White Ferns star Amelia Kerr fell in love with cricket-mad India during an impressive, but hectic 10-day stint in the women’s IPL. Steve Deane reports.

White Ferns star Amelia Kerr has just one regret about the recent Women’s T20 Challenge in India, a tournament seen as a precursor to a full-blown women’s IPL: It ended too quickly.

The 18-year-old leg spinning all-rounder packed a lot into her 10 days in the cricketing mecca of Jaipur, taking a brace of wickets in all three of her matches for IPL Velocity. She also scored a crucial 36 in the final, and then claimed the prized scalp of Indian power-hitter Harmanpreet Kaur in the final over, to take her team within a whisker of victory.

“I didn’t want to come home,” are her first words when chatting with LockerRoom about the experience.

With incredible training facilities, an endless supply of net bowlers and deeply passionate fans, India is “the best place to go for cricket”, says Kerr, who’s in her first year out of Tawa College.

“You could practice all day if you wanted to.”

Chances are, following her standout performances, Kerr will be a regular returnee to cricket’s promised land.

Although her team lost (on the final ball when Radha Yadav dispatched Kerr to the fence), the highly entertaining tournament featuring India’s finest players mingled with Kiwis, English and West Indian stars, was hailed a huge success.

Having already progressed from a one-off match in 2018 into a three-team series this year, further expansion seems likely.

“I think it would become a pinnacle event for women’s cricket,” says Kerr. “It would be the tournament that everyone wants to play in. So hopefully that happens. It was an awesome 10 days; I didn’t want it to end.”

The end, in fact, was painful for both Kerr and her White Ferns team-mate Lea Tahuhu, who along with Sophie Devine played for the champion IPL Supernovas.

With the Supernovas requiring seven off the final over, Kerr put her hand up to bowl it. “I love pressure situations,” she says.

She started brilliantly, too, removing the well-set Kaur for 51, thanks to mistimed lofted drive in to the covers. That brought Yadav to the wicket, with Tahuhu at the non-strikers’ end.

“Harmen is probably the best chaser in the world so I thought once I got her out we were really in the game,” Kerr says.

But in what she describes as “a game decided by inches”, Yadav poked a leading edge over her head and Tahuhu scampered through for two. With Tahuhu sprinting up a storm to turn another couple of would-be singles into twos, the Supernovas were left requiring a single off the final ball.

Yadav slapped the ball to the fence, much to the delight of Tahuhu, who punched the air with joy. Unfortunately in doing so, the Kiwi fast bowler somehow dislocated her shoulder.

Kerr didn’t learn about Tahuhu’s injury until she spoke to fellow White Fern Suzie Bates (whose IPL Trailblazers had failed to make the final) about half an hour after the match.

Kerr and Devine accompanied the stricken bowler on the long, painful trip home.

While disappointed for Tahuhu, the incident didn’t take the shine off the experience of a lifetime for Kerr.

“I was just glad I could contribute to the team,” she says of her stellar performances. “Before heading over I wasn’t sure if I was ready, because I was coming off a break. I only had a quick week-and-a-half of training before we went away.”

A highlight was her 71-run partnership with Indian keeper Shushma Verma, which helped the Velocity recover from 5-37 to post a competitive total.

“It was awesome to get that opportunity. And it was awesome to share a dressing room with some of the world’s best players,” Kerr says.

Being the only Kiwi in her team proved to be a positive.

“That meant I had to meet new people and make new friends, and that was one of my favourite things about it, getting to know players from around the world. I made a lot of new friends and absolutely loved it.”

Getting to know the likes of ICC women’s player of the year, Mithali Rag, and being able to talk about batting technique and field placements was an invaluable experience.

“All these leagues all around the world have helped grow cricket,” Kerr says.

They are also increasingly lucrative. Kerr received $US2500 ($NZ3800) for each match, and an additional payment for expenses. It’s not huge money, but more than many past players would have received in their entire careers.

“The money is a bonus, but for me it’s not that important. I’m still quite young – like I am living at home and everything. But it does show just how much the women’s game is growing, and women’s sport. For young girls out there, they can make a career out of sport.”

With income streams that can now include the Big Bash and England’s KSL T20 league, top Kiwi players are closing in on the elusive dream of full-time professionalism. The White Ferns players are working on a new MOU with New Zealand Cricket that may bring that eventuality even closer.

“There will be more time for training and that will ultimately make us better so we can compete against the best sides in the world,” says Kerr of the development.

Training, in fact, is something Kerr plans to spend a lot of time doing over the next few months. When she spoke to LockerRoom – barely 24 hours after returning from India – she’d just completed a gym session.

With no playing assignments until the Big Bash in October, she plans to work with long-time bowling coach Ivan Tissera on bowling quicker, and with more recent mentor Grant Elliott on improving her batting.

“I am always looking to get better,” she says.

Batting is the area she feel needs most work. Despite holding the world record for the highest score in an ODI – an unbeaten 232 against Ireland – Kerr is not a big hitter.

“I am better at manipulating the ball. You look at players like Sophie Devine – they are big hitters who can clear the fence. I wouldn’t say I can really hit sixes,” she says.

“My strength is being able to hit to all areas of the ground and manipulate the ball. So I want to work on my striking but also scoring off more balls earlier in my innings.

“I need to figure out how I am going to score runs against the best sides in the world.”

Given that she has already played over 50 matches for her country and doesn’t turn 19 until October, the potential form improvement in that area is huge. That will be a major bonus both for the White Ferns and, hopefully, a fledgling women’s IPL franchise.

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