to be able to transition from a domestic competition to international cricket. It is hard to believe that it is a domestic competition with the personnel that come across and play in it. I was just in complete awe that first year.”
Molineux cites the experience of being on live television, which she had the chance to experience regularly in the WBBL before making her Southern Stars debut as invaluable.
“It has definitely helped me come into the international stage and not get too overawed,” she said.
“I have been really lucky to come into this at this time when playing on TV is almost the norm, which is pretty weird to say. That has definitely helped settling the nerves a little bit quicker at this level.”
The reward for bowling so well in the lead-up to this World Twenty20 is that she has managed to keep Jess Jonassen, Australia’s No.1 finger spinner, out of the XI on return from her knee surgery.
It was the only logical decision, given in three matches against Pakistan in Malaysia before arriving in the Caribbean, Molineux took combined figures of 7-52.
“It is pretty surreal being at a World Cup,” she said. “It has that special feeling. The reward of winning it is pretty amazing, to be world champions. So, I am pinching myself every day.”
It was always going to get harder, something Molineux freely acknowledges and as her World Twenty20 numbers so far illustrate, claiming a far more mortal three wickets at 35 through the group stage, at 6.7 an over. In the loss to India on Saturday, Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur (also WBBL representatives) got hold of her for 0-45.
“I hadn’t experienced anything like that before,” she said.
“After the game and even a couple of days after I was thinking and reflecting on it. But you have got to learn from it and I was just really lucky that it was in a round match. In T20 cricket, you are sometimes going to get taken apart by some pretty good batters and that’s what happened.”
The team’s collective response has been much the same. They’re determined to get on with the job rather than slipping into the cycle of worry that caught up with them in last year’s ill-fated World Cup.
“We were pretty quick to draw a line in the sand and realise we are playing a semi-final at a World T20,” Molineux said.
“We have that balance right there and some really strong leaders who are positive and forward thinking, which rubs off on everyone.”
— Australian Women's Cricket Team 🏏 (@SouthernStars) November 14, 2018
Confidence is not something that Molineux lacked last week when stepping up behind the DJ decks at a Guyanese school to lead them in a rendition of Cher’s Believe.
When the vision went viral, the consensus from online commenters was that anyone who can enjoy themselves like that must be a good egg. For her part, Molineux credits her rural upbringing as giving her the grounding needed in elite sport, not least at the business end of a World Cup.
“It does play a massive role in not taking yourself too seriously,” she said.
“You’ve got to learn how to laugh at yourself quite quickly. I’ve really tried to enjoy everything the last six weeks and continued to remind myself to take every day as it comes.
“We want to be world champions but what we are doing: it is pretty amazing. And that’s how it is coming across: that we are having a good time, enjoying each other’s company and having a laugh.”
Yep, she’s a good’un all right.
Australia plays host West Indies in their World T20 semi-final from 7am on Friday (AEST). There is live TV coverage on GEM, Fox Sports and radio commentary via icc-cricket.com.