In a recent column looking ahead to the T20 World Cup starting in Australia this week, Sophie Devine wrote that she “hoped to inspire a generation of cricketers coming through”.
It’s a simple enough statement, but one which has particular resonance for the White Ferns captain.
Get her talking about being inspired, and she can be as hard to stop as when she’s in full cry with the bat, as she has been this summer.
Her recollections of the White Ferns’ one and only International Cricket Council trophy success – beating Australia by just four runs with five balls to spare in the 2000 World Cup final at Lincoln – remain vivid 20 years on.
Next season New Zealand will host the World Cup of 50-over cricket again, the first time since that thrilling afternoon in Canterbury.
“As soon as I learnt we were going to be at home for the World Cup it was almost quite emotional,” she says.
“It brings back flashbacks of 2000. That was one of the first times I ever saw female cricketers playing.
“I remember being glued to the TV. Rebecca Rolls took the last catch off Clare Nicholson. It’s those little things. You don’t know who’s going to inspire you or influence whoever’s watching.”
A few weeks later, the then 10-year-old from Tawa was in Christchurch for a school holiday. There was an age group tournament taking place.
“We must have known someone who was a manager of a team at the time, and I managed to get a bat signed by all the 2000 winning team and thinking ‘My God, I’m never going to let this out of my sight’,” she says.
“The power you can have on someone is pretty big. That influence is powerful stuff.”
Which brings us to this week and the start of the White Ferns’ quest to win a first world T20 tournament at their seventh attempt.
Unquestionably, the New Zealanders need their big players to perform – including former captain Suzie Bates, fast bowler Lea Tahuhu, gifted leg-spinner Amelia Kerr and, top of the heap, new skipper Devine.
* Watch Devine’s record-smashing T20 innings against South Africa *
She’s taking stunning form into the tournament, and is arguably the most destructive batter in the game. Consider some numbers:
– In this season’s Australian women’s Big Bash, Devine belted a chart-topping 769 runs for the Adelaide Strikers at 76.9, with nine half-centuries.
– Add in 29 sixes – again top of the list – to demonstrate her hitting power, then throw in 19 wickets at 20 runs apiece, the fourth-best overall.
– In one game, she clouted five sixes off the last five balls of an innings against the Melbourne Stars.
– Devine is averaging 30.84 from her 87 T20 internationals.
– Possessor of the record for the fastest T20 50 in only 18 balls? Sophie Frances Monique Devine, against India five years ago.
– On February 10, she struck her first T20 century for New Zealand against South Africa on the Basin Reserve – no better place to do it than her home ground – to go with five ODI hundreds. That capped a run of successive scores in the format of 32, 51, 62, 19, 72, 54 not out, 61, 77 and 105 not out going back to November 2018 (The only other player to have made a T20 century for the White Ferns is Bates).
Enough of the numbers. Suffice to say, if Devine stumbles in the World T20 – which starts for the White Ferns against Sri Lanka at the WACA ground in Perth early on Sunday morning – the Ferns’ hopes will significantly dip.
No pressure, then.
“It’s been really pleasing,” she says of her own run of form. “I guess cricket is such a fickle game. Form can come and go.
“I’ve trained how I want to train, prepared for what’s to come and I’ve found if I’ve done the work beforehand, certainly you have confidence. But I might get a peach of a ball first ball. That’s cricket sometimes.”
As for being captain, to absolutely no surprise, she reckons she’s about actions, not words.
“I’m not one for lots of words. I’ve been thinking about how I want to do it, thinking about the experiences I’ve had and I’ve been very fortunate with my cricket journey,” she says.
“I feel very privileged but there’s a life outside cricket and you’ve got to put a perspective on that.
“There’s going to be days when not everything goes your way. You can feel a million bucks and get out for a golden duck.
“But at the end of the day, as long as you can look each other in the eye and say ‘I prepared as well as I could, I did everything I wanted to do and I didn’t come out on the right side’, then that’s all you can ask for.”
Devine also wants to be an agent for development in the New Zealand women’s game. And she’s not simply talking about more pay for women. There’s a little bit of that, but primarily she’s thinking about beefing up the resources for the women.
“You invest in players, allow them to focus 100 percent on cricket and of course you’re going to hope to see results. On the flipside, you can have athletes but if you don’t have the support staff, then what’s the point?”
She cites as examples: “Can we go on camps, can we go on more tours, can we go to India and have a spin bowling camp? Things like that are really important for development.”
Devine gets more specific. “You’ve got to think outside the square. It might be, okay our spinners are going to go to Sri Lanka and work with a spin bowling coach; our batters are going to learn how to play the sweep; or get the squad together for more intra-squad matches in Australia.
“It should be whatever helps the team get ahead. Australia’s got 10 times the money and people and resources. That’s cool, we’re never going to be like that.
“But we are blessed because we are a small country and can easily get around so what’s going to work best for us.”
Get Devine going on a favourite theme and she’s off and running.
It’s simple, and lazy logic, to group Australia, England, India and New Zealand in a top four pecking order. But South Africa’s ODI beating of the White Ferns was an eye opener. The West Indies have some classy players, too.
Devine is adamant. Australia are number one right now, and by some distance.
“A giant three steps ahead of everyone,” she says. “They’ve got great structures in place, their national side is well-funded and resourced, but more importantly is the structure they’ve got underneath.
“They have close to 100 full-time pros at state level. In New Zealand we’ve got 17.”
Pick out two things the White Ferns simply must do in Australia, and Devine settles on fielding and self-belief.
“Fielding is going to play a massive part. If you’re saving 10-15 runs in the field, that’s 10-15 you don’t have to chase, which can make a big difference.
“If you have girls sacrificing themselves out on the boundary and in the ring taking half chances, the lift that can give them is huge – and fielding is the only thing you do as a team.
“Players have been picked because they can do a job and they have to back themselves. If you execute your job and perform to your ability, I think we’re a seriously dangerous side.”
Recently, Devine and her squad watched the behind-the-scenes ‘This is Pure’ documentary on the Silver Ferns’ world championship success. White Ferns manager Belinda Muller is a former Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic netball team manager.
“The great thing is people probably took different things out of it. Certainly part of my leadership will be to try and bring together female athletes and share experiences, no matter the code,” Devine says.
“I certainly gained inspiration from seeing it. It was so motivating because you know from your own experiences the work that goes in. That was pretty cool to see.”
Sport has been a substantial part of Devine’s life. She played 36 hockey internationals for the Black Sticks from 2009-12, just missing out on a trip to the Olympics in London, and she appeals as someone with an aptitude for most sporting activities.
“I always wanted to play sport for New Zealand. I remember at 10 saying ‘When I grow up I want to be an All Black’,” she laughs.
Her White Ferns debut was inauspicious – run out without facing a ball against Australia in Brisbane in a T20 in October 2006. But she’s made up for that.
And she knows it’s important to have an eye on what’s happening, and what possibilities are out there once the cricket carousel stops.
“As I’m getting a bit older and towards the end of my career, I do think what might be coming next – and I’m no closer to figuring that out,” she laughs.
For now though, it’s eyes front and taking on the world once again.
In the last World T20 in 2018, New Zealand lost to both India and Australia in group play and that was that. They have the same two opponents in their pool this time, along with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
This is one occasion they don’t need history to repeat.
* All of the White Ferns games at the T20 World Cup will be live on Sky Sport, starting with the NZ v Sri Lanka game at midnight on Saturday, on Sky Sport 2.