Big Read: Suzie Bates and the state of women's cricket

By David Leggat

White Ferns captain Suzie Bates, one of the game's finest players and one of New Zealand's most gifted sportswoman, talks about the state of the game in New Zealand. Photo / Photosport
White Ferns captain Suzie Bates, one of the game's finest players and one of New Zealand's most gifted sportswoman, talks about the state of the game in New Zealand. Photo / Photosport

It has been a big week for New Zealand women's cricket.

Moves are afoot to raise the profile, playing and governance numbers, on the back of a report, Women and Cricket, Cricket and Women, slamming New Zealand Cricket's treatment of the women's game since the old New Zealand Women's Cricket Council merged under the NZC umbrella.

Not before time, a point NZC have acknowledged. The sport has dropped the ball often enough down the years, but this spill has been a true clanger.

So let's get this elephant out of the way first, Suzie Bates. The captain of the White Ferns, one of the game's finest players and one of New Zealand's most gifted sportswoman, what do you make of the state of the game?

"Initially when I heard the report was being done, I rolled my eyes and thought 'here we go again'," Bates said.

"We have been exposed to a few promises and people saying the right thing at the right time over the years, and you'd just end up getting frustrated.

"This is the first time I have seen some positive change. I really think this time they've realised there are areas they've let slip and are now putting their hand up and saying they've got to do something about it from the top down."

Bates is the fourth top allrounder on the ICC rankings Photo / Photosport.
Bates is the fourth top allrounder on the ICC rankings Photo / Photosport.

Bates knows of a clutch of players around her age, 29, who dropped out of the game. She cites the likes of Rebecca Rolls, Aimee Watkins, Emily Drum and coach Haidee Tiffen as players who had more to offer, but "they'd made a lot of sacrifices and could no longer afford to make those choices.

"At times we haven't felt appreciated. At times you wonder at the value of what you've done on the park."

When David White, the NZC chief executive, said this week he was certain professionalism in financial terms was coming to the women's game, to match the professionalism the White Ferns display on the park, it would have been music to the ears, not only of the current players, but those of the recent past, who can only weep and wonder at why it hasn't happened earlier.

Bates, without question is an adornment of the women's game. She's ranked fourth best ODI batsman, second best T20 batsman and fourth top allrounder on the International Cricket Council rankings.

Her 168 off 105 balls against Pakistan in Sydney seven years ago remains the fifth highest alltime score by a woman in one-dayers. It was one of her seven centuries, and only four players have more; she has the third most T20 runs in the game, and is 1000 ahead of the next most productive New Zealand batsman, Sarah McGlashan.

On and on the records pile up for the New Zealand captain, who last year was named the world's best women's player by cricket's bible, Wisden.

Throw in a trip to the Beijing Olympics eight years ago with the Tall Ferns basketball team and while she may be understated, she's unquestionably among the country's outstanding sportswomen.

Bates' start in sport will strike a chord.

"I had two older brothers, Tom and Henry, who played every sport under the sun," she recalled. "We lived at Macandrew Bay [Dunedin] and there was a field where there was a bit of space. It seemed big at the time. A hit over the fence was six and out.

"Then we moved into town and had a concrete alleyway at the side of the house. We still managed to play in a sort of L shape, so I could play the late cut which would just miss the house. I bowled at Tom for hours. That's my first memory."

The boys allowed her to graduate from back stop and with younger sister Olivia occasionally roped in, they could have a game. It's the sort of upbringing which would resonate around the country. Clearly Bates was drawn to sport and as she talks you realise she was/is a natural, blessed with rare sporting gifts.

Suzie Bates wins International Women's Player of the Year for 2015/16. Photo / Photosport
Suzie Bates wins International Women's Player of the Year for 2015/16. Photo / Photosport

"I don't have vivid memories of loving cricket. I loved basketball and tennis, I played rugby and soccer. I think just having two brothers, it was all around me.

"Then I happened to do quite well so I liked it more," she quipped.

Bates made the Otago team at the end of year 10 at Otago Girls' High School. She was 15. The relentless climb was under way.

Her debut came in March, 2006, against India at Lincoln. She didn't bat, took one for 20 on a rainy, on and off day but "I've never been so excited. Batted No9, had a bit of a bowl and a couple of games later I was opening the batting."

Basketball had helped boost her fitness and indeed Bates might have been lost to cricket had she followed her true early passion for basketball. As she put it "the intensity of basketball probably suited my temperament".

"It wasn't until I played for New Zealand that I realised, 'hang on, I don't want to miss out on this'."

Colleges in the United States were interested, notably Texas and Jackson-ville, but at this point New Zealand cricket probably owes a sizeable debt to the then national women's coach Steve Jenkins.

"He may have got wind of that," Bates said cryptically of the US approaches. "He probably selected me knowing I was looking at other options. He did me a favour in making me realise how much I loved playing cricket."

She had her Olympic experience in 2008, lined up against, among others, the star-studded US team. A guard, Bates has a clear recollection of halftime in the game.

Photo / Photosport.
Photo / Photosport.

"We were doing our layups and they had players slam dunking which I hadn't seen in real life from female players. We couldn't quite believe we were out there."

Bates grew up watching the Olympics "and I just thought it was the coolest thing you could do".

Timing worked in her favour, the Tall Ferns passage to Beijing was eased by Australia being world champions and automatic qualifiers, and as she put it, "I think were were all a bit overwhelmed. You had to pinch yourself."

The spread of women's cricket into T20 leagues in Australia and England has been timed perfectly for Bates. She has contracts in both and and admits they are likely to prolong her career."It's refreshing playing with different players, different coaches."

She was always aiming for next year's women's World Cup in England, convinced New Zealand have the potential to "do really good things".

"That's one of my goals, to win the World Cup. Now, with the overseas competitions I can't see myself turning it down, then with international cricket I think I'll take it year by year. It's too exciting not to be part of."

There's a World Cup in New Zealand in 2021. "Now, I'm thinking, well, maybe. Three or four years ago that would have been a 'hell, no'," she said with a laugh.

So give us a career high point. There's been plenty of them.

First there's the movement in women's cricket with T20 leagues and opportunities sprouting around the globe.

"Being part of women's cricket for the last 18 months to two years has been a highlight. I never dreamed of the game being where it is. I saw the potential and saw what the men were doing with the Indian Premier League, that sort of thing. I hoped one day women could be part of that. The way the [women's] Big Bash and the English league and where the game could go is the most exciting thing and I'm proud to be part of that transition."

And the other highlight? Think local.

"I think of the Otago Sparks winning the national title. I'd been in a team which had really struggled. That year (2013-14) everything came together. I was working at Otago cricket and that was pretty special, after playing so long and not being successful."

Truly a woman whose has travelled the globe but never forgotten her roots.

- NZ Herald

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