The latest member of the White Ferns, young fast bowler Molly Penfold, doesn’t have a Kiwi passport – and could have found herself on the opposition, as NZ start their tour of England this week.

Molly Penfold has found herself catapulted from relative obscurity into the White Ferns squad within 12 months.

This time last year she was in the midst of winter training with the Auckland Hearts cricket team, hoping to get out on the park and debut for the women in blue.  

And last week, the 20-year-old fast bowler knocked off her first couple of overs for the White Ferns in a warm-up match against England A in Derby. A rapid rise in a whirlwind year, to say the least.

Following the news Penfold had joined the squad as a replacement for the injured Rosemary Mair after only one season of domestic cricket under her belt, many around the country were asking “Molly who?”

Well “Molly who?” is in fact one of the fastest bowlers in women’s cricket in New Zealand, despite her young age. The plaudits have been rolling in for the youngster, described by White Ferns bowling coach Jacob Oram as having “raw, fast bowling talent.”

But in an alternate universe, Penfold and her fast bowling talents could have been running in for the opposition in last Monday’s warm-up game at the Incora County Ground in the heart of Derbyshire.

Born in Kingston-upon-Thames, London, Penfold hails from a British family – and doesn’t actually have a New Zealand passport.

“I’ve got family scattered all over the place,” she says of her British relatives. “I managed to see a couple of family members here, socially distanced of course, and wherever I go around the tour there’ll be someone there, willing to catch up.”

Over the next four weeks – three T20 matches followed by five one-day internationals – Penfold expects to spot them at the cricket grounds proudly wearing New Zealand shirts. The first game against England is on Thursday morning (NZ time).

Penfold and her family lived south of London for the first couple of years of her life before her parents opted for a change of scenery and shifted the family to Aotearoa, where they settled in Auckland.

As many Kiwi sporting stories start, it was through the influence of a sibling that Penfold gave cricket a crack for the first time at a younger age than most. “It all started when I was five years old, when I started to play because my older sister played, and I wanted to do what she was doing,” she says. 

Starting her journey at the Howick Pakuranga Cricket Club all those years ago, Penfold is still a devoted club player there, although she took a couple of years out of the sport in primary school to play touch rugby, netball, volleyball and swimming.

But cricket was where her heart lay, and since the age of 12, she’s carried that same passion for her club into Auckland representative teams and now the Hearts.

So at what point did something flick in Penfold’s mind and she knew she wanted to bowl fast? She credits her experience with the Auckland under-15s team at a tournament in Wanganui as the turning point.

“I remember quite clearly the overs I bowled, and some of the batters didn’t enjoy it at all,” she says. “I remember thinking this wasn’t going too badly, and made me think I was really enjoying this. I realised then that’s the type of bowler I want to be.”

Penfold was 13 and since then, all efforts have been on steaming in and bowling hard and fast. While her bowling speeds haven’t officially been measured, Penfold and one of her coaches used the Machine Road phone app – developed by fellow Auckland cricketer and Black Cap Lockie Ferguson – which clocked her bowling at 109 kilometres per hour.

She’s not stopping there though. “Between 120 and 125 (km/h) would be nice!” she laughs. “I know it will take some time and effort but I’m already on my way up there.”

Penfold still has years of physical development ahead of her which will enable her to become stronger and faster. And now she’s in the White Ferns environment with the resources and expertise to support her, there’s every chance she will get quicker as her career progresses.

Her pace hasn’t gone unnoticed elsewhere in the White Ferns, with her new teammate Lea Tahuhu – long regarded as one of the fastest bowlers in the women’s game – revealing Penfold has “definitely had some of the girls jumping around in the nets” throughout the winter camps.

Penfold has also just been unveiled as one of eight players to have received women’s development contracts for the 2021/22 season from New Zealand Cricket. It’s another rapid achievement in her burgeoning career, and one that further cements the national body’s belief she’s a key cog in the team’s future.

Molly Penfold making the most of some down time during practice in England. Photo: Eddy Bramley.

“It means a lot to me, and it just proves to myself I do deserve one of these contracts,” she says. “After not getting a domestic contract last season, it shows I’ve done well to get here.

“I know everyone is there to better me as a cricketer and as a human too, which is a great environment to be around.”

Away from the cricket field, Penfold works as a waitress and as a coach for Auckland Cricket during the summer. Her plan to embark on a gap year in 2020 after finishing high school was derailed by Covid-19.

She didn’t want to rush into starting university, especially when she still isn’t sure what she’d like to study. But as women’s cricket continues to grow, particularly on the back of the successful inaugural edition of The Hundred in the UK, the doors could be opening for more young female cricketers like Penfold to ply their trade on a full-time basis around the globe.

“Just hearing Amy [Satterthwaite], Suzie [Bates] and Sophie [Devine] talk about the Big Bash, it’s definitely a big goal of mine in the next few years,” she says. “It’s just another opportunity to play alongside different players from a different country. Hopefully one day The Hundred would be an amazing opportunity to take as well.”

As someone who didn’t watch a lot of cricket growing up, let along women’s cricket, Penfold understands the importance of the expanding coverage and exposure the women’s game is receiving. The fact that the sport is evolving to the extent where she’s now recognised by young children is a feeling that never grows old.

“I feel quite grounded when little kids say ‘Can I take a picture with you?’ or ‘Can I have your signature?’,” she shares. “These kids want to aspire to be us, it’s incredible.”

In focusing on the task ahead, Penfold is certainly not on this tour of England to make up the numbers. With injuries, workloads and the ever-present threat of Covid-19 lurking, she’s working hard to make sure she’s primed and ready should the opportunity arise.

“Debuting would be a dream of mine, especially here in my original home country, and I’m definitely working hard towards that spot,” she says. “But it’s just a great opportunity to be here in the first place. Even if the debut doesn’t happen, I’ve loved every second so far.”

You get the feeling Penfold could have an exciting home summer ahead of her, where taking plenty of wickets is top of the priority list. She’ll suit up for her beloved Hearts, first in the Hallyburton Johnstone Shield and then the Dream11 Super Smash.

But with a rather significant tournament being held around the country come March 2022, and given how rapidly her stocks have risen, Penfold can dare to dream of pulling on the black shirt as well.

When Emily Drumm hoisted New Zealand’s first and only World Cup trophy on the Bert Sutcliffe Oval in 2000, Penfold hadn’t even been born. But don’t count against her doing everything she can to force her way into the next edition of the ICC Women’s World Cup on home turf this summer.

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