Two months ago, Hannah Darlington simply hoped to make her Big Bash debut this season.
Safe to say, the 17-year-old has managed a little more than just that.
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The pace-bowling allrounder - who made her debut the same day she sat her Year 12 English exam - played all 14 games for the Thunder in Rebel WBBL|05, finishing as their leading wicket taker.
She ended the regular season sixth on the overall wickets tally with 16 scalps at 21.31, and bowling at an economy rate of 6.82 – the sorts of numbers that made her a standout choice for this season’s Rebel Young Gun award, the gong for the best player aged under 21 at the start of the season.
Darlington is in good company: the previous three winners of the award are Australian-contracted trio Georgia Wareham, Sophie Molineux and Ashleigh Gardner.
"To come away with that award is great recognition and it means a lot," Darlington said.
"It’s a bit daunting that my first season in the WBBL has been so successful, but I can’t wait to step up for next season because there’s been some big names - Alex Blackwell and Rene Farrell - retire from Sydney Thunder."
Darlington was the first graduate of the Thunder’s WBBL Academy, with her debut this season a long time coming after the teenager had been on their list the previous two seasons without playing a game.
A major shake-up in personnel, and experience, then provided the opportunity the 17-year-old from Erskine Park in Western Sydney had been waiting for.
It was a chance she grabbed with both hands, even trusted by Thunder captain Rachael Haynes to deliver death overs.
"Hannah’s been absolutely exceptional for such a young player," Haynes told cricket.com.au last month.
"Bowling the death over … (that) is pretty incredible for a 17-year-old.
"I’ve seen Hannah come up through the NSW pathway and she's always had something special about her.
"I knew sitting down with her at the start of season, she was going to be a really valuable player for us.
"You can just see how eager she is to learn about her game and improve and we’ve seen that happen gradually game by game this year."
Darlington’s introduction to cricket is the sporting equivalent of the cinematic ‘meet cute’ – mucking around in the schoolyard, she accidently struck a teacher in the head with a ball.
Impressed by her arm, Darlington was offered a choice: attend detention, or join the cricket team.
Safe to say, she made the right choice and ever since she has been racking up the achievements at an impressive rate.
"We were really impressed with the way Hannah handled some really difficult situations she found herself in on the field, often bowling to batters who were attacking hard and closing out the innings with good composure," Female High Performance Manager Shawn Flegler said.
"She also has a great temperament which we saw when she took a match-winning catch on the boundary at Blacktown.
"While she didn’t get much of an opportunity with the bat, she showed on several occasions that she’s a good talent.
"Hannah is also a strong leader which is impressive at such a young age, having captained NSW at an underage level as well as the Sydney Thunder's first female Indigenous team.
"Overall as a cricketer and person she’s a terrific package and we feel like she’ll really benefit from being involved in rebel’s Mentoring Program."
Darlington has captained the Thunder's Indigenous XI and she led NSW Metro’s one-day side to victory in last summer’s Under-18s Female National Championships.
The proud Kamilaroi woman also plied her trade in England last year as part of the Aboriginal XI which commemorated the 1868 tour of the UK.
As the fourth winner of the Rebel Young Award, Darlington will receive $5000 and gain access to a tailored mentor program.
Rebel Young Gun WBBL|05 nominees:
Week 1: Phoebe Litchfield (Sydney Thunder)
Week 2: Tayla Vlaeminck (Hobart Hurricanes)
Week 3: Hannah Darlington (Sydney Thunder) - winner
Week 4: Tahlia Wilson (Sydney Thunder)
Week 5: Courtney Webb (Melbourne Renegades)
Week 6: Annabel Sutherland (Melbourne Stars)
Week 7: Stella Campbell (Sydney Sixers)