Three White Ferns captains have guided the team, for better or worse, through this Cricket World Cup. But is retirement now calling all three?
Within the White Ferns, they’re known as ‘The Three Wise Women’. Or more simply, ‘The Triangle’.
You’ll have seen the trio – Sophie Devine, Amy Satterthwaite and Suzie Bates – huddled on the field during New Zealand’s games at this World Cup, discussing bowling tactics or the strategic placing of fielders.
Like when South Africa needed 12 runs from 11 balls against New Zealand, and batter Shabnim Ismail was hit on the head. While she went through a concussion check, the three wise women came together, and with the next ball, Devine knocked down Ismail’s leg stump.
When Devine hurt her back during her batting spell against England on Sunday, Satterthwaite took over the captaincy in the field, with Bates often at her side. They could be asked to step up again on Saturday against Pakistan, if Devine’s injury keeps her out of their last round robin game. Both Devine and experienced bowler Lea Tahuhu – who injured her hamstring on Sunday – will undergo scans today.
(And yes, the White Ferns still have a chance – albeit faint – of making the semifinals. More on that later).
While Devine, as New Zealand’s captain, has the final say in decisions on and off the field, she’s grateful to have the input of two former White Ferns skippers at her side.
Bates was captain for almost seven years, including the last World Cup, where New Zealand failed to make the semifinals for the first time in 11 editions. She relinquished the role in 2018, saying her tactics had been “questioned and challenged” and she no longer had the “energy the captaincy deserved”.
Satterthwaite took over the role from Bates, and the following year, Devine became the stand-in skipper when Satterthwaite became the first New Zealand player to take paid maternity leave, to have her daughter, Grace.
There was some contention when the new mum returned to the White Ferns camp, and Devine remained at the helm; Satterthwaite saying at the time she was “pretty gutted” to lose the job, but accepted the vice-captaincy of the side.
If there has been any dissension between them over the years, it seems to have been eclipsed by respect and a common desire to become only the second New Zealand team to win a World Cup.
“Something really special about this group is that there’s a real high level of care… we genuinely like each other even though we might bicker at things like family,” Devine says. “We love each other and this group might not be together once this tournament is over. So we will enjoy the last couple of days together and make sure we go out with a bang.”
As you’d expect from players so experienced (this is the fourth World Cup for all three) they’ve been under pressure to perform with the bat at the top of the White Ferns order at their home World Cup.
They’ve all had their moments in the past two-and-a-half weeks: Bates’ highest score was 79 not out in her first ODI at home in Dunedin against Bangladesh, and Satterthwaite top scored with 75 in the win over India.
Devine has been the most prolific of the White Ferns batters, with 108 against the West Indies and 93 against South Africa. She’s the third-highest scorer at this World Cup (on 297 runs), behind South African Laura Wolvaardt and Australian Rachael Haynes.
But New Zealand’s veteran runscorers have failed in their consistency, and working together at the crease to form critical partnerships which would have put New Zealand in a much better position than sixth on the points table right now.
So has Devine been the right choice to lead New Zealand at this World Cup? And has the Triangle been such a wise idea?
Maddy Green, White Ferns batter and captain of the Wellington Blaze, believes both have worked for the team.
“Sophie has a great instinct and as captain, she’s able to make decisions based on what she’s seeing at the time,” Green says.
“She’s also been really planned going into this tournament and I think that’s key – having a clear plan, but also being able to make instinctive decisions because the game changes so quickly.
“When you are captaining a team in high pressure games like in this tournament, it must be incredibly stressful. I’ve done it a domestic level, but I have no idea what it’s like for Soph out in the middle.
“Although Sophie is ultimately making the calls at the end of the day, she leans heavily on Amy and Suzie to offer different opinions and perspectives.”
Devine took a two-month break from the game early in 2021 to focus on her mental health, and there’s no doubt she came back to the game stronger. White Ferns assistant coach Jacob Oram said there was a wave of relief when she returned.
“Everyone was ecstatic to have her back in the group – as a person but obviously also as a player, because she means so much to us winning or losing games,” he says. “She was recharged.”
Devine’s lead-by-example captaincy has been important to the White Ferns, Oram believes.
“She’s a very good captain. One of the best things about Sophie is the way she leads from the front – her style of play is very positive and attacking, ‘follow me’ stuff. She takes the opposition on, whether she’s batting or bowling. She throws herself around the field,” he says.
“She’s not just some articulate speaker at team meetings. She actually goes out there and does it herself.
“It’s a trait Brendon McCullum had when he was captaining the Black Caps. If he said let’s run into the hoardings to stop fours, well you’d know that Brendon would be the first one to do that.
“Those sorts of captains really inspire their team-mates to want to follow their actions.”
The Triangle doesn’t only take shape on the field. Devine, Satterthwaite and Bates have regular meetings with the White Ferns coaching group around tactics, styles of play, batting line-ups and even team selections.
Coach Bob Carter is keen for their input, Oram says: “Because they’re the ones doing the job in the trenches.
“And out on the field, it’s great Sophie has the leadership capability to request information from others. She’s not a dictator. It would be remiss of Sophie and Bob to not tap into that knowledge Amy and Suzie hold.”
Green, who spearheaded the White Ferns’ batting effort against England, agrees. “I think it’s great for Sophie to have those two to lean on, and to act as a bit of a filter, so she can be really clear in her decision-making. On the field, I’ll speak to Amy or Suze with a suggestion, and they’ll filter whether or not it’s useful to pass on to Sophie, who has a million things to think about.
“The team is in a really good place in terms of the culture, and that’s all down to Sophie, Amy and Suze.”
This tournament could, of course, be the 50-overs swansong for all three wise women, who have 412 ODIs between them. As Devine said of her back injury: “It’s probably a hint I’m getting old and time to move on.”
But the debut of women’s cricket at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in July (a T20 competition) must still be alluring to them.
There are other “great cricketing brains” in the side, Green says, the likes of Frankie Mackay and Katey Martin, who are also contributing to the team leadership.
“The great thing about Amy, Suzie and Sophie is that they’re really open to other people’s ideas and Frankie and Marty have been really critical in giving their input and scouting,” she says.
Green, who’s now played 51 ODIs and is a highly successful domestic captain, is involved in her own way.
“I feel like I’m a bit of a conduit, between the older group who I’ve played a lot of cricket with and then the younger girls,” she says.
“One of the most pleasing things I’ve seen during the World Cup is some of the younger girls who didn’t necessarily love watching cricket have really been engrossed in the tournament and are providing their perspectives as well.”
So as the team goes through the natural cycle of retirements after a major event, who will pick up the gauntlet next?
“Once Sophie, Suzie and Amy depart, you have the next wave of Amelia Kerr and Hannah Rowe, and they will be expected to carry the side as the likes of Fran Jonas and Molly Penfold develop,” says Oram (who’s had to leave the team and return home to his family who have Covid).
Meanwhile, the White Ferns remain on tenterhooks waiting on a string of upsets to help them make the World Cup semifinals.
Pakistan’s shock win in a 20-over match with the West Indies on Monday night (their first World Cup win in 13 years) is part of the equation. But India’s win over Bangladesh by 110 runs last night knocked New Zealand’s hopes back another step.
The White Ferns will now have to beat Pakistan, and rely on Pakistan and Bangladesh beating defending champions England, and the West Indies to lose to South Africa, to snatch the fourth spot.
And Australia further asserted their dominance in this tournament with a five-wicket win over the previously unbeaten South Africans in Wellington yesterday. Although the Proteas scored their highest total at this World Cup, 271/5, they slipped up in the field, dropping seven catches as Australia comfortably met their target in the 46th over – anchored by an outstanding innings from captain Meg Lanning, unbeaten on 135 (off 130 balls).