A FREEWHEELING INTERVIEW
Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine made their New Zealand debuts six months apart in 2006. The 13 years to follow has been an excellent all-rounders’ association for the two © Getty
Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine – ‘Smash Sisters’ to Adelaide and New Zealand – first featured for the White Ferns six months and one series apart in 2006. And in the 12 years since the India tour the following season, both all-rounders have played most of their cricket together. Not so long ago, the duo was a formidable opening pair for New Zealand across formats, making them a force to reckon with.
On the sidelines of the 2019 Women’s T20 Challenge in Jaipur, Cricbuzz got the veteran White Ferns’ duo talking on all things New Zealand cricket, T20 leagues, the surge in power-hitting in women’s game, their Test cricket aspirations and much more.
Who came up with the idea of Smash Sisters?
Suzie Bates: I don’t know if you’ve noticed but Sophie often wears the mic in the Big Bash, and maybe with one of the commentators, joked that, with Brendon McCullum and Chris Lynn as Bash brothers, we’re the ‘Smash Sisters’. It’s kinda just gone from there. We get to play at Adelaide Strikers together, I open the batting for White Ferns. We don’t like to stir stuff up. But, that’s where it sort of started and we’ve gone along with it.
Sophie Devine: It was joint between me and Suzie. We go back a long way, we’ve played together internationally for nearly ten years now, and especially lately having opened the batting together. We did joke with the Bash Brothers, and we’d watch a lot of cricket as well. I said, ‘hey c’mon we’re sort of like them, we can be called the Smash Sisters’. And that name got stuck, and we’ve been playing around with it that if we can get the same recognition as McCullum and Lynn, then we’re all for it.
So, why break up the Smash Sisters at White Ferns?
Suzie: With the New Zealand team, it’s hard because I think sometimes they feel that if Sophie and I open together, we don’t have as much depth. So, they want to spread us out.
Sophie: See, I’d love to continue to open the batting with Suzie. But it’s more about what’s best for the team – if that’s me opening with Suzie or if it’s me batting lower down the order or Suzie batting lower down the order, it’s going to be what’s best for the team. Because, at the end of the day, we want to win games for New Zealand and whatever that looks like in our batting order, that’s what it is all about.
Did the two of you argue over who is going to drop down in the batting order?
Suzie: No, that’s the best thing about Sophie and I, that we are always like what’s best for the team. There are times when I’ve dropped down to four, and then she’s dropped down to four. We just want to win cricket games for New Zealand, so we’ve never had any disagreements. Sophie’s record at opening suggests that she should get more opportunities there.
If I have opened all my career, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I can’t bat lower down the order. Coaches do feel that she’s had more experience. One time we actually got asked who wants to drop down themselves and we actually looked at each other and it was almost like rock-paper-scissors, because the thing is we prefer to bat together but if that’s what the team needs to win then we aren’t too fixated.
Sophie: No, not at all [laughs]. Suzie and me are both really open to doing what is best for the team. We both love to open the batting, but again we noted sometimes actually she’s better suited to opening the batting than I am. So, no, we’ve been very civil about who can stay opening and who can’t.
Less than two months out from the 2018 World T20 in the Caribbean, in an unexpected turn of events, Suzie Bates stepped down from her role as the White Ferns captain after nearly seven years in-charge. Bates had said she wanted to give her all to batting, and hence made that decision.
In March 2019, Haidee Tiffen also decided against continuing as the coach of the national team. While Amy Satterthwaite has been leading the team in both formats since; New Zealand are due to get a new full-time coach at the time of the impending August 1 overhaul.
How did the episode of giving up captaincy pan out? Did the disagreements with the coaching staff play any part?
Suzie: With coaching and selections, there is always going to be slight disagreements. At the end of the day it got to a point that I wanted to enjoy playing more and with less responsibility. I knew with maybe two World Cups left, I wanted to be able to help the younger players a bit more and just enjoy my cricket. Although there were some sort of selection disagreements over the years that I was involved in, the main reason was for my enjoyment and just to be a bit more relaxed about my cricket and to help out the younger players more.
Sophie: I think it probably played a part in it, yeah, absolutely. Any team that you look at, there is going to be disagreements or debates and I think it’s healthy to a certain extent. I think you’ve got to have challenges within the team environment, whether it’s between players, between support staff and players. I think you need to have that, because if everyone’s just agreeing with everything then something’s wrong.
And so, I think I probably did play a little bit of a part in Suzie stepping down as captain but hopefully now, as I said, there’s a lot of change going on in New Zealand cricket at the moment. We hopefully will get a great coach in place and also support staff to help build a team and build a vision, a style of play that that works for the White Ferns, and help us be successful consistently.
New Zealand have seen some incredible highs in the recent past, like rewriting record books with the highest ever total in a women’s ODI with 491 against Ireland in Dublin, the same game that also saw teenager Amelia Kerr surpass Belinda Clark’s 229* with 232* for the best individual effort ever. The visitors went on to score 400-plus scores in all three games of the series. However, New Zealand have struggled to replicate such commanding performances against the stronger sides. Since the 50-overs World Cup in 2013, New Zealand have made it to the semifinals of a World event once – at the 2016 ICC World T20, relinquishing their position in the “Big Three” of the women’s game.
What do you think is holding the team back?
Suzie: It’s a tough one, honestly. The last two World Cups in particular we didn’t make the semifinals, and in the 50-overs World Cup [in 2017], we played some really good cricket and convincingly beat the likes of West Indies and Pakistan but then we couldn’t compete with India, Australia and England. Our senior batters didn’t get a lot of runs in those games and I think we have relied heavily on our top-order batting. When Rachel Priest used to score big runs, or Amy or Sophie and me, we are successful but we don’t tend to win games when everyone contributes just a little bit. And the depth of our squad has been really found out against the best sides who are relentless with where they want to bowl.
Our domestic cricket doesn’t prepare us for that. The level is quite different. The senior players who get to play in the Big Bash, get to play in England and get exposed to that level… and you have to raise your game and you learn. Whereas, our local players don’t get put under that pressure. So that’s a huge step up, and I think that’s been probably the biggest issue with our team being inconsistent as they have relied heavily on a handful of players. Whereas England and Australia… India still probably rely heavily on a few batters but you can see them getting better. Our domestic players, I don’t think have taken that next step. We need to get them playing more cricket and at a higher level.
Sophie: I think that’s been an issue for us for a number of years that we can perform against teams ranked lower than us, but performing against the top nations, we’ve really struggled at. I think that’s just about being able to perform consistently within the game. We have patches where we have performed really well, but within a game. But we know that against the likes of India, England and Australia, that’s not enough. You can’t just play a good 20 overs of cricket here and 10 overs of good cricket there. It’s going to be a complete performance to beat this team. That’s something we need to learn, whether it’s a mental thing or whether it is physical, skill or tactical thing. It’s probably a combination of all of them. But I have no doubt that we’ve got the people to do that within the team. It’s just how we can bring that together to have success moving forward.
How do you address this issue and plug the gap? What are the changes you’d like to see in the future?
Suzie: I think we need an A programme, an A side that tours. A young group coming to India and experiencing these conditions. Now, what looks like happening is that Australia, England and India with this IPL have domestic leagues where they are exposed to international players and if we could get a good T20 competition where all our best players and some of international players play would really help. Unfortunately, the last few years the Big Bash has taken me, Sophie, Lea Amy out of our domestic competition. So, we need to be able to play in that to lift the standards. That’s probably the main thing.
Sophie: I mean I am not sure if it’s actually possible but I’d love to see an even playing field. I think we’ve seen the last few years the likes of ECB and Cricket Australia have really started to pull away from some of the other nations. Just for their level of investment, and I think it’s fantastic. And I want other countries to follow suit. I know that every nation is in a slightly different position financially, but I think with the investment in the woman’s game we’ve seen the rewards coming through now.
The depth of players in Australia is huge. And they’ve invested a massive amount of money into the women’s program, not just at the top level but underneath as well, domestically, in getting the pathways right. And I think, you know, I would love to see that spread evenly across all nations. Every nation has an A programme, they’ve got an U19 World Cup, an U16 programme and that’s just standardized across all nations. Because this is going to be really important for the women’s game. It means that it doesn’t matter where you’re from – India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, West Indies – that, you know, is awesome now because you’ve got an U19 World Cup, an A programme. And just because you live in a certain part of the world, you don’t have access to these sort of opportunities.
The team is undergoing a change and, as is the case with any transitioning side, there are some shortcomings. What have you identified as the areas to work on heading into the 2020 World T20, and how are you addressing that?
Suzie: For Amy and the new coach, it’s how we get our group which is at quite different levels – we’ve got half the team that has played cricket all round the world and are professionals, been exposed to so many different conditions and then the youth that are really talented but really raw – and how we bring that all together and get the best out of everyone. In the past we’ve sort of tried to treat everyone equally or tried not to treat them different. But we’re very different ages and it’s about being able to bring that all together and making people believe that they are all contributing to a greater cause, they’re not just relying on a few batters. A ten off five balls at the end of the innings or a brilliant piece of fielding,.. I think as you’ve seen, we’ve got the skills, it’s about how the coach can bring it all together and work towards one goal.
Sophie: Look I actually think we’re in a reasonable state at the moment, I think post 2021 though, it could be a different story. We probably don’t have the depth that some of these other countries do. And it’s just because we don’t have the numbers. What, there’s a billion people in India and we’ve got 4 million in New Zealand, total. So we’re never going to have hundreds of thousands of girls coming through, playing the game. So, we’ve got to be really smart about how we attract new girls and how we get them to play cricket.
But I certainly think wicketkeeping is an area where you know there’s probably not too many coming through, which is a bit of a shortfall for us. Katey Martin’s been there and Rachel Priest is another one that hopefully will be back involved in the environment shortly, and Bernadine Bezuidenhout has done a little bit. But I certainly think with Katie and Rachel, they’re two world-class wicketkeepers that we’re very fortunate to have. But that said, they’re not getting any younger either. So I think the number one for me would certainly be the wicket-keeping. As well as batters.
I think you always want more batters, don’t you. We’ve got a few pace bombers coming through which is really exciting – we’ve got Amelia Kerr, the legspinners – she’ll be playing for 50 years, so we’re okay there. Yeah, I think any team you see there’s always going to be positions and spots that you’d love to see more players coming through.
Not so long ago, Bates and Devine were two batters in women’s cricket who could hit big. But with better access to advanced training facilities, hiring of specialised support staff and a, growing awareness about women’s game, there’s been a sharp spike in number of players who are now clearing the ropes for fun. Even in growing competition, the Kiwi pair remain amongst the most sought-after players in the two existing foreign T20 leagues.
Have you opened up a coaching clinic here for the girls? Have they flooded you with queries already?
Suzie: I’ve just watched Smriti closely and I love talking to her about cricket and the captaincy. It’s just too nice to play alongside them when you’ve only payed against them, and we’ve mainly just had a little bit of fun, and not talk too much cricket. I’m trying to beat them at soccer-volleyball which I’ve lost every game so far. On the field, you get involved and make suggestions and you watch what fields they set to their own players. I’ve always found that fascinating. Rajeshwari Gayakwad called what field she looks at setting and you learn stuff from that because they probably know their players better than anyone else.
Smriti and I were talking (during Trailblazers’ first game). Sophie Ecclestone had one over left and I knew that was a very good match-up to Sophie Devine but she was trying to hold it to a bit later. And then we got to two overs to go, and we had a discussion. She wanted to bowl Sophie in the last over but I have played a lot of games where the second-last over can be more important – if you can get one of those [set] batters out. Sophie did that trick and bowled a really good over. And then, me, Steff [Stafanie Taylor] and Smriti had a discussion about the last over. We talked out spin – Stef Taylor had some overs – but we thought against Harmanpreet, spin wasn’t the best idea. So, in the end, we went with the most-experienced bowler (Jhulan Goswami).
She just didn’t execute what she wanted to do – and that happens – so it was hard to set her field. But Jhulan said that you learn from cricket every day, doesn’t matter how old you get. She said that’s one of the best learnings she’s had. As definitely, she’s not bowled the last over of a T20 match, which she might not have done that often, there’s nothing like it in my opinion. Last year I was given the ball in the last over and the nerves and just the mental toughness it takes to execute. Luckily we won in the end, and she took a lot of learning out of that.
Sophie: Oh yes they have, they have been asking a lot of questions which is awesome. Mansi (Joshi) and Aru (Arundhati Reddy) have been asking about the bowling and the change-ups. Few of the batters have been asking how do you hit the ball so hard. Well, I just say swing harder. Get a really big swing on it. Look, I think it’s really important that we all just talk openly and share. Like Poonam Yadav, she just wants to take my bat home. But I think that’s really cool. The other day I looked into Harry’s bag and asked her things like what’s your bat weight and how many do you carry.
Suzie and Sophie have been the ‘Smash Sisters’ – the women’s cricket equivalent of the McCullum-Lynn pairing, titled Bash Brothers ©Getty
The women’s game has evolved so much in the last few years in terms of power-hitting alone. How do you stay ahead of the competition?
Suzie: I think it’s just watching other players that are successful at that time. Big Bash one season, Beth Mooney just looked like she had the ball on a string. You just talk to the players and ask questions about what they’re thinking or how they’re training. Even coming to something like this, I just observed how Harmanpreet Kaur is one of biggest power-hitters, along with Sophie Devine, who I get to train with day in day out. So you just pick up little things they go about and you think maybe I can try that. Or maybe I am going to do this differently and still maintain your own game while trying to add to it. For me, the biggest thing was accessing 360 degrees and I’ve been able to bring that into my game. But I am still backing myself to hit sixes and taking the game on.
Sophie: It’s a really interesting one because I think sometimes certainly as young players, you can be caught up trying to play like someone. So it’s really important that you find your own style. Like for me personally, I know that I’m not a very good sweeper of the ball and I absolutely want to learn to sweep the ball and have that as an option. But for me I know, hitting straight is something that’s one of my strengths.
So, I want to know, okay how can I do it even better or what can I do to make that an even better option for me. So it’s always about what are my strengths and what am I good at. But also some areas can I get better at, and how can I change that. That’s something really important to try to stay in the game. But that’s changing so quickly now I mean, you look at the reverse hits and paddles and laps and think, five years ago, no one was doing it and now everyone seems to be able to do it. So you do sort of have to keep up with it. It’s just exciting, really exciting times to be involved because something new seems to be happening every year, every season and as a cricketer that’s what you want. You want to be challenged, you want to learn new things. At the end of the day, you never stop learning.
At an individual level, what’s the next challenge you’re trying to take on?
Suzie: I think it’s just to keep up with the game and stay relevant. The game is changing so quickly and with the power-hitting and opening the batting, you need to score quickly all round the world. I think for me it’s to keep challenging myself to believe in my ability to play all my shots early on. Yeah, just keep believing in my power-hitting.
I think when I first started, I was one of the strongest hitters and [now] the players are getting more and more powerful and are having no fear in taking on the boundaries. So, I think, that’s more a mental challenge to keep believing that I have the ability to take the game on even though the game is getting better. Everywhere you go, it is becoming more challenging and it excites me. You have to keep getting better otherwise there’s other players coming through.
Sophie: There seems to be something new popping up every year with the game. The knuckleball and the variations in the bowling and in batting, my sweeping and paddling and lapping, particularly if I am going to be playing lot more cricket over here in India, it’s going to play a really important part of my game moving forward.
We’ve seen that players need to develop to keep ahead of the game, and that’s certainly something I’ll need to continue to work on. There’s always something to learn, I think I’d be pretty bored if I have mastered everything and everything was easy. So that’s certainly something that excites me and keeps me wanting to come back to play cricket.
Thirteen years since debuting for New Zealand, both Bates and Devine are yet to play a Test match. And that hope is fast diminishing with women’s cricket leaning more towards the shortest format in their bid to attract audience, sponsors and broadcasters. Both have their own say on the gender pay gap, but both are united in demanding a fully professional set-up for their side.
What’s the difference that you see between a player making her debut today for White Ferns as compared to the times when you did?
Suzie: Sometimes I think there’s disadvantage because there’s so much more pressure. Not many people knew if you succeeded or failed [back in the day] so there was very little external pressures. Someone like Amelia – completely different straightaway, she’s a superstar.
She’s a household name in New Zealand and she’s so successful at this age that people expect her to continue to be successful but cricket’s not that simple. So, sometimes it harder. But I think what is easier is the access to coaching, the fitness trainers – you don’t have to do all on your own. You get provided all those resources. We have access to the things that will make you better. But the mental pressure sometimes are harder than all those things.
Sophie: A lot has changed. Me and Suzie were talking the other day, when we debuted it would have been one of our first series together, coming over here to India – in Chennai – a lot has changed, not only in terms of how we get paid but also the grounds that we’re playing in, and the facilities that we get. It’s just changed massively and I wish I was born ten years later, you know, thinking about Amelia Kerr, and the opportunities that lay ahead of her. I am really thankful for the players that have gone before us…
What was your first impression of Amelia Kerr when she made it to the team? She says it’s pretty much tied at 50-50 in the “net-battles”, Suzie?
Suzie: She actually came to me the day before and she told me she had been asked that.
And I did say it had to be fair. When she first started bowling she probably did get me out a few times, and then we got even. She’s very competitive and I love competitive. From when she was 17, I knew she was special because she’s so competitive even in training. And I’ve always been like that. So then once I realised there’s competition… I now don’t get out to her. I probably don’t score runs in the nets. So it’s become even because I am so determined to not let her get one up on me. I joke every time that I’ve picked her googly, but I sometimes don’t pick that.
Sophie: I’ve actually got a very special relationship with Amelia. And this is going to show how old I was, but I used to babysit her. We’re from the same region so I was her babysitter a long time ago now. I’ve known her from since she was very little. She might remember that. Few years apart but we went to the same school. Her father was my first state coach, so he picked me when I was 13. So yeah, I have got a long history with Amelia and her family.
So I have seen her for a long time and I knew from a very young age that she was going to be something special. Particularly bowling legspin, I think we know what a difficult craft legspin is and the way she can control it is incredible. Especially for someone so young. The exciting thing for Amelia is that the world is her oyster. She can be as good as she wants to be and that’s completely in her control. The opportunities that are available to her are fantastic and I hope that she takes it with two hands, and grows not just as a bowler but as a batter as well.
She really loves her batting and her time will come. She hopefully can just build her way through things because we’ve got a strong batting side at the moment , so she can learn as much as she can and continue to grow. She is going to be a really fearsome all-round player for New Zealand and for whatever team she’ll get selected. I’m really excited about her. But away from the cricket, I hope she learns some of the lessons that I have – that cricket isn’t everything and that she works really hard and that she is humble and she shares all her experience with others because she is going to have a lot of experience and knowledge in time. She’s a very smart cricketing brain for someone so young.
What is your three-point wishlist for the national team in, say, five years from now?
Suzie: I’d love to see us become full-time cricketers. Not just me, Amy (Satterthwaite), Lea (Tahuhu), Sophie (Devine) – we need 15 players that can do other things outside of cricket if they like, but if they want to, they can train as much as they like on their fitness and skills. I’d love to see us make the finals of the home World Cup. One of my biggest dreams is still to win a World Cup with the White Ferns. We’ve got two World Cups in the next, so I’d love to do that.
I just want to see the group improve. We’ve got Amelia Kerr but one or two more superstars that put the name on world cricket coming from New Zealand. Because some of us older ones are not going to be around forever and I want to see some really good talent coming through so I can sit and watch us compete in years to come.
Sophie: Firstly, it’ll be to be a fully professional side. At the moment, we are semi-professional at best, and we have a lot of players that still work full time. And they do a fantastic job of doing it but we’ve seen that the teams that are fully professional are just starting to creep away from us a little bit. So, I’d love to see us having – whether it’s 15 or 20 – full time professional contracts so that the girls can focus a 100% of their time on cricket, and have a lot more time together as a team. Whether that’s touring, playing cricket or, if not, being in camps and training alongside.
I think that’s something really important to boost morale within the team. In Christchurch at the moment, we use the Lincoln University as our base or it’s Mount Maunganui where we’ve played a lot of cricket, it’s a beautiful spot. We’d love to just spend more time together and I think any female cricketer in New Zealand you talk to, they just want to be playing more cricket and have more opportunities – that’s just what they’re screaming out. They have the ability to play more. Because at the moment it’s just sort of bits and pieces here and there, and you know the pathway probably isn’t as clear as, say, like in Australia or even in India now with the U19 and the U23 teams.
So I think those things would be fantastic to grow a pathway for the young girls. I know there’s an U16 and U19 and then there’s an A programme that will just inspire a lot of girls, because there’s a lot of choices out there now for sport, it just doesn’t have to be cricket. So, yeah, we have to make a really strong case to say, look, come play cricket, it’s a great sport, there’s real clear pathway and it’s a viable career option and there’s good money in it now as well.
What’s your take on the gender pay gap?
Suzie: It is a tough one. When I started in 2006, we played India at home and you got 30 dollars a day if you’re living at home. I mean, I would have played for free. And probably for the first 4-5 years, it was the same. It was a hobby.. I was with the University team and then you got to tour every now and then and I just loved going on tour with the NZ team. I never expected to be paid as a cricketer. That was how I was brought up. I thought at 25-26 I would finish playing and go and get a job. But then I got offered my first contract and I have been wanting to be a full-time athlete and I’ve been given that opportunity.
Now I get to travel the world and get paid to play cricket for the whole year. So I kind of feel really grateful for that. But, on the flip side, I do feel that the amount and the extravagance of how much the men get paid is unnecessary. So you could bridge that gap by not paying as much. They talk about revenue and things, that we don’t bring the money in but I think that’s starting to change. I think the more we can change this cycle – if you chose to invest and promote the game, that will bring the money in but if you chose not to invest,the money is never going to come into the game and we’re not going to move forward. Look, I’m very grateful for my opportunities but if in the next 5-10 years’ time we haven’t seen that gap close, then we’re not going about it the right way.
Sophie: That’s an interesting one. I know back home there’s been a lot of talk about it and in Australia as well. As players – and these are just my thoughts on it – we know that we don’t bring in the crowds, and we don’t bring in the sponsors, so I can’t expect to be paid the same amount as Kane Williamson. Because I know his reach is hundred times more than mine. But I still play cricket. At the end of the day, we both are still players and we both are training as hard as we can and we both are trying to win games for our country and whatever team that we’re playing for. So, it’s about that balance I think.
Yeah, look absolutely I’m not expecting to be paid millions of dollars, I’m not asking for that. But give me the opportunity to play under the lights, on the best ground and on TV and to show the product of the woman’s game. I think that’s what a lot of the payers want – just the opportunity to show the world what we’re capable of. And these sort of opportunities are massive for that. And hopefully, you know, 5, 10 or 15 years down the track – like Mandhana said in an interview you know, she just wants to be known as a cricketer and not a female cricketer. That for me is a really powerful message. Absolutely right – we are all cricket players – doesn’t matter if New Zealand and from India – we are just cricket players, and we are all doing the same job. I think there certainly needs to be a balance, but I’m also being respectful of the differences between what we can bring in, and we know that it’s a tough road out there financially.
Have you made peace with the fact that you might never play Test cricket?
Suzie: I mean I still have a little bit of hope. It’s a tough one – that’s the pinnacle of the game for the men and they talk about it as the ultimate test of you as a cricketer. With how much I love batting, the opportunity to bat all day would be something that I would just absolutely relish. But I do see how much the game has grown from T20 cricket without which we wouldn’t we sitting here now and talking. We had to latch onto it to put the women’s game on the map. So, I think I have come to terms with fact that it’s where the game’s heading, but I still have some hope that someone might provide me an opportunity somehow before I finish playing.
Otherwise there’s like a World XI Test team to play Australia and England when they are preparing for the Ashes. It’s a friendly, but you allow people from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, New Zealand and then we could play them before they play their one-off Test.
Sophie: Oh, I would love to play Test cricket. I absolutely would give anything to play that one Test match. But we know, we’ve been told that it’s probably never going to happen. Well we’ve tried to have our say. But we get told that it’s a money thing. Which, we know, at the end of the day it comes down to finances and things like that – it’s just a real shame. We were all actually talking just the other night about how awesome would it be if every bilateral series you played was in the format of the Ashes.
You played T20s, three one-dayers and a Test match. I just think that would just be fantastic. I wouldn’t mind giving up playing two one-dayers to play a Test match. So, yeah, look, I think we will keep chipping away at New Zealand cricket to say look, we’d love to play but we also understand that financially it’s a real stretch. I know all the girls would just absolutely love the opportunity to play live and just one Test match.
Bates and Devine’s contribution to New Zealand sporting history goes beyond just cricket. While the former went to Beijing Olympics with the national basketball team, the latter gave up on hockey to pursue a career in cricket full-time around the time of being offered their first NZC contracts.
Did you see yourself being a double international for New Zealand and playing for as long as you have?
Suzie: No, definitely not. I loved basketball when I was younger, so I always thought I was going to go back to basketball. And because cricket wasn’t a profession, when I was playing Rebecca Rolls, Haidee Tiffen, Emily Drumm, they all stopped at about 27-28 because they had to think about their careers. So, that’s what I thought would happen. But once I got offered money to play, I was like, well this is my dream job and I’ve just been trying to do it as long as I can.
Sophie: Yeah, look, I always wanted to play any sport for New Zealand, I didn’t care what it was. When I was younger, I always wanted to play for the All Blacks, which is the men’s rugby team. I never knew that there was a woman’s team so I always thought I’d go and play for the All Blacks. That’s always been a dream of mine, but not quite the right sport. But certainly, I wanted to play sport, professionally. So yeah, I’ve been really blessed to play for as long as I do, and hopefully play for another few years.
A competitive cricketer, and a humble, fun-loving prankster – how Suzie and Sophie would prefer to be remembered as ©Getty
What would you say is the secret of your longevity in international cricket?
Suzie: Probably fitness. I have always enjoyed and valued keeping fit. When you get older, you realise you can have all the skill but if you don’t stay fit, you can’t be on the park. So, it’s been more smartness about how I go about my training away from cricket because we’re playing so much to not overdo it and make sure my body actually is able to handle all the cricket.
Sophie: I wish I knew really. Sort of like I mentioned before that cricket isn’t everything and there’s more outside of cricket. And that’s certainly something I’ve learned over the last couple of years. I’ve always been really fortunate that I’ve had other sports, like hockey, that I have used as a way to escape cricket and to get into a different environment not only for my body but also for my mental well being.
And just having a break when your body wants, because I think it can be so tiring when all your energy and time is put into one sport and you can exhaust yourself. To be able to put the game to one side and enjoy whether it’s spending time with families, getting time with friends or going and doing something completely different from cricket, I think that’s something that has helped and will continue to help me to stay in the game.
Who are the batters you dread bowling to at this point?
Suzie: It’s probably Harmanpreet. Because I haven’t bowled as much to Smriti (Mandhana). But I have bowled to Harry at the death. With only four fielders out, it’s not fair. Her and Sophie, because you know if you miss, they’ll hit you for a six. They’ve just got that ability whereas some other players you miss and it might go for four but they don’t have the same power. So you have to be right on your game for those two.
Sophie: There’s quite a few. Harry obviously lately has had a real thing against us. So does Mandhana, these girls just love playing against us at the moment.
There’s so many quality players around the world – Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry at Australia, Tammy Beaumont in England has been really successful against us. And they’re all hard to bowl against because they’re so different. The special thing is that my plans to different batters can be so different but what I think is my strength can be my weakness to them. But that’s the beauty of cricket, isn’t it? You’re never going to be the master and be able to beat everyone. Everyone is going to have a good day, anyone’s going to have a bad day, which is a great leveler. I think that’s why people love cricket so much – one day you score a hundred and the next day you score a duck. So yeah, you always have to be humble and respect the game.
Who is the bowler giving you nightmares currently?
Suzie: I’ve always had battles with Jhulan. When I’ve faced her, you know she’s so determined to keep it on the spot and if she misses slightly, she’s just so determined that it really feels like it’s you versus her. Just a great battle, but that’s more now in 50-over cricket. In the nets I laugh. But I think one of my favourite people is Poonam Yadav because – last year she was on my team and in the nets she got me out like 10 times. But the more you play them, you figure out the way to play them. But because of her stature and the height, it’s just very different and it’s hard to prepare for that. So I find her a challenging bowler to face and you have to be very clever the way to want to play.
Sophie: Poonam. When I saw she was on my team, I was like ‘yes, I can’t get out to her’. So she’s certainly someone I was very thankful was in my team this competition. Back home, Amelia Kerr.
Have you started thinking about a retirement plan?
Suzie: People keep asking me that question and I find it so difficult to answer. If I am not playing well or I am not fit… I don’t want to be out there and not be able to give my best. But at the moment I feel I can compete with the best. And I want to keep that for as long as I can. I still love it but when I stop enjoying the training and the playing then I think I’ll know. But I can’t see myself stop loving it, it’ll probably be more my body or my ability to keep up with the game. At the moment I am happy to keep going and things like these just revitalise me and I just love it. It’s a totally unique experience and [being part of] new teams and meeting new people really keeps me going as an older player.
Sophie: No. My body is screaming at me as you say this. No way. I want to keep going for another couple of years, at least and just sort of see where life takes me from there. I think when you’ve played for so long, you see some of the talent that’s coming through as well, you don’t want to sort of be in their way. And if I am not performing at the international level, or even at the domestic level, then I don’t want to stop players that have more potential and more opportunities than me. I’ll certainly step aside.
What do you want to be remembered as? What’s the legacy you want to leave behind?
Suzie: Always competitive, always competed till the very last ball. That I took the game on. And most importantly, that I have played the game how it was meant to be played and enjoyed and treated everyone on the field and off the field the same. You know that’s what is nice about coming to these leagues – you get to make friends all around the world and you realise, although it’s the cricket, it’s actually the people you meet that’s one of the best things about playing cricket.
Sophie: I actually don’t care what people remember me as doing on the field. I hope they remember me as a good person who always liked to have a laugh and was friendly and fun, pulled off lots of pranks, made people laugh. Because I think at the end of the day, people won’t remember the hundred I scored, it’s going to be ‘oh she was a really good friend and she helped teach me how to bowl an off-cutter’.
Those are the things hopefully people remember about me more than ‘her average was 30 in ODI’.. blah. I care about my friends from New Zealand, Australia, India that I know if I am travelling to India in 20 years time, I can call ‘Hey, Smriti, can I come and stay at your house. One of the four houses you’re probably going to own by then’. Those are the things that for me will long, long outlast any numbers or statistics.
How do you look back at your time in cricket?
Suzie: I think there is more just a sense of gratitude that, had I started two of three years younger I may have missed out on all of these opportunities. I got to be at the first Big Bash, the first Super League, the first IPL. So, it’s more gratitude that I’ve been allowed to have these opportunities whereas players such as Rebecca Rolls who would have suited this game to the T, haven’t had these experiences. I feel just lucky.
When I first started, I wanted to be the best player in my team. I wanted to be the best player out of New Zealand, I wanted to try and be the best player in the world. And then, that’s all good but that doesn’t really matter. You give your best everyday and those things happen naturally. You can’t chase that. You just train as hard as you can. So they don’t mean as much as they used to. I am enjoying playing and I still just want to challenge myself to be better and not get too comfortable. That’s probably more important than any trophy. Other than a World Cup trophy.
Sophie: The growth of the women’s game has been amazing. It’s been exciting. And it is humbling to be a part of it. And I am just a small, tiny part of a much bigger picture. And I think a lot of it has to go to the players who have played before us – not just a couple years, but at the start of women’s cricket. I think every female cricketer has played a role to help get the game to where it is now and hopefully, moving forward to help continue to get where I think the opportunities are endless.
We’re seeing what the IPL has done for the men’s game, not just here in India but globally as well. I’d love to see cricket at the Olympics, I would love to see it at the Commonwealth Games, I would love to see it reaching new audiences and attracting new people because it is such a great sport and it’s so unique to any other sport in the world. And I think if I’ve had a small role to play in it, I will help in any way that I can.