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Georgia Wareham overcomes the 'dark days' of rehab on triumphant return

Legspinner caps 'strange' week with three wickets after securing WPL deal

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Georgia Wareham struck twice in her final over, Australia vs Bangladesh, Women's T20 World Cup, Gqeberha, February 14, 2023

Georgia Wareham picked up three wickets in her first appearance since 2021  •  AFP/Getty Images

Georgia Wareham was with the Australian team physio when she found out she'd secured a gig at the inaugural WPL despite not having played a T20I in more than a year. The two, understandably, were "both carrying on a little bit" when her name came up.
The kind of faith Gujarat Giants showed in picking her for the equivalent of nearly $A129,000 in Monday's player auction was similar to that of the Australian selectors, who picked her in the squad for the T20 World Cup after she only returned for Victoria in the WNCL last month. Prior to that she had undergone a knee reconstruction after rupturing her ACL while fielding in the WBBL in October 2021.
In her first international appearance since, Wareham responded by taking 3 for 20 from four overs as Australia defeated Bangladesh by eight wickets with 10 balls remaining in Gqeberha on Tuesday. And, as Wareham, the 23-year-old legspinner, recalled the "dark days" of undergoing rehab for her injury, she said she had maintained hope that she would be here, having missed the Ashes, the ODI World Cup and Commonwealth Games.
"It was always a bit of a target," she said. "No one really likes to set any return dates, which can always be really tricky in rehab, but it was probably one glaring thing at the end there. It was always going to be tight I think and I thank the selectors for sort of backing me, having not played heaps of cricket coming into this World Cup - so yeah, I'm really thankful for them putting a lot of trust in me."
Replacing left-arm spinner Jess Jonassen in Australia's only change to the side which thumped New Zealand by 97 runs in Paarl on Saturday, Wareham claimed two wickets in an over, rattling the middle stumps of Shorna Akter and Rumana Ahmed, who both fell to some dubious shot-making attempts, before unfurling a gem that spun from a length on middle to miss the top of off stump by a whisker, sparing Ritu Moni. That was after she had seen her first ball of the match - a full-toss on Shobana Mostary's knee-roll - punished to the boundary but with her very next delivery she had Mostary out prodding to Alana King at short midwicket.
Pace bowler Darcie Brown had picked up two early wickets, while spinning allrounder Ashleigh Gardner - the joint highest-earning overseas player in the WPL alongside England's Nat Sciver-Brunt at £320,000 (A$557,000) - claimed one, as did Megan Schutt, with the spectre of the auction still hanging over the tournament. In all, 12 members of the Australian World Cup squad secured deals, compared with none from Bangladesh.
"It was a strange day for everyone involved," Wareham said. "I certainly didn't expect to get picked up. But, like everyone, I guess we probably all hoped to be involved. The first year of anything is really cool. To get over there and play in India will be pretty special and I'm really looking forward to it.
"It's life-changing for a lot of cricketers and a lot of people, which is really special, and it's only going to go up from here, which is really exciting for the young group of players that are going to be playing the WPL for many years to come. It's definitely going to be Ash's shout for the rest of the tour, for sure."
There was a celebratory atmosphere to Wareham's return as the St George's Park brass band turned out in full force and made the tiny crowd seem so much bigger - and louder. Midway through Australia's run-chase, they gave over to some a capella singing from what constituted the rest of the majority of the spectators at the ground.
After the match, Wareham reflected on how far she had come. "It was pretty tough, early days," she said. "At the start I was watching a lot of cricket and found myself missing it a lot but, after a while, I knuckled down into rehab and probably stopped watching it as much, which was hard but I had really good people around me to help me get through, who I've got a lot to thank for. There was some dark days along the rehab, but to come out the other side and be where I am at the moment, I'm very thankful for those people."
There was also a sense of another step taken in the fledgling career of Marufa Akter, the 18-year-old Bangladesh seamer who so impressed her captain, Nigar Sultana, bowling at first-change and picking up three wickets against Sri Lanka, that she was asked to open the bowling against the strongest team in the world.
Marufa bowled five dot-balls to begin, beating Alyssa Healy's attempted cut with the first, before over-pitching and seeing her sixth ball punished to the boundary through midwicket. Unperturbed, her next over brought the prized wicket of Beth Mooney, who edged to slip and saw Fahima Khatun take an excellent low catch. Sultana, whose half-century held the Bangladesh innings together, said Marufa was growing before the world's eyes.
"She becomes so mature day by day and how she bowls against the world-class batters is amazing," Sultana said. "I guess she's now pretty confident about bowling and, when I was giving her a bowl, I just told her, 'go with the flow and just be yourself'. She's so young and she has so much energy."
Marufa conceded 19 runs from her allocation, at the end of which there was a spring in her step that couldn't be attributed solely to the music.

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor, women's cricket, at ESPNcricinfo