An international player, selector and self-confessed cricket stats nerd, Penny Kinsella has now played a hand in recording the rich history of the women’s game in New Zealand.

Penny Kinsella’s cricketing career was perched on the cusp of change for the White Ferns.

“My first tour to Australia, we each needed to pay $300 to go,” says Kinsella, who debuted for New Zealand in 1987. She would do a huge amount of training for “not many matches” a year.

“But before my time, players actually had to purchase their own material and get their tour blazers made themselves, so I didn’t think it was too bad.”

It’s a far cry from where the current White Ferns find themselves, with professionalism, central contracts and maternity leave clauses now in place.

Kinsella has been well-positioned to track the progress of the women’s game, first as a player – for Wellington, Central Districts and the White Ferns – then as a national selector, and most recently, as part of a project team compiling the history of women’s cricket in New Zealand.

Playing 20 one-day games and six test matches through until the 1994-95 season, Kinsella was involved in some of that history herself. She was active during the transition from the Women’s Cricket Council to New Zealand Cricket, bringing with it changes to tour life.

“Following the amalgamation, we went to Aussie and played a series against them in coloured clothing, with a white ball under lights. We went from making sure we got the most out of every dollar, to staying in apartments in Brisbane, playing in colours at the Gabba. It was really quite outstanding,” she recalls.

Kinsella, now deputy principal at Onslow College in Wellington, was also part of the first New Zealand cricket team to make a World Cup final in 1993. While unsuccessful, playing on the hallowed turf of Lord’s – every cricketer’s dream – still ranks highly in her mind.

Test cricket was another highlight. Financial viability has robbed today’s White Ferns of the opportunity to play tests.

“I was lucky enough to play six tests. It’s so tactical, such a competitive experience without it being high pace,” Kinsella says. “That aspect of cricket can’t be replicated in any other way, and it’s a shame the current players don’t have that to look forward to.”

White Fern No. 97, Penny Kinsella, receives her cap from NZ Cricket chair, Greg Barclay, in 2019. Photo: supplied. 

A full domestic schedule of 50 and 20-over cricket, plus the emergence of international Twenty20 competitions, like the WBBL in Australia, keeps players busy – and remunerated. It’s just another sign of how the game has progressed since Kinsella was padding up.

“The idea of professionalism didn’t even creep into my mind,” she says with a chuckle. “The most matches I ever played in a calendar year was about 10, so you never really felt you could make a career out of it. We did a huge amount of training and physical preparation for not many matches.”

That’s how she ended up in teaching. Searching for a career that would enable her to continue playing, she headed into education, knowing the summer holidays would give her that opportunity.

With a science degree and teacher training under her belt, she began teaching in 1988 and hasn’t looked back. “I love the idea that you’re supporting people. You help grow kids into adults, and you can open their eyes to so many different pathways.”

Her tenure and experience led her to take on the leadership role of deputy principal, where she enjoys mentoring other educators.

Selecting is ideal for a self-confessed cricket stats nerd. In 2005, Kinsella began the first of two three-year stints as a selector for the White Ferns, and loved being able to watch cricket as a job.

“The opportunity to be strategic and still be able to contribute to the game at a national level was something I found really exciting,” she recalls. “The season was still quite compact at that point, but it was a time where women’s cricket was just exploding; there were so many new, talented players coming through. I enjoyed seeing the pathway for some of emerging players, some of whom are still White Ferns today.”

Penny Kinsella batting at a White Ferns practice with keeper Sarah Illingworth in 1994. Photo: NZ Cricket Museum Collection.

A firm believer in volunteerism, Kinsella gives back to the game she loves in every way she can.

She was a driving force in bringing back girls’ cricket to Onslow College, coaching and managing the side. She assists Cricket Wellington with selecting and coaching age group squads, and is on the board of the Cricket Museum, based at the Basin Reserve.

“It’s really exciting to have been involved in bringing the Cricket Museum into the 21st century,” she says. “There will always be a place for bats and balls, but we’re looking to tell the stories of cricket using interactive things like virtual reality,” Kinsella says.  

“How far could you hit a virtual bowler? That interactivity is what’s going to make the younger generation interested.”

Capturing the history of NZ women’s cricket

A new book released last week, The Warm Sun on My Face: The Story of Women’s Cricket in New Zealand, is a comprehensive telling of women’s involvement in the game.

While the words are enlightening, even browsing the myriad images demonstrates the progression through the years, from on-field fashion to techniques and equipment.

Kinsella had been involved in gathering statistics, notes and stories from women’s games in New Zealand with historian and cricket fan, Adrienne Simpson, in the mid-1990s. Sadly, Simpson passed away, but her family passed on her research to the Cricket Museum. There, former curator Jamie Bell discovered her work and got the ball rolling on making something of the incredible resource.

Over time, a project team grew to include Kinsella, former NZ cricket captain Trish McKelvey and and first-class cricketer Elizabeth Scurr, the first female board chair of Cricket Wellington, Sally Morrison, and author Trevor Auger. A huge cricket fan, Auger spent “every spare moment” over four years pulling together the weighty 676-page book.

Penny Kinsella with the new on the history of NZ women’s cricket at Eden Park No.2 – where she made her White Ferns debut. Photo: Suzanne McFadden 

“We’re so fortunate Adrienne did all that research, as some of the people she spoke to have since died,” Kinsella says. “She had put together a treasure trove of information, interviews and newspaper clippings. She spoke to players from New Zealand’s first women’s match in 1935, discovering that places like Matamata and Whanganui were real women’s cricket strongholds.

“It helped us get a feel for what these pioneer women went through to build the game and structure it into what we see now. It’s been inspiring to be part of the team and a real pleasure to bring it to completion.”

Women’s cricket has endured through key points of social and historical importance – wars, natural disasters, even apartheid. The book’s narrative approach captures those points, and presents one of Kinsella’s favourite memories of the research process.

“I really enjoyed talking to [White Fern] Shirley Cowles, who had been on the last official cricket tour to South Africa before the boycott,” she says. “The team were protested by Halt All Racist Tours [HART] and had to assemble in secrecy to leave on the tour. She had some stories to tell about what it was like in South Africa at the time. She didn’t realise people could be treated so differently because of the colour of their skin.”

There is, of course, space dedicated to the White Ferns’ World Cup win on home soil in 2000.

With the postponed 2021 Women’s Cricket World Cup to be held on our shores next summer, Kinsella is hopeful the White Ferns can stake a claim for the trophy again.

“We have some absolutely brilliant, experienced players, which is a huge positive,” she says. “What I’d really like to see in this extra 12 months we have before the tournament is some runs being scored by that next tier of players. If those experienced players don’t come off with the bat, we have the ability to still build a 50-over innings.

“We definitely have the talent, it’s just a matter of harnessing it and developing a real stickability at the crease.”

And if they manage that, the 2022 White Ferns might just add their own chapter to the richly storied history of New Zealand women’s cricket.

The Warm Sun on My Face: The Story of Women’s Cricket in New Zealand by Trevor Auger, with Adrienne Simpson (Upstart Press, $69.99) is available in bookstores nationwide.

Heather Dawson works in communications and has a particular interest in the intersection of sport, business and societal impact.

Leave a comment