It was during a routine net session towards the end of Australia’s Ashes campaign that Hannah Darlington realized she had to take a step away from cricket.
It was late January and the 20-year-old of incredible talent, soon to leave for New Zealand as a reserve alongside the one-day World Cup squad, was becoming increasingly aware that something was amiss.
“It just got to the point where I wasn’t sure what I was doing there anymore,” Darlington, who has signed a new four-year deal with Weber WBBL at Sydney Thunder, told cricket.com.au.
The pace bowling all-rounder subsequently withdrew from the World Cup Touring Party and the remainder of the domestic season to escape the game.
“I walked out of the web session and had a moment and realized that going to New Zealand and continuing this search for ways to continue enjoying sessions would not have been the best decision at that point, especially early in my career,” she says .
“It was a difficult decision; it was great to see the girls win a world cup and it would have been great to be a part of it.
“But knowing that I have to come home and see the family and do a bit of work on myself was definitely the best decision.”
That call came at the end of a summer that was tougher than anyone could have predicted.
Darlington’s meteoric rise is well documented; She made her debut for the Sydney Thunder in October 2019 as a 17-year-old and was named to the team of the tournament a year later as the club clinched their second title.
Australia were called up for a tour of New Zealand in early 2021, by which time Darlington was captain New South Wales’ youngest player.
But the 2021/22 season presented even greater challenges; an international debut against India followed in October, shortly before she was named Thunder skipper for WBBL|07 in the absence of Rachael Haynes, becoming the competition’s youngest-ever leader.
Darlington seized those opportunities with both hands, but a stay away from home that began with hotel quarantine in Brisbane in early September and continued through a WBBL season spent exclusively on the streets due to border closures was taking its toll.
After another period of strict bubble conditions during the Ashes, the prospect of another period of New Zealand hotel quarantine – and continued restrictions during the tournament itself – proved too much.
The maturity with which Darlington handed over the captaincy of both her state team and the Big Bash club while still a teenager also helped her see the need to step down.
“It’s been a big season for me and having those opportunities in the different parts of the season, whether it’s with the Australian team or with the Thunder and then back to New South Wales, it all built up pretty quickly in my time away from home “, she says.
“The different bubbles and scenarios that played out really blew my mind and it was the best decision I’ve made.
“I went into the country on my own on a couple of escapes just to have a bit of time to think… during the season there wasn’t really an opportunity to reflect and realize the strain and stress I was under in different scenarios the season.
“Having the chance to go back to the family and spend some time with them and travel a bit… it was really exciting and really set me up to get ready for the upcoming pre-season.”
Those escapes included a trip to central Australia, as well as visits to the rural estate near Coffs Harbor owned by Thunder teammate Anika Learoyd’s family.
“I think being locked down in Sydney for so long during some of these lockdowns has really taught me that it’s a really great opportunity to get out of the city and this is (will) be a shot for me,” she says.
“Coming back this preseason I would have been in a very different place if I went to the World Cup.”
Although she has had to take a break, the all-rounder wouldn’t change the experience of last summer and she remains eager to pursue leadership opportunities as they arise.
“Looking back, I really enjoyed the experience of being a captain, it was always a lot of fun,” she says.
“But I think navigating the COVID travel bubble — we’ve had kids who weren’t at home, we’ve had people who’ve been traveling for extended periods of time who’ve never had a big bash before — and it’s probably been a bit more to navigate for a first year captain than we probably expected.
“I tried my best to get around the group but sometimes it was difficult.
“(But) I had a really good support network around me and I wouldn’t change the scenario at all – looking further down my career hopefully captaincy is something that comes with that part of my career. It hasn’t changed me in any way.”
Darlington is not part of Australia’s 15-man squad traveling to Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games this month, but she is aiming to return to the national team for next year’s T20 World Cup in South Africa.
She will get her chance to impress selection when the national one-day season kicks off in September, followed by the start of WBBL|08 in mid-October, with the 20-over tournament schedule being announced on Thursday.
“I always have my eye on the T20 World Cup in South Africa next year, after being in the crowd at the 2020 final at the MCG it has been a goal ever since,” she says.
“Having missed the last (tournament) in New Zealand I’m pretty excited to hopefully get my chance to go there and try the Big Bash to make a good impression.”
Sydney Thunder WBBL|08 roster so far: Sam Bates, Hannah Darlington, Phoebe Litchfield, Olivia Porter, Tahlia Wilson