A SEVENTEEN-year-old who had played almost exclusively against boys and men until four months ago has emerged as a valuable player in Australia's surge to the final of the women's World Cup.
Lanky Queenslander Holly Ferling not only resembles lead fast-bowler Ellyse Perry in appearance but also shares Perry's ability to beat opponents with raw pace.
Ferling's selection in the Southern Stars' squad of 15 for the tournament in India was thought to be as a depth bowler, although she was forced to assume a much more significant role as Perry missed the Stars' past two matches through illness and injury. The right-armer responded with a three-wicket haul against top-ranked England, which included a scalp with her first delivery, and then 1-23 in the win against Sri Lanka that sealed a berth for the Stars in Sunday's final in Mumbai.
Given Ferling, who turned 17 in late December, had never played in a dedicated women's competition until October - she started in the top domestic limited-overs competitions - she admitted to feeling stunned to be missing the first month of her high-school year due to national selection.
''My goal for the season was to make my debut for the [Queensland] Fire. It's been such a whirlwind year,'' she said on Monday. ''This time last year I was playing under-age stuff for Queensland. It doesn't make sense to me that I've since been to New Zealand, Sri Lanka, India, and made my debut for the Southern Stars and the Fire. It's been such an unreal experience, I definitely would not have expected any of it.''
For most of Ferling's childhood her only cricketing experience was playing at her family home in Kingaroy, 215 kilometres north-west of Brisbane, and following her brother to his cricket training sessions to bowl. The turning point was an invitation to try out for a school team, after which she impressed sufficiently to be recruited to the local men's competition.
Much of Ferling's first year for Kingaroy Services Cricket Club was spent in B grade. It was after her form demanded promotion to the top grade that her talent gained significant attention, such as when she claimed a hat-trick as a 14-year-old in the men's competition. Such form helped her become the first woman to win Queensland's junior player of the year.
''It definitely made me a tougher player because the men were coming at me. It taught me what lengths I needed to bowl because too full they hit you for six, too short they hit you for six. It's definitely helped me as a cricketer,'' she said.
As Ferling's height increased in the past year so did her pace. At her current rate of improvement she is on track to achieve her goal of consistently reaching 125km/h, a feat she reckoned would be ''pretty unreal''.
While she played in one of the Stars' first-round matches her biggest test came when Perry was ruled out for the past two Super Sixes matches. ''I wouldn't use the word 'replace' but to come in for her [Perry] when she's injured you do feel like you've got to take on her role with the ball,'' Ferling said.
''She was really good. She was talking to me before the game, telling me to keep it simple and wishing me luck, which the coaching staff did as well.''