Amy Hunter is preparing to return to the scene of her record-breaking arrival on the world stage when Ireland leave for a three-week tour of Zimbabwe on Friday.

Two years and three months ago, the Belfast teenager became the youngest man or woman from any country to score a one-day international century, striking 121 not out to fire Ireland to an 85-run victory over their hosts at the Harare Sports Club.

Not a bad way to celebrate her 16th birthday.

But the innings that confirmed the talent she had shown since first picking up a bat and mixing it with the boys as an eight-year-old, owed everything to a twist of fate.

After scores of two, one and four in her first three ODIs, Hunter was not on the original team sheet for the final game of the series.

“On the day I wasn’t meant to be playing but a couple of the girls were sick, so I came into the team,” she said.

“At the start of my innings I just wanted to get into double figures because I hadn’t done that in my first three games. Then once I’d done that I thought about batting for a long period, as you can in 50 overs games.

“Early on there were a couple of scratchy shots, and a couple of edges, but then I sort of grew into it.

“I batted a fair bit with Gaby and Laura Delany that day, and they gave me a lot of support.”

Hunter shared century partnerships with both her senior colleagues, and remained unbeaten as the Girls in Green posted 312-3, their highest ODI total at the time.

“Coming into the Ireland side, I’d felt I was good enough to play at that level but a few low scores doesn’t do the confidence a lot of good and overall I felt relief more than anything else,” she said.

Perhaps surprisingly, Hunter does not rate that century as the best performance of her 45 games for Ireland.

“No, I’d rank the 50 I made against Australia last summer slightly higher, given the circumstances: playing against the best in in the world. Those are the games you really want to do well in,” she said.

While Ireland lost both completed World Championship games to the powerful Aussies - the third was rained off - Hunter’s half-century from 66 balls, with two fours and a couple of sixes, caught the eye of the visitors to Clontarf.

“That innings showed Amy’s growing maturity as a batter, and I know the Australians were impressed,” her coach Ed Joyce said. 

Although the figures may not back it up - her average of 24 from 20 innings was slightly down on the previous year - Hunter believes that she improved as a player through 2023.

“My batting has definitely come on this year. Technical things but also my mindset, I kinda understand my game a lot more now,” she said.

“When I was 15 or 16 coming into the Irish set up I tried to hit pretty much every ball for six and it didn’t always end well.”

Nevertheless, Hunter does boast the best strike-rate (85.6) for Ireland in ODIs, and along with Lewis and Orla Prendergast forms one of the more explosive top threes in T20 internationals.

Which of the two formats does she favour?

“It changes from time to time,” she said. “T20 is fun and exciting, and it looks really good when it comes off but I prefer ODIs at this stage of my career because you get to bat for a longer time.”

On top of batting in the top three in both forms, the teenager has been handed an added second responsibility following the retirement of veteran wicketkeeper Mary Waldron during the summer.

“Keeping wicket is something I’ve always wanted to do since I was about 13. Obviously it’s physically hard because I bat in the top order, and you’re always in the game, but I’m pretty used to it now.

“It was a surprise when Mary retired. I’d done quite a lot of work with her. She was always very good to me, doing drills together before and after training, and teaching me angles and that sort of thing.”

Hunter’s early introduction to the game followed a familiar route of sports-mad young girl competing with her brothers but her path to the top was not clear cut with much less organised women’s cricket in the north a decade ago, compared to Leinster.

“I was about eight when I started playing at my club Instonians. My brothers went training on Friday nights and I didn’t have anything to do so my dad encouraged me to go down too.

“Andy White [the former international and now chairman of selectors for the men’s team] was one of my first coaches.

“I was mainly in boys’ teams from then up to 11 when I played my first women’s game in the Super Series, and I carried on playing boys’ cricket right up to 14 or 15.

“Growing up I loved any sort of sport. Cricket, hockey, swimming, squash, tennis - literally anything. But then I started to focus on cricket and hockey, and I played hockey pretty seriously until a couple of years ago but then I decided to go just with cricket. 

“I’m focussed on playing professionally. When the first Cricket Ireland contracts came out I thought it was something I’d really like to do. I’ve not played in any franchise leagues yet but that’s something I’d definitely like to get involved in too.”

At 18, with a secure place in the Ireland team both as batter and wicketkeeper, it would seem that the next decade is mapped out for her, with the women’s game growing exponentially and money pouring in from sponsors and T20 leagues.

Somehow, though, she also has to complete a final year at school before signing up for university.

“I may take a gap year, I haven’t 100 per cent decided on that, but a university course in Dublin would definitely be a priority.”

A more immediate priority is to help Ireland reach the next T20 World Cup, with the qualifying tournament early in the summer.

“I haven’t sat down and set myself any clear goals for this year, other than qualifying for the World Cup.

“And beyond that we’ve got home series against England and Sri Lanka, and a trip to Bangladesh. It’s going to be very busy.”