As the season of summer sport was ushered in to cap off a tumultuous year, Isabelle Afaras has found some solace in celebration.

The 19-year-old cricketer has just come off a Women’s Big Bash League win with Sydney Thunder after signing on for a fill-in contract.

“It was amazing and a really incredible experience to be a part of. I’m sort of pinching myself in way because I think that some of those players from other teams have spent six years playing in the Big Bash and haven’t even made a final or won one, so in my first year to be a part of the group and to win that final was very special,” she told Neos Kosmos.

She spoke about balancing her new university studies with training and working her way up to State teams.

READ MORE: Q&A with AFLW Kangaroos’ Tasmanian midfielder Ellie Gavalas

What drew you to cricket?

I suppose with most female aspiring cricketers, we have an older brother. From a very young age I spent a lot of time in the front yard with him and I would join in with my brother’s friend and we’d just spend hours and hours after school in my front yard playing cricket.

I used to be the designated wicketkeeper so I wouldn’t really get much of a bat or bowl, I’d just stand behind the stumps hours on end but I’d still enjoy it nonetheless.

From there I joined the local cricket team which was Roseville, so I was with the boys for a number of years doing a lot of wicketkeeping and a little bit of bowling. As I got into the Under 13s that’s when things really started progressing, it was then when I transitioned from playing with the boys to a women’s team. That’s when I entered the Under 17s all girl edition.

My cricket just kept progressing. I made the Under 19s Australian side which involved a tour to New Zealand last year and then I earnt my first contract with ACT last season and it’s  culminated now where I got the call up to be a replacement player for the WBBL tournament for Sydney Thunder.

It’s game day, what do you do to get pumped up before the match?

I was in a position where I didn’t play any games but I was still very much a part of the team. On game day my responsibility entailed making sure everyone else was all primed and ready to go for their match. I’d hang around the group and encourage everyone and do things more so off the field than on the field.

Isabelle Afaras (bottom, 3rd right) was part of the Under 19s Australian team Photo: Instagram via isabelle.afaras

Top 3 training songs?

I’ve got a friend who loves Shakira so we spend a lot of time playing her songs in the team playlist, so Shakira is up there as the main one. I absolutely love her tunes, they’re really catchy!

What do you find most challenging about the game?

I think with cricket, I’ve heard people say before that it’s 90 percent mental and 10 percent actual skill. The challenge for a lot of young people playing cricket is having a clear head and clear mind when you go in to have a game. The nature of T20 cricket is that it’s really up and down, so things can go your way one day but then it can be a completely different story the next.

For most people really, including myself it’s just that challenge of trying to maintain mental refreshment and things like that. So if you have a bad performance it’s about being resilient in your next game and moving on. Being in a good mental space is really important and something that they emphasise a lot in cricket in Australia.

What has been a highlight in your career thus far?

I suppose I really can’t look past being a part of Sydney Thunder and winning that title. That is something that will stand out to me for the rest of my life and also being in that hub environment for one and a half months, I made the most of it. Being a part of that was pretty incredible and something that I’ll hold very fond for a long time.

How has cricket impacted your life?

In a weird way, I think I found that cricket’s been something that I’ve really, really enjoyed for a long time and during school as well. I value my education and getting a degree, I think the combination of cricket and my studies has really worked well for me.

When I do have a bad performance in cricket I can think ‘okay, I’m just going to step away from that for a bit and do some study’ or the alternate also applies when I don’t do so well as I would’ve liked on an assignment I think ‘well it’s okay, because I’ve still got cricket to keep me going’. It’s that life balance between playing a lot of cricket and then being able to step away from the game and also focus on study and a career.

What is something you learned about yourself through playing the game?

My experiences playing cricket have taught me a lot about resilience. The nature of being in any professional sporting environment is that you can lose your contracts after a year, like I did, so things don’t go your way. So above all I’ve probably been taught the most about my own resilience and the ability to bounce back after situations that don’t work in your favour.

Isabelle Afaras (L) holds onto the 2020 WBBL trophy Photo: Supplied

What do you hope to achieve in the next year?

My aspiring goal is to play for Australia. I suppose that’s the same for a long of young female cricketers. It’s got to happen in small steps so in the near future I’d like to score a contract with another State club and a WBBL franchise as well and work on my skillset and continue to improve. Hopefully one day I can represent Australia.

What’s something someone might be surprised to learn about you?

I guess in a team environment I’m known as the quirky character. I make some funny remarks, so it’s probably my quirkiness that strikes a lot of people.

Favourite way to unwind after a game?

I love being around people, so after a game it might just be heading out to a restaurant or pub just to catch up with friends. Otherwise on other days outside of cricket I just love going to the beach and relaxing there, or sometimes it’s just getting into some study. Keeping busy is what’s really helpful to me.

How did COVID disrupt your game?

I suppose it disrupted it slightly in a way but having my older brother has worked in my favour a bit. During those intense periods of COVID I would go to the local nets with him and I’d work a lot on my batting and bowling. It was one thing I took advantage of that I probably wouldn’t have.

Later on when the restrictions relaxed I was able to rejoin the New South Wales squad and do a bit of training there to maintain my skill level. In respect of that I haven’t found much detriment as a result of COVID.

What do you think is the biggest misconception of women in cricket?

There’s always stigmas that surround anything in life really. The thing is women’s cricket is continually improving exponentially, year to year, there’s so much skill improvement. It’s more so that as more awareness is created for sport in Australia and in the world, and as young girls aspire to become professional athletes, the better the standard will be.

I think it’s a matter of promoting the game in Australia and elsewhere, that will break down perhaps those stigmas related to women’s cricket and the idea that women can’t hit the ball as hard as men or bowl as fast.