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Feature

From working at her father's farm to bowling to the best, Marufa is out to win the world

Life has taken a turn for the better for the 18-year-old fast bowler from Bangladesh in the last two months

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
14-Feb-2023
Marufa Akter picked up 3 for 23 in an inspired spell of fast bowling, Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka, Women's T20 World Cup, Group 1, Cape Town, February 12, 2023

Marufa Akter picked up three wickets in Bangladesh's opening game against Sri Lanka  •  Getty Images

When Marufa Akter was ploughing a field on the farm her father works on during the Covid-19 pandemic, she would not have dreamed that two-and-a-half years later she'd be playing at two World Cups, 10,000 kilometres away.
The last month has been surreal for the 18-year-old, who finished as Bangladesh's leading wicket-taker at the Under-19 World Cup, including taking 2 for 29 in their statement win over Australia, and then started the senior tournament with 3 for 23 to announce herself against Sri Lanka. Marufa had been capped five times in white-ball cricket before Bangladesh's T20 World Cup opener but this was a second introduction, and a bigger one.
She was called on in the fourth over, with Sri Lanka 17 without loss chasing 127, and asked to bowl to one of the most aggressive batters in the tournament - Chamari Athapaththu. Asked if she was nervous, a confident Marufa needed only one word to answer: "No."
And she needn't have been. One look at her says she's a fast bowler worth showing respect to. She's all arms and legs when she runs in: swinging forearms, high elbows, straight back and heels kicking up high. If you're looking at her side-on, you may only see a blur because that's how quickly she runs in. She has a smooth action and though she will need to develop some pace as she matures, she has already sussed out lines and lengths. Tempting as it may have been to bowl short on a South African strip, she didn't go there and instead stuck to her disciplines bowling a stump-to-stump line and largely good length.
Her third delivery was full on the stumps. Athapaththu tried to drive her over mid-on but miscued and the ball carried to Lata Mondal for a simple catch. In her next over, a similar length delivery induced a drive from Sri Lanka's Under-19 captain Vishmi Gunaratne, who gave Marufa a simple return catch at waist height. And then came the magic ball. Marufa's next delivery seamed in from fourth stump and snuck below Anushka Sanjeewani's bat and took out offstump.
Marufa shrieked in celebration not least because she put Bangladesh in the perfect position to break a six-match losing streak against Sri Lanka. They didn't, but Marufa made her mark and the match ended with many questions about where Bangladesh had unearthed such talent from.
With captain Nigar Sultana translating, Marufa said her father was initially hesitant about her pursuing a career in cricket. "First of all, my family was not very supportive because my father is a farmer so he actually wanted me to get a normal job. But day by day when I started doing well, my family actually started supporting me very much."
In the end, it was her older brother who encouraged her to keep at cricket. Inspired by Hardik Pandya, who she calls her favourite player, Marufa went on to attend the country's biggest sports institution: Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protishtan (BKSP) where she learnt some of the skills she showed off on the world's biggest stage. "I worked very hard during those days. I didn't think I was a good bowler but my coach, Madam Fatima and Mr Pilu taught me. I want to thank them for giving me, coming from a rural area, the opportunity to play for the national side."
In the depths of lockdown, when she had handed over her first earnings from cricket - from the Cox's Bazaar training camp - of US$ 412, she would never have imagined that a few years later she would be talked about as someone who should be in the auction for one of the most lucrative leagues - the Women's Premier League (WPL). Marufa did not put her name up and no Bangladesh player was picked up but, as the team takes on the world's best, Australia, they'll have first-hand evidence that they can dare to dream.
"She bowls very nicely. She was certainly someone that we've spoken about today, and I'm sure the batters will have a bit of a look at and think about their plans for her."
Australia coach Shelley Nitschke on Marufa Akter
In total, 14 Australian players landed deals, including the joint-biggest one for a foreign player. Ashleigh Gardner sold for approximately INR 3.4 crore (US$390,000 approx), alongside Nat Sciver-Brunt. Those amounts may sound other-worldly for someone from Marufa's background but she has managed to impress other teams.
"I saw her bowling. She bowls very nicely," Australia's head coach Shelley Nitschke said on Marufa. "She was certainly someone that we've spoken about today, and I'm sure the batters will have a bit of a look at and think about their plans for her. She was fantastic last night, so we certainly need to be on the lookout for her when she gets the ball in hand."
If you'd told Marufa who could not even go to the practice because her family could not afford to send her there as the pandemic raged on that she would soon earn the praise of the coach of the top team in the world, she may not have believed you. Now, she's getting the experience many cricketers can only dream of, at back-to-back World Cups against the best batters in the world. It's still early days in the T20 World Cup, but if we had to pick the player with the most promise so far, it would be difficult to look past Marufa.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent