Those who know Brooke Halliday understand the difficult, painful cricket journey she’s tread to make the White Ferns. But it’s given her resolve and a healthy perspective of the game.
Brooke Halliday is straight up: breaking into the esteemed ranks of the White Ferns for the first time wasn’t high on her to-do list this season.
Yes, the 25-year-old talented allrounder is like any young female cricketer who dreams of wearing the black strip and the silver fern.
Yes, she’s loyally plied her trade with Northern Districts for nine summers – and had a breakthrough season this year as one of the top-scoring batswomen in the country.
But for Halliday, this summer was all about being fit and healthy and simply able to play. Because for the past few years, she’s spent time either sidelined or battling through sometimes excruciating pain – to get to the end of the season to undergo surgery removing recurring cysts on her ovaries.
“For the last, I don’t know how many years, I’ve had an injury or a health issue to deal with,” says Halliday, who’s also an Auckland accountant by day.
“When people ask me ‘Was making the White Ferns on your bucket list for this season?’, I’d say that this year all I cared about was playing every game.”
And now in the fading light of the 2020-21 cricket season, Halliday has achieved her goal – and then some.
She’s been pain and injury-free all summer, allowing her to enjoy her cricket so much more. And with that has come her best season out in the middle – and a deserved place in the White Ferns.
“I’m hitting the ball better, and bowling a bit more,” says the left-hand batswoman, right-arm medium pace bowler. “Overall, I’m just enjoying it a lot more, which for me is the main thing.
“I feel if you’re enjoying your cricket, that’s when you perform better.
“You don’t have that thing constantly nagging in the back of your mind: ‘I might dive for this ball, but what if I aggravate this? What if the ball hits me in the stomach?’ Now I can go out and play with no real worries, and it’s led to better things.”
In her first two innings for the White Ferns in the one-day internationals against England last month, Halliday scored back-to-back half centuries, and sealed her place in the side for the current T20 series and the upcoming Rose Bowl ODIs against Australia.
“The people who’ve seen me go through all the pain over the years – like Rob Nicol, who’s my Spirit [performance and pathway] coach, and the people at ND – have been on this journey with me. They don’t say ‘Yeah, you’ve made the White Ferns’. It’s the journey I’ve gone through to get to the White Ferns that they’re most proud of,” she says.
Nicol, a former Black Cap now assistant coach of the White Ferns, has worked closely with Halliday on her batting at Northern Districts this summer, and knows her road to the top hasn’t been easy.
“She has an impressive pain threshold, and she’s pretty unflappable,” he says. “But it’s really shaped her and helped her to put international cricket into perspective.”
Halliday’s injuries were “nothing major – just niggles that would take you out of the game”. Last season she tore the quadriceps tendon in her knee. But back pain – not caused by injury – was the hardest to deal with.
“I have this thing where my body likes to grow cysts on my ovaries. The surgeon would remove one, and the next thing it would grow back again, and we’d have to get it taken out again,” she says. “I went through a stage of playing through the pain, just to get through the cricket season, and then get surgery.”
She had no idea she had the condition until she ended up being taken to hospital at midnight with worsening abdominal pain. “They thought it was a ruptured appendix, but an ultrasound showed the cyst which had twisted,” she says. “The next cyst that appeared had abnormal tissue.
“My specialist has figured out how to keep it under control, and we’re at a point now where I haven’t had a cyst for just over a year.”
Around that time, Halliday was forced to take a break from cricket – going into Level 4 lockdown with the rest of the nation. She moved home to her mum’s farm south of Auckland, playing board games, baking and watching movies. “There were seven of us, but there were acres and acres, so you didn’t feel like you were confined in the house,” she says.
She comes from a cricketing family – growing up watching her father and uncles play, and knocking a ball around the backyard with three younger brothers. At five, she started playing at the Manukau City Cricket Club, where a long line of Hallidays have played.
She was a teenager when she was first picked up by the Northern Spirit women’s side in the 2012-13 summer, and this season she captained the side.
Back in November, she started the Hallyburton Johnstone Shield – the top domestic women’s one-day competition – by scoring her maiden century for Spirit, against Wellington Blaze. “I guess that was the turning point,” she says.
When she was chosen for the White Ferns to play England, alongside 16-year-old spinner Fran Jonas, Halliday was the second-highest run scorer in the competition.
Nicol says this season has given her renewed self-belief. “It’s all the things entwined in those runs – how you’re playing, your concentration; she’s really starting to knit it all together,” he says.
“It’s amazing when you think about what she does. She’s an accountant who works fulltime, and is at the gym every morning at seven, then comes to training with us at night.”
Halliday’s parents were in Christchurch to watch her ODI debut where she top scored with 50 in the White Ferns’ loss to England. She followed that up with 60 – the highest score among the Kiwi batswomen – in the second match loss in Dunedin.
“It would have been nice to get some wins in those first two ODIs, but it wasn’t to be,” she says. She took a wicket from her bowling effort, though, in the White Ferns’ third match victory.
“The nerves are still there – but that’s never a bad thing. You’ve just got to try not to put too much pressure on yourself, which I’m trying to deal with at the moment.”
She kept her composure in the first T20 against Australia last Sunday, during prime time coverage of the game on TVNZ. She scored 11 not out in that loss, and scored just one run in the White Ferns four-wicket victory on Tuesday. Today’s game at Eden Park is the decider.
Halliday prefers ODIs to T20s because she has that extra time to get her eye in. “But I’m starting to get the hang of T20s now, I’m working on my power game,” she says.
She knows she’s making an impression on the next generation – even if they are in her own family.
Her 11-year-old sister, Deryn, took up cricket for the first time this summer. “Ever since I made the White Ferns, she’s been even more into it,” Halliday says.
“She’ll go outside and practise a pull shot like I’d play a pull shot – which is a bit weird, because I’m left-handed and she’s right-handed. She was practising bowling with Dad the other day, and said ‘I’ve been watching the English women bowl and they don’t bowl the way you’re teaching me’ So now she’s bowling based on what she’s watched on TV.
“I have a little cousin who’s the same age and she’s into it now too. I gave her one of my White Ferns shirts, and she hasn’t taken it off.”
Halliday, who has a bachelor of commerce in accounting and commercial law, works at a Manukau car dealership, where they’ve also been proud and supportive.
The next “box to tick”, she says, is to become a contracted player to NZ Cricket, so she can spend more time working on her game.
And of course there’s the allure of playing in next summer’s Cricket World Cup in New Zealand – something she probably hadn’t envisaged at the start of this summer.
“Now that I’m playing for the White Ferns, I’ll keep doing my thing and try hard to stay in the team,” she says. “I guess my little sister will be wanting to come all over the country with me.”