Sophie Molineux keeps calm and bowls on

Sophie Molineux: "I still have that pace-bowler mentality in me" Getty Images

Sophie Molineux's poise is impressive for someone who is just 20. The winner of the Betty Wilson Young-Player-of-the-Year Award at the 2017 Allan Border awards is modest, downplaying her talents - on the field and off it. Her vinyl-scratching skills came to light recently, at the World T20 in the Caribbean, and she has had a remarkable career run this year: an international debut in March, a Cricket Australia contract in April, a thrilling home debut against New Zealand in September, and topping the wickets table for her team against Pakistan in Malaysia in October.

"I never really fully appreciated those who bowl in the Powerplay until I did it myself," Molineux says of her new-ball responsibilities, which she juggled with operating in the middle overs and at the death through the group stage at the World T20, her first world tournament. "Having done that in the last couple of series, I must say it's quite a difficult thing to do, because you have to be really clear on your plans.

"There have been moments when I've had to pinch myself, and bring myself back to earth and realise that this is my job - to bowl to some of the best batters in the world - and switch myself on. And Meg [Lanning, the captain] has been clear for all spinners that we'd be called on at different times of the innings, during different phases of the tournament - be on stand-by for that - but I've really enjoyed that challenge."

Save for Australia's only loss in the group stage of the World T20, in which she leaked 45 off four overs, Molineux has functioned with success as part of the side's young, well-oiled spin machinery: herself, offspinner Ashleigh Gardner, and wristspinner Georgia Wareham - both of whom are right-armers.

Molineux's selection ahead of fellow left-arm orthodox spinner Jess Jonassen in all four league games was foreshadowed when she filled in for the more experienced spinner, who was recovering from a knee injury at the time, in the T20I and ODI series against Pakistan in Kuala Lumpur, and took 13 wickets - the most by an Australian in that series. That followed a memorable home series against New Zealand, in which she took four wickets and had the best economy rate. Molineux describes the opening game of that match-up, and the Australian summer, as her career highlight so far. "It was the first time my mum and dad were out there, watching me play for Australia, under lights, with a brilliant crowd." Her 4-0-21-0 was the most economical return by any player on either side. "We lost a few wickets early chasing a little big total [163] but we ended up winning. That win sort of set us up for the next couple of months, and to do that in the presence of my parents - no one can take that away."

"There have been moments when I've had to pinch myself, and bring myself back to earth and realise that this is my job - to bowl to some of the best batters in the world - and switch myself on"

For Molineux, the dream while growing up was to play alongside her dad, Mark, at the West Bairnsdale Cricket Club in country Victoria. "That's all I ever really wanted as a young cricketer, until I realised there's scope for females," she says. The first time she got the opportunity to live her dream, father and daughter stitched together a 140-run stand.

Molineux puts her swift ascent down to her "support system", with Mark, her first coach, at its centre. "He's still the person I go to if I ever need anything in terms of cricket or even off the field," she says. "My family have never put pressure on me for anything. They've just supported and let me explore opportunities."

The tutelage of her mentor and go-to coach of ten years, John Harmer, has been as indispensable. "I'll forever be thankful for what he's done for me," she says, "helping me so much with my technique and just shaping my cricket overall."

A specialist in biomechanics, Harmer coached the Australian women's team to three World Cup finals between 1993 and 2000, including in the title-winning 1997 campaign, before moving to England to take charge of that country's team. In 2008, he saw ten-year-old Molineux play football with boys in Bairnsdale, and her athleticism and game-awareness caught his eye.

"She could read the game so well even then," Harmer told the Cricket Australia website earlier this year, of his first impressions of Molineux. "I was introduced to her dad and it went from there." A defining moment in their association came in 2014. A stress fracture in Molineux's back, following an under-age tournament, grounded her for a major part of the season. In hindsight, the time in rehab was, she says, a good thing. "Because I don't think I was growing much since age 12. I had a good chat with John Harmer if it was worth continuing with pace. So I started focusing on my offspinners. I still have that pace-bowler mentality in me. I bowl that kind of quicker ball every now and then that sometimes goes for five wides in the nets (laughs). But I'm sort of glad I've turned to spin."

Duncan Harrison, the assistant coach of the Cricket Victoria and Melbourne Renegades women's sides, who has monitored Monlineux's growth from close quarters since she was 13, speaks of her ability to take on responsibility. "We've had her in captaincy positions and seen her grow into a role model even with people of her own age group," says Harrison, who also works as head coach of the Victoria Under-15s and of the Under-18s Female High Performance Academy. "Once she got into the senior squad, she started to flourish in the senior teams - Victorian sides and in the Big Bash."

Her maiden stint at the WBBL produced only eight wickets and 49 runs in ten and eight innings respectively. But in the first ever Melbourne Derby - the marquee clash of the inaugural season of the tournament, televised live on Channel Ten's flagship channel on a Saturday afternoon at the end of the holiday season - Molineux announced her arrival.

The following season was her breakout one. She played all of Renegades' 14 matches, scored 256 runs and took eight wickets. During the opening weekend double header against Adelaide Strikers, she helped Renegades pull off an unlikely win with 4 for 18 and an unbeaten 18-ball 28, following up her 37 not out against the same opponents the previous day.

"Over time, I've built the resilience, and you sort of understood that it's part of the game and you have to let the rest of the bowling do their job when the batters are having a hit against you"

In the third edition, she bettered her average to 26.50, with 318 runs, including two fifties, and took six wickets in ten innings.

"Following the second season, a leading newspaper in Melbourne did this 'Molineux - the next big thing in Australia cricket' kind of article," Harrison says. "It was obviously a big thing for a teenager, [especially one] who grew up in regional Australia. But that 30 [in the derby game in the first season] was a test of character."

The hype around Molineux over the last three years, he says, has added to the weight of expectation that every promising young athlete like her has to carry. "When everybody is telling you you're going to play for Australia years before you do, it's not the easiest thing to deal with for an 18- or 19-year old," he says. "She's a humble kid, so it's been an interesting burden to carry because she's not a person who seeks public limelight, you know, be on the front page of the paper and so on."

Harrison had his first glimpse of Molineux's gift for cricket in 2011-12, at Blacktown Olympic Park Oval, where she made 98 not out for Victoria in the Women's Australian Under-15 Championships. "She was tiny, but she smashed the ball all round. At that point we realised we have a special player on our hands."

Two years before that, she had taken 7 for 0 in a Victoria primary school game. Her other career highlights before making her international debut included a men's Grade A club debut at 16, representing Australia A against Sri Lanka A and England A in the 2015-16 Women's Development Series in Colombo, and playing for the Australia Governor-General's XI against the touring Indian and South African teams in 2016, the year she moved to Fitzroy in Melbourne.

The last two years, Molineux says, have strengthened the foundation laid by Harmer, Harrison, and her father. The influence of Jonassen in the Australian ranks, and that of former Australia allrounder Shelley Nitschke - who, too, was a left-arm spin-bowler and a left-hand bat - as assistant coach, have also played a part.

"I'm just so thankful that Shelley's demeanour automatically brings a lot of calm to the squad, especially for the spinners," Molineux says. "And Jonno's been so open. That's key for a young player like me, coming into the international set-up, especially to know that as left-arm spinners you may bowl the same thing, but your plans can be different and [that] you need to go through your plans."

Molineux has been schooled quickly in the rollercoaster nature of the short format. "Playing in the Big Bash in the first two years, I would get a bit flustered every now and then after getting hit for runs," she says. "Over time, I've built the resilience, and you sort of understood that it's part of the game and you have to let the rest of the bowling do their job when the batters are having a hit against you."

With the first standalone WBBL final slated for Australia Day 2019, and the next World T20 at home, Molineux is among the key young allrounders on whom will depend much of Australia's chances of redressing the recent loss of both limited-overs world titles.

For now, she's happy relying on her ability to spin - on the track and at the turntable - knowing not having "any of those funny balls [like a wristspinner's wrong'un]" and keeping things simple can sometimes work wonders for a bowler. "I've learned to trust my plans and to go back to them even after getting hit," she says. "Honestly, you don't need to think of something extraordinary all the time; for me at times it's been as simple as going back to my mark, focus on one ball and try and hit the stumps."