From a kid turning cartwheels in the outfield to a White Fern bowling dynamo, Hannah Rowe recalls her cricketing beginnings in a small farming town in the latest in our My First Game series leading into CWC22.
To this day, the netting in the backyard of Hannah Rowe’s family farm is called Brendon.
As in Brendon McCullum, the legendary Black Caps wicketkeeper and slip fielder.
“We played backyard cricket so much that Mum and Dad put posts in the ground and netting in between so the ball wouldn’t go in the garden if the batter missed,” the White Ferns bowler, now 25, says.
“We still call the netting Brendon to this day – which is kind of embarrassing.”
Rowe spent a lot of time bowling to Brendon, when her competitive brothers were always first to grab the bat.
Chantelle and Craig Rowe wanted their three kids to play cricket whenever they felt like it on their dairy farm in the Manawatū settlement of Rongotea. And save the flower beds, of course.
They came to the rescue, too, when Hannah and her brothers, Cameron and Braden, wanted to play organised cricket at Rongotea School. With a roll of no more than 90 kids, there weren’t enough interested to form a team. So Chantelle and Craig got together with other local parents at other schools around the district and created their own cricket club.
And so the Te Kawau Junior Cricket Club was born – and still exists today.
Although Hannah can’t recall her first game as a seven-year-old, she has tons of fond memories playing for Te Kawau.
“There was a group of four or five girls playing at the time, alongside the boys, which was really awesome,” she says. “I was never the only girl. It just felt normal.”
And it wasn’t always deadly serious, to start with at least. There were a few cartwheels and handstands when the girls were in the outfield, Rowe admits.
“We were like ‘Oops we’re here to play cricket… but yeah, we’re allowed to have fun in the field while we’re out there too’.
“I played a lot of my rep cricket when I was younger for the boys teams, so it was great to have girls in my club team.”
Dad Craig was the coach in most of her teams growing up – from Te Kawau to the Manawatū boys U11s, the Palmerston North Girls’ High 1st XI and then the Manawatū senior women.
He also taught his girl, who came into her own at the 2017 World Cup, how to bowl.
“Dad was telling me the other day he set cones up on the lawn because I used to fall away so much in my bowling action,” Rowe says.
“I bowled in-swing back then, and later in life I’ve had to do some pretty big technical changes and I’ve ended up an out-swinger now. Looking back at pictures when I was a lot younger, I’m falling away big time, and I think ‘I’m lucky I don’t bowl like that anymore or I’d have a really bad back’.”
Rowe has been looking through family photo albums in the run-up to this World Cup being played in New Zealand, and developed an understanding how much of a role her family has played in making her the international cricketer she is.
“Cricket is so ingrained in our family I haven’t really processed how much of a family affair it’s been until now,” she says.
“There’s a really cool picture of me and my younger brother, Braden, batting together for Manawatū when I’m about 10. There’s a look of ‘Phew that was stressful, you nearly ran me out then.”
Here’s that photo:
“Mum whipped out the occasional bowl on the front lawn, but she never actually played. She was a netballer back in the day, but she was definitely well involved in cricket. Our parents supported all of us kids, but they still gave us the space – they weren’t always looking over us.”
Of course the Rowe kids were encouraged to play other sports – up to a point.
“When I was young, I could tell Mum and Dad thought I might have a future in cricket, but I’d become randomly obsessed with tennis,” Rowe says. “I made them take me to the tennis open day, when they didn’t really want to do that, but they took me along and said ‘Whatever you want to do’.
“But I was terrible at tennis. So that didn’t go far.”
Rowe went further with netball – she was a shooter in the Palmerton North Girls’ top team and for Massey University until the third year of her degree in communications, majoring in journalism.
“I love netball and I still miss it a lot. But I just don’t have the physical energy left to do it anymore,” she says.
“When I was playing through uni, I’d turn up on Saturday and I just had nothing left in me after all the training we’d had. Molly Penfold was a netballer as well, we bonded over that once she came into the White Ferns environment.”
Her brothers and father still play cricket. “It’s definitely the main topic around the dinner table, that’s for sure,” Rowe says. “My brothers roast me like brothers do and they’re quick to remind you when you stuff something up. But that’s humbling at the same time. You know they’re always supporting, always watching.”
Craig Rowe plays with the Wanderers Club in Palmerston North, where he and his daughter have accomplished something of a rarity in world cricket – playing together in the same team.
“Some days you’d be out there batting with Dad, or you’re bowling and he’s fielding at slip. I’m sure he’s dropped a few off my bowling,” she laughs.
“That whole club has always had family about it – siblings playing together, fathers and sons, or fathers and daughters. They were always really welcoming, and they’ve have five girls playing for them, which no other clubs were doing at the time.
“Dad still plays when he gets the chance, but he’s pretty busy on the farm. We have to tell him to be careful running between the wickets because we don’t really want a hamstring to go.”
That’s one thing Rowe has missed out on while chasing a career in cricket. While her brothers would usually go home to Rongotea in summer to help with milking, she’d be away playing for Central Hinds or the White Ferns.
“Since I missed that experience, I’ve told Mum and Dad that after the World Cup I’ll come home and work on the farm for a little while,” she says.
“Everyone thinks I’m a real country girl; I’m the one who always has the country music playing in the team changing room. But I can’t really follow that up. So it’s time to be educated.”
As Rowe prepares for her second World Cup, she admits the girl turning cartwheels in the outfield never really dreamed of becoming a White Fern.
“I knew who they were, but there wasn’t the same level of exposure for the team as there is now,” she says.
“When I first made the White Ferns [at the age of 18], it was very much out of the blue for me. In fact, I was so shocked, the coach had to call me the next day, just to reaffirm to me before the team was announced that I was actually in it.” She made her ODI debut against England in 2015, but really made her mark on international cricket at the last World Cup in England, named player of the match against West Indies before leading the way with the ball against India.
“Growing up, people would say, ‘You could be a White Fern one day’, but at the time you’re just enjoying your cricket. I look back and think ‘Wow that kid had no idea how much experience cricket was going to give her.’
“I think of all the friends I have in the White Ferns environment, and how much I’ve developed as a person through sport.”