Big learning curve for teenage pace ace

These days it's generally unwise to mention Australian cricketers and homework in the same sentence. But for Holly Ferling, assignments are as much a part of touring as time spent in the nets.

The 17-year-old fast bowler is the youngest member of the Southern Stars squad, which begins its campaign to defend the Women's Ashes on English soil with a four-day Test in Buckinghamshire on Sunday, right in the middle of the Queensland teenager's final year of school.

''I'm working overtime trying to make sure those marks are all good and hopefully getting the score that I want, but I've got three assignments all packed and also my teachers are sending me stuff every day so that I keep up with the class, and when I come back, hopefully, it won't be as hectic,'' Ferling said.

The Kingaroy schoolgirl's star has risen rapidly. Called into the Australia squad just before her 17th birthday, the fast bowler played a pivotal role in the International Cricket Council's Women's World Cup in India earlier this year, replacing the injured Ellyse Perry for four matches and taking nine wickets at an average of 10.55.

''That was a really big shock to be selected and then also to be given the opportunity to play after I'd been told that I'd mainly be there for a learning experience,'' Ferling said. ''The way I approached each game was just to make the most of it because I didn't know if that'd be my last game for Australia. I learnt so much just being a part of the team.''

The Queenslander has been on the fast track since she started playing aged 12.

A former PE teacher convinced her to join the Kingaroy Services' men's A-grade side two weeks before her 14th birthday and brought her on to bowl at first change. The gangly teenager took a hat-trick with her opening three balls. Another scalp followed on the fifth delivery, leaving her with figures of 4-0 after her debut over. ''I was just in disbelief,'' she said. ''I thought how did I just get four blokes out? It doesn't make sense!''

A self-confessed ''girly girl'', Ferling's trademark is the white ribbon she ties in a neat bow before each match. Her chirpy demeanour belies the raw pace she possesses, making her a smiling assassin as she fires off bouncers at up to 120km/h.

''I'm a really happy person just loving every opportunity. I'm not a person who can go and give someone a death stare, and I'm not witty enough to sledge at all,'' she said.

Cricket Australia's pay restructure for elite women's cricketers means Ferling is part of a new generation that could make an, albeit modest, living from the game, and possibly play professionally for longer.

The Queenslander intends to study for a back-up career as a PE teacher, and said she was inspired by the example of 31-year-old teammate Sarah Elliott, who is in England for the Test alongside her nine-month-old son, Sam.

''I had a chat with her at one of the camps, and it was just incredible to listen to how she came from having a baby to playing within a few months,'' she said. ''To be given the opportunity to be on an Ashes tour and go to England and potentially play at Lord's - it's quite surreal and it's a dream come true.''

The story Big learning curve for teenage pace ace first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop