26 September, 2023

Silver for Fernvale resident at World Blind Games

NICOLE Rowling achieved a silver medal while fulfilling her lifelong goal of representing Australia in sport, as she competed in last month’s World Blind Games in the English city of Birmingham.

Fernvale resident Nicole Rowling represented Australia in blind cricket at the World Blind Games in England, with Australia finishing runner-up to India in the women’s grand final at Edgbaston Stadium.
Fernvale resident Nicole Rowling represented Australia in blind cricket at the World Blind Games in England, with Australia finishing runner-up to India in the women’s grand final at Edgbaston Stadium.

The Fernvale resident also had the honour of bowling the first delivery in the history of the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) World Games women’s blind cricket.

More significantly, Nicole held the first catch to bring about the first wicket in the history of women’s blind cricket at the World Blind Games event.

Nicole was limited to two appearances out of five due to injury, but she was all smiles afterwards as her dream of playing for her country had been realised while she could “tick it off the bucket list”.

“Receiving my baggy green was a really proud moment, not only for myself but for my teammates as well,” she said.

“I felt a great sense of pride and a final realisation that we’d made it.

“Receiving the baggy green helped it sink in that it was time to represent our country and showcase the commitment and hard work that got us here.”

With England batting first in the opening contest, Nicole sent down the first and third overs while conceding four runs in each. From the third ball of the second over, Nicole held a catch at mid-wicket off the bowling of Courtney Lewis to dismiss England captain Kathryn Jelfs-White.

A high sundries count contributed to England’s total of 8/128 in 20 overs, before the Australians also benefited from plenty of sundries as they cruised to a seven-wicket victory in 15.1 overs.

Nicole scored 14 off 27 balls at number three, and was adjudged lbw to Jelfs-White with the total on 102 in the 13th over.

Nicole later said the first catch was a memory that would stay with her.

“Because the player we got out was the captain of the English team, it really boosted our confidence to dismiss one of their best players so early in the match,” she said.

“If you asked me even last year, I wouldn’t have imagined I would take a catch against England, so it was a very special moment.

“It all happened so quickly, that I realised ‘Oh my gosh, I’m holding the ball… I caught it!’

“We were ecstatic to beat England in our first ever game, which was also our first ever game together as the Australian team.

“It was great for our confidence going forward in the tournament.”

Nicole wasn’t selected for Australia’s second fixture, as India dominated the match and set the tone for the remainder of the tournament.

The Fernvale resident returned for Australia’s third match, with England making 2/112 before Australia lost seven wickets and fell 13 runs shy of the target.

Nicole conceded 12 runs in three overs as she again opened the bowling. She again played a role in the dismissal of Jelfs-White, this time as Nicole threw the ball to Queensland teammate and Australian wicketkeeper-captain Julie Neumann who broke the wicket to run out England’s skipper.

Nicole again batted at number three, and she made seven off 23 balls before being run out as Jelfs-White threw the ball to Jess Lowe who broke the wicket.

“I felt like my batting in the first game was quite good…The second time we played against England, they made adjustments by bringing their field in close when I was batting, which made it difficult to hit the ball past their inner ring of fielders,” Nicole said.

“I’ve learned from that experience and have a good strategic plan on how to improve going forward.”

Although she didn’t capture a wicket, Nicole said she felt like she bowled quite well.

“I bowled consistently and their run rate off my bowling was kept to a minimum,” she said.

“At times I took a little pace off my bowling speed to make sure I was accurate and stayed on target.

“Next time, I’ll let loose a little more and increase my pace and speed.”

Unfortunately for Nicole, she sustained a high-grade tear to her medial collateral ligament (MCL) while diving for the ball when fielding and was consequently unable to play in the remainder of the World Blind Games.

Nicole watched the Australian women’s team sustain another heavy loss to India before the two teams met again in the decider.

Nicole said the weather was perfect at King Edward’s School where the preliminary matches were played, before rain hampered the decider at the prestigious Edgbaston Stadium.

“We were fortunate to play in spectacular English weather, with lovely temperatures and nice breezes,” she said.

Nicole said the pitch at King Edward’s School looked perfectly manicured and felt great.

“Just running out onto the field, the grass was perfect, it was beautifully flat and maintained green and lush,” she said.

In the crunch clash to decide who claimed gold medal status, Australia tallied 8/114 before wet weather reduced India’s target to 42 in nine overs, and then the Indians passed the requirement in just 3.3 overs for the loss of one wicket.

Although she didn’t play in the decider, Nicole said one of her highlights of the tournament “was competing for a gold medal in the grand final against India at the historic Edgbaston Stadium”.

Another highlight which Nicole identified was singing the Australian national anthem with the Australian players, coaches and manager.

“The condition of the field at Edgbaston was immaculate and just perfect in every way,” she said.

“It felt so professional – the outfield was so spongy and perfectly flat, and the players all ran with an added confidence.

“It really gives you an extra pep in your step.

“It was such an amazing feeling walking out onto the ground, and was really a ‘wow’ sensation, that made me think ‘Wow we’re really here!’

“Because of the ground itself, its history, and the gravity of the moment, you could feel the excitement in the air.

“At that moment, it really sunk in that our team had got there, and I felt proud of our achievements.”

Nicole said regardless of the result in the rain-affected decider, the Australians had shown resilience.

“We tried our best,” she said.

“We wouldn’t go all that way and not put our best foot forward.

“We came second in the world, which is a really positive result, considering we had only one session together before arriving in Birmingham.”

Afterwards, the Australian players and staff walked along the boundary and thanked the fans for attending.

“There were people from all over the world watching the game, and everyone was so warm and friendly,” Nicole said.

“There were a lot of Indian cricket fans watching the gold medal game, and it was lovely to see how supportive and congratulative they were towards us, even though we were the opponent.

“Throughout the tournament, it was great having support of the Australian men’s (blind) cricket team, the Australian team staff, and family members of both teams’ players.”

Nicole gave credit to the victors, as she said the Indian team was amazing and was the best team in the tournament.

“Australia and England only recently formed their teams, so India’s experience playing together as a group really shone through and was a difference maker,” she said.

“They were a very polished team and the results showed that.”

Nicole said she also had a great time away from the cricket arena, as the players enjoyed their downtime.

“When we had rest days, a group of us enjoyed exploring the city of Birmingham,” she said.

“We visited Warwick Castle which was lovely to have the opportunity to be a tourist for a little while.

“I really enjoyed meeting all the other athletes from around the world, and seeing all the colours of athletes representing their respective countries.”

Nicole said there was one particularly interesting meeting with a group of athletes who didn’t speak English.

“We were trying to figure out what sport each other played,” she said.

“I ended up googling a photograph of someone playing cricket, and showed it to them.

“They said ‘Oh…cricket? Cricket!’

“We all had a laugh at the language barrier, and we eventually worked out they were Judo athletes from Uzbekistan.”

Nicole said she had a goal to play in the World Blind Games again, and would strive to earn selection for the 2027 Games although the host city wasn’t yet known.

“There’s no guarantees for myself personally that I will be selected again, but our hope is that we’ll have more young players taking up the sport, which will provide healthy competition for spots in the team in 2027,” she said.

“I’m really excited about the future of women’s blind cricket in Australia.

“With more young vision impaired athletes coming through, it will give young women and girls with vision impairment role models and something to aspire to.

“The future of women’s blind cricket is looking bright.”

Nicole said she also looked forward to any games or tournaments in which she could participate in the near future.

Nicole Rowling (back row far right) and her Australian teammates achieved silver medals in the women’s blind cricket division in the World Blind Games, staged in England last month.
Nicole Rowling (back row far right) and her Australian teammates achieved silver medals in the women’s blind cricket division in the World Blind Games, staged in England last month.

Most Popular