The most-capped White Fern in history, Suzie Bates opens up on her comeback from injury, playing 250 games for NZ, and the trio of captains guiding the team to next year’s World Cup.
Suzie Bates is back. Back on the cricket field. Back in black for the White Ferns. And she couldn’t be happier.
It’s a couple of weeks shy of a year since Bates injured her shoulder diving in the field against Australia in the first one day international in Brisbane.
After reinjuring it playing for the Adelaide Strikers in the Women’s Big Bash League a month later, she feared her dreams of playing in a home World Cup were in tatters. It was a difficult night waiting for that dreaded diagnosis.
But the worst-case scenario never arrived. Instead, the verdict was surgery and a nine-month stint on the sidelines. Her World Cup dream was well and truly alive.
Her immediate goal? Making sure she was fit and ready for this current tour of England – three T20s and five ODIs. The latter, an all-important series for the team in the build-up to the World Cup next March.
Bates, who notched up a record 250th appearance for the White Ferns last week, has been around professional sport long enough to know you can never take your spot in a team for granted. So she was determined to show White Ferns coach Bob Carter she was returning from surgery better, faster and stronger.
From the first camp in June at Lincoln, Bates recalls, she wanted to “put it in Bob’s mind that I was definitely going to be fit come that tour, so he didn’t have any doubts.”
It may have been 15 years since Bates received her first call-up to the White Ferns, but it was a special moment when Carter shared the good news that Bates would be touring.
And how does it feel, being back with her mates and doing what she loves? A big smile lights up her face. “I was like a little kid at Christmas and couldn’t wait to get out of Dunedin and get back playing cricket,” Bates says. “Sometimes you take touring and playing for granted, the older you get.”
The White Ferns are now in Bristol ahead of the first ODI against the reigning world champions on Friday morning (NZT), having taken the T20 series to the penultimate ball of the third and final match before coming out on the losing side of the ledger, 2-1.
After a disappointing performance from the White Ferns in the first match, the feeling of unforgiving cricket critics beginning to circle like hawks was palpable. Only greatly improved performances in the remaining two T20s would keep them at bay. And the White Ferns delivered, shaking off the rust of not having played since April and significantly improving in all three facets of the game to secure a four-wicket win.
A series decider beckoned, and in front of a lively Taunton crowd, the White Ferns put in another solid performance. After a strong start by the old firm of Bates and captain Sophie Devine (the “Smash Sisters” if you will), it was the power hitting of Maddy Green, Brooke Halliday and Katey Martin that took them to a competitive total after hammering the England bowling attack for 54 runs in the last five overs.
Blistering knocks from England players Danni Wyatt and Amy Jones threatened to make easy work of the run chase. But this is a White Ferns side who’ve endured tough times, taken a hard look at themselves and worked extremely hard through the winter. It was evident for all to see as they clawed their way back into the game on multiple occasions – staying in the fight and refusing to roll over.
It was disappointing not to close out the win and claim the series. “But the way the group has responded since the home series against England and being able to compete in these last two games, we’re really pleased with where we’re heading,” Bates says. “We feel like we’ve given the England team a bit of a wake-up call that we’re ready for these one-day internationals.”
The decider in Taunton also held personal significance for Bates, who was informed the night before the match it was to be her 250th international for her country.
Bates became the first White Fern to reach the milestone, with an even split of 125 games in both ODIs and T20s. And the monumental feat certainly isn’t lost on her.
“It was a little bit strange to think ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve put my White Ferns top on 250 times’. That’s unbelievable. And then you start thinking that’s 250 warm-ups, 250 post-match meetings, and not quite 250 ice baths!” Bates laughs. “I’m still standing.”
The tributes were flooding in from all corners of the globe – from her teammates and opponents, past and present, and it was a special moment for her to sit back and reflect after the match with a glass of Central Otago red wine in her hand.
“We had a drink together and talked about some of our favourite matches in those 250 games,” Bates shared. “The nicest thing about milestones is that you don’t really plan on it or think about it happening. But when it happens you take the time to reflect on what’s been and all the people that have made sure you’re still here, still enjoying your cricket, and all the mates you’ve met along the way.”
Bates admits she hasn’t got the best memory, so she had to rely heavily on her teammates’ tales to remind her of some of the special matches she’s played in. One standout was a T20 series in Australia during Bates’ tenure as captain, when Anna Peterson took a hat-trick in the last over to win the game, before the White Ferns then turned around and rolled the Aussies for 70 to win the series.
Another special moment was sharing a huge partnership with long-time friend and teammate Amy Satterthwaite at the Sydney Cricket Ground. But the one game sticks firmly in Bates’ mind is her debut at Lincoln in 2006 in an ODI against India.
“It rained on and off all morning. So we warmed up then went inside, went out to sing the national anthem for the first time, then went inside. It was really stop-start, which was the worst that could happen because I couldn’t wait to get out there,” Bates recalls.
She was slated to bat at nine that day, but the opportunity never arose, although she took her first wicket. For the next match, Bates was in for a shock at the team meeting, where without prior warning, it was announced she would open the batting with Rebecca Rolls.
Bates and Rolls were both members of the Spark Sport commentary team last summer, but Bates admits she was “pretty intimidated” by Rolls back then.
“She was one of my idols growing up so to open the batting with her was pretty daunting,” Bates says. “It was great to spend some time in the commentary box together and reminisce. She was one of the first to send me a message after the milestone too.”
Attention now turns to the five ODIs, which the White Ferns acknowledge are a major barometer of how their World Cup preparations are tracking and the best chance to build some momentum (Bates talks about the change in tactics, in the video above).
“The way we’ve trained, the World Cup is in everyone’s mind,” Bates reveals. “When I’ve been at home training in the nets, on the bowling machine, or facing bowers in the nets, it’s been around my 50-over game and getting that right. Everyone else has been in the same position when they’re bowling, batting or fielding, they’re thinking about 50-over cricket.
“The T20s were nice to get into some cricket, but the real business end of this tour starts now.”
Bates hails the fortnightly camps throughout winter and the leadership of Devine as key factors in the group’s “togetherness” reaching new heights.
“Being together more often has really helped. From June we had camps every second week for 10 weeks, whereas in the past we had them monthly. It felt like we were together that whole winter, with some weeks at home but still feeling connected,” she says.
“There’s been some cultural shifts which Sophie has worked really hard to get the group working together. The way she has been around the group and what she has wanted to see in terms of behaviours and the culture of the group and reinforcing those behaviours – there’s no surprise that we’re as connected as we are.”
For those at the last T20 in Taunton, it was evident Devine, Satterthwaite and Bates are forming an impressive on-field leadership trio that’s going from strength to strength. The way they were communicating with each other about bowling plans and field placements allowed the White Ferns to hold their composure and take the game as deep as they did.
“We’re in a really unique position where you have three former or current captains in the team. Initially there were a few teething problems, no-one intentionally, but it was more figuring out how that would work, and for Bob how that would look using the three of us,” Bates says.
“It didn’t help us that Amy was away having Grace, I was away injured, then Sophie was away. But now it feels like the trio is back together and finding our feet in how we can contribute and help each other.
“We’re really starting to click with what our roles are and getting the best out of the group, and that’s only going to get stronger and stronger provided we can stay injury-free and on the park.”
With things coming together off the field, it’s only a matter of time before special things begin to happen on it. There’s just over five months until the World Cup on home soil begins, and five matches in the next two weeks, for Bates and the Ferns to announce themselves as title contenders.
After firing a warning shot across England’s bow in the T20s, the White Ferns will try to land a few more punches.