WOMEN’S WORLD T20, 2018
“Suzie’s biggest strength was also her biggest weakness. She cares. Quite possibly too much.” © Getty
The White Ferns were always in the mix. Back in 2000 they won the World Cup. Between 2009 and 2010, New Zealand made three World Cup Finals in 14 months but were unable to get over the line in any of them. As Australia and England led the way to professionalise their domestic set-ups, New Zealand Cricket were caught napping. As those two teams pulled ahead, New Zealand were left to play catch-up.
Central contracts were finally brought in by the NZC for four women’s players in 2013, before moving up to 10 the next year. Now, there are 15 players contracted players. Yet even with all the advancement, the 2016 Women’s World Twenty20 saw the White Ferns lose in the semis to eventual champions West Indies. A year later, in the World Cup, they failed to get out of the group stage.
The 2018 World T20 provides the team with an opportunity to right some wrongs. With young talent in the ranks, the team has a fresher look. Yet they will still be relying on a 31-year-old who has become woven into the very fabric of women’s cricket in New Zealand.
Suzannah Wilson Bates – Suzie Bates to the world – is not much of a secret weapon. Although no longer captain, everyone knows what she brings to the party: leadership, respect, as well as a bucket load of runs and moments of brilliance.
In Maori culture, the word ‘mana’ carries great significance. It is defined as honour, of having great authority, presence or prestige. It is also an often overused term when describing captains or leaders in New Zealand.
However, Suzie embodies this mantra. She is someone who inspires by being one of the girls, by leading from the front and from approaching everything with a smile on her face.
Suzie has achieved many things in her 31 years. There have been Wisden awards, Player of the Year awards, not to mention being the leading run-scorer for her country. She is a double international, an Olympian, has won domestic titles around the world and has had the honour of captaining her country. However, despite all the accolades, she has not managed to tick one big goal off – win a world tournament. Suzie chuckles and ruefully shakes her head at the thought that this could be her last chance to achieve this one piece of international success she desperately craves.
“Are they trying to tell me something?” she says when the R-word is brought up. While I understand she cannot play forever, and retirement is a prospect we all have to face, cricket in New Zealand and around the world would be lesser without her involvement.
And of course, there’s her infamous alter ego, “Betsy”.
“Batesy” is the serious cricketer. “Betsy” is the practical joker, karaoke singer, crazy adventurer. And that’s without the beers. Among cricketing circles, it’s hard to say which of the two is the more popular.
Teammates refer to Suzie as respectful, ultra-competitive, one of outstanding work ethic who is always the last out of the gym. As a leader, she gives anything for anyone in the group. A teacher and a mentor, but someone who is always up for some banter, a singalong and a coffee.
Yet at heart, she is also just a big kid. One who takes delight in the simple things and wouldn’t be caught dead on tour without her peanut butter. She now spends her time travelling the world playing cricket, but still cites her happiest place as Central Otago, where she is often outdoors on her bike and by the water with family and friends. A snapshot of her varied interests (and her long for singalongs) comes in the three people she would have around to her fantasy dinner party: Lady Gaga, Adele and Sachin Tendulkar. Like Sachin, Suzie is an elegant right-hander who writes left-handed.
Not everything came easy to Suzie. Yes, she captained New Zealand for six years. But she freely admits when she took over the role that, tactically, she wasn’t the best. She never shied away and was always up for tactical discussions. In fact, she believes the captaincy played a large part in her upturn in form since 2012.
“The captaincy initially made me desperately want to lead by example,” she says. “I had to tactically think more about the game which in turn helped my batting.” It is at this point that the conversation turns to two of her mentors and the impact they had. Both came along at ideal times in her career.
Suzie inspires by leading from the front and from approaching everything with a smile on her face © Getty
Mike Shrimpton, a former Black Cap who played 10 Tests and coached the White Ferns to their famous World Cup win, passed on his infectious passion for the game and pushed her to squeeze every bit of talent out of herself and her teammates. I have vivid memories of slip catching practice in India with Shrimpo. I have never met someone who could hit them so precisely. Every time Suzie got close to the magical 10 in a row, at which point the drill was completed, Shrimpton would, with a glint in his eye, snick one just out of catchable reach. Every time, Suzie would keep coming back for more.
Then there was Warren Lees, of 21 Tests and 31 ODIs for New Zealand, who had an innate understanding of what made Suzie tick and challenged her to be better on and off the field. The pair worked closely together at the Otago Sparks and also when Lees managed the national team in a caretaker role in 2014.
Even though she is a cricketing superstar, the noticeable upswing in her performances coincided with being surrounded by people who had her best interests at heart and genuinely wanted to see her game move forward. These two men supported her to be better than before and to drive her teammates to be better as well.
However it is here we should acknowledge that Suzie’s biggest strength was also her biggest weakness. She cares. Quite possibly too much. I can still remember the kind words she spoke to me after a horror net session the day before I was due to make my debut in 2011. In fact, I can remember all the extra time she spent with players.
The phone calls and texts to check in when people weren’t quite themselves. If the team hurt, Suzie hurt, if a player struggled Suzie was the first person to lend a hand. At times it wore her down and perhaps this was reflected in her results at the back end of a season. But it was always clear that she cared about her players and teammates each as individuals.
I have a vivid memory of being knocked out of the fifty-over World Cup in 2013. The team sat in silence, shell-shocked as to what had just unfolded. It stretched on for what felt like forever. Suzie sat on the floor, tears tricking down her face, scrolling through music on her phone. For some reason, she settled on Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day”, which drew some ironic smiles from the group and broke the tension with a wee singalong.
Even in a moment of true hurt she was thinking about how she could lighten the mood and lead the team through it. But there is a limit as to how much a person can constantly give. Six weeks prior for the World T20, Suzie gave up the captaincy in an effort to concentrate on being at her absolute best for the remainder of her career.
Her current motivation is simple. Compete at her absolute best every time she steps on the park, be a good teammate, continue to care about and lead the players, bring some fun to the group and win a world title. She does not need to be a captain to push for that.
I consider it a privilege to have played in her same team as her. An honour to have walked out to face the new ball with her and watch her dispatch it to all parts. I am proud of everything she has done and lucky to call her a friend. It is a simple joy to watch her bat as she is a player and person that doesn’t come about every day.
A greater joy would be seeing her celebrate with the World T20 in hand. If anyone deserves it, it is the one and only Suzannah Wilson Bates.
– Frances Mackay has represented the New Zealand Women’s team in 19 ODIs and 27 T20Is.