Darlington relishes return after frustrating setback

Sydney Thunder star Hannah Darlington picked up a key wicket and belted two sixes in her long-awaited return to elite cricket

After a cruel mishap delayed the start of her 2022-23 season, Hannah Darlington is determined to make up for lost time with the Sydney Thunder facing an uphill battle to make the Weber WBBL|08 finals.

Darlington missed New South Wales’ first four domestic one-day games and the Thunder’s first seven matches after injuring her knee while training on the eve of the season.

She underwent surgery on the meniscus on her left knee in late September after tripping over her own feet while bowling in the nets.

The 20-year-old returned for Wednesday’s Sydney Smash at North Sydney Oval – her first elite-level game since playing for Australia A in January, having opted against travelling to New Zealand as a reserve with Australia’s World Cup squad and instead taking a break from the game for the remainder of the 2021-22 summer.

After telling in July she was refreshed and eager to return following her time out, the injury meant a frustrating stint on the sidelines waiting to play.

"I probably forgot how long it's been since I've actually played some competitive cricket," Darlington said.

"I'm not a very good cricket watcher at all – I do bite my nails already so then trying to sit on the sidelines and cope with watching the girls, especially when they're away from Sydney and I'm back sitting on the couch (was hard) ... but making sure I was getting into the rehab side of things to make sure I was ready for this game kept me occupied."

Darlington claimed the huge scalp of Alyssa Healy and smacked 21 not out off nine deliveries, a knock that included just the second and third sixes of her Big Bash career, however after finishing her four overs with 1-32 in what was a 15-run defeat for the lime green team, Darlington is not satisfied.

"It was a bit ginger," Darlington said of her knee during Wednesday’s game. "It didn't feel quite as good as I would have liked.

"But that was expected, I think, so to go out there and get a big wicket (was pleasing) but I would have liked to go for a few less runs ... but on a ground like this it's pretty hard to do that so happy to just get out there."

Darlington’s return was right on schedule and a welcome boost for the Thunder who sit seventh on the table with one win from eight matches, with their hopes of building momentum so far hampered by a run of losses on their home turf in Blacktown at the start of the season before two washouts against Melbourne Stars.

Sixers cement top spot with Sydney Smash win

They ideally need to win their six remaining games to have the best chance at making the top four but have been dealt an additional blow after England star Amy Jones was unable to bat in Wednesday’s chase after suffering a back complaint while keeping wicket.

Jones will miss at least the next two matches, while the Thunder travelled to Hobart on Thursday ahead of their clash with the Heat on Friday evening.

There, Darlington will look to find her rhythm, with her sights set on an international recall ahead of the 2023 T20 World Cup in February.

She made her Australian debut last summer, but time in bubbles and away from home took its toll, resulting in her withdrawal from the one-day World Cup reserve list.

Darlington was not part of the squad that won gold at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in August, but told in July that the upcoming tournament in South Africa was a major goal.

"I've always had 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's been a goal since then," she said at the time.

"After missing the last (tournament) in New Zealand, I'm pretty excited to hopefully get my chance to head over there and give it a good crack in the Big Bash to make a good impression."

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