Injury, milestones and a home World Cup: a sit-down with Suzie Bates
Life has come full circle for Suzie Bates. In 2000, when she watched Emily Drumm’s New Zealand team lift the Women’s World Cup in Lincoln, her dream took flight. Now, two decades later, with a home World Cup on the horizon, she and her teammates have the opportunity to inspire the next generation of young girls and women to want to pull on the White Ferns’ black.
In a career that has spanned over 15 years, Bates has become one of the leading batters in the world. A former White Ferns captain, the right-hander boasts of an impressive resume with several records and a dozens of awards under her belt. Over that period she has also seen the once dominant unit, fall off their perch, struggling to put together consistent performances at the global stage.
After a disappointing outing in the Women’s T20 World Cup 2020, and some time away from the game due to a shoulder injury, she returns to the side refreshed, rejuvenated and determined to help them turn a corner.
In an insightful chat with Women’s CricZone during New Zealand’s tour of England, the 34-year-old speaks about her injury layoff, preparation for the home World Cup, the disappointments of past results, her legacy, and more.
How does it feel to be back playing international cricket?
I’m excited about playing some one-day cricket. It’s been so great being back in the team after a long stint away, and to be on tour again. Although slightly different to normal, we are really enjoying ourselves over here, and so far, we’ve played some good cricket, so [we] want to carry that on into the ODIs. But I’m just so excited and really happy to be back in the group.
You recently played a milestone game – 250 international matches for the White Ferns, the first to the mark. Let’s take a trip down memory lane… What do you remember of your first game for New Zealand back in 2006?
I remember a lot of it. Obviously, it was a long time ago, but I remember we were at Lincoln and playing against India in a series and I was actually an allrounder at the time and picked as a bowler, so I was batting at No. 9. It rained on and off so we were itching to get started, but it kept getting delayed. We finally got out there and I just remember the feeling of being in the field, playing international cricket and just wanting to play as long as I could. I just absolutely loved it. It was such a step up from domestic cricket. I didn’t get a bat, but I took one wicket (Sulakshana Naik). So, it was just a real taste of that next level of cricket that I just loved.
You’ve come a long way since then – bowling allrounder to batting superstar. Do you have a favourite moment in your career so far?
We sort of chatted about this after that milestone game with the team and, look, I’ve always wanted to win a World Cup and win a Rose Bowl against Australia – we haven’t done that in my career, so that’s still something I want to tick off the checklist. But look, I think any World Cup final I’ve played in – I think I’ve had the privilege of playing in three – have been special, and any win against Australia to be fair, as a White Fern, whether its Twenty20 cricket or 50-over cricket, they’ve been some of the special moments.
Players often say that, in cricket, you have more bad days than you have good days, and you’ve had a significantly long career. So through this period has there ever been a moment or a phase when you’ve wanted to walk away from it? What pushed you to carry on, and how did you build that resilience?
We also talked about that the other day. I was wondering what my win percentage was out of the 250 games and I was hoping that I’ve won more than I’ve lost. I think Amy Satterthwaite managed to work that out and I had just (won more), so, that means I have had more good days than [bad]. But yeah, it’s a tough sport and in international sport you always have doubts at times and, you know, sometimes it is hard. When things aren’t going your way, personally or as a team, you do think how much longer you can keep playing, but I’ve never really thought seriously about giving up. I’ve had moments where I’ve really enjoyed a break and getting away from cricket, but I’ve always wanted to come back for more.
I think having a serious shoulder injury, and COVID (enforced break), has made me hungrier than ever. Although I am getting on in age, I feel mentally and physically fresh. I just know that once you retire, you are a long time retired. So, until I stop enjoying – which at this stage I’ve never not enjoyed the process of training or being on tour playing cricket – I will keep playing… and as long as I get selected too!
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You mentioned that shoulder injury you incurred late last year. That was the first major injury you have had that kept you out for a significant period of time. What was that rehab and recovery time like for you, and how did you keep yourself motivated?
It was… It’s been a strange time. I think having the COVID enforced break just before I did my shoulder – the longest break that I’ve had in my whole career of cricket – almost prepared me for that stint on the sidelines, because I had a lot of down-time, worked out how I was going to keep myself busy and keep my mind occupied. So, I sort of had a practice of sitting on sidelines through no choice of my own.
I think the thing that helped me the most was the fact that the World Cup had been moved already, so when I did injure my shoulder, I knew that I was a chance for coming back for that, and to be honest, that really helped my motivation. There was never a day where I didn’t want to do it because that carrot of playing in the home World Cup has always been there. So, I think the timing of when I did it (injured my shoulder) I was quite lucky and I’ve been able to stay really determined and motivated. The goal was always to get back for this tour which was nine months after surgery and that was a really realistic goal, so I have had lots of mini goals along the way to help me get to that home World Cup.
Through that layoff you spent some time in the commentary box, and also worked as assistant coach of the Otago Nuggets (men’s basketball team) for a bit. What were those experiences like? And do you think it gave you a glimpse into what life could possibly be like once you hang up your boots?
Absolutely! I’ve talked about it a lot, that I guess I sort of tried to look at all the positives. I was almost in a privileged position of experiencing retirement before I had retired – to know what it would be like and what I would like to do. I just had this moment over Christmas where I was getting a bit bored. I’d had a long winter with sitting back with Coronavirus and I knew that I just had to keep busy and I sort of made a promise to myself that I was going to say yes to any opportunities that popped up and just throw myself into it. Two of those were the commentary with Spark Sport over the summer and the basketball coaching and that was just the greatest thing – to be part of different teams and sort of have a team around me when I am so used to being in a team sport. I met lots of new people and realised that, you know, there is life after cricket and I’m also now excited about that and what opportunities that holds, but also know that I’m definitely not finished.
Coming into this series the team have been very clear that the focus for this tour has been on the ODIs. In the context of the World Cup next year, how important is the team’s performance in this series?
There’s no denying that that World Cup is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. We know that this is a huge series, against current World Champions England, in the lead up to that, and we know we have to play well to beat them. So, it’s going to be a real test of where the whole group is at. I am excited to see where we are at. I think the T20 series has just shown that we’re just so desperate to compete, and if that means we win, that’s great. But we’re definitely out here to compete every game with England and I think that’s going to put us in a great position leading into a World Cup and a home ODI series against India as well coming up.
There’s been plenty of chatter around the 2000 World Cup and New Zealand’s success in that tournament. Two questions – one, what are your memories watching that World Cup? And two, how do those memories, or the feats of that team inspire you and the group looking ahead to 2022?
It sort of gives me goosebumps thinking about it. And as a group of old players – the over 30s club that would have been young girls watching that game [back then] – I remember watching it on TV. [It was] the first time I had seen women’s cricket on TV. I had only ever seen the Black Caps, so, you know, I grew up wanting to be Nathan Astle. And then I saw the likes of Debbie Hockley, Rebecca Rolls, Emily Drumm playing on TV in a World Cup and then they won it at home… That was probably the moment for me that I said I want to do that and be that. That’s the opportunity we now have to inspire other females in New Zealand and to do the same, and that is pretty special really. It’s sort of come full circle and now that I’m at the end of my career, having that opportunity to inspire young girls is what it’s all about.
Speaking of World Cups, New Zealand haven’t had too much success in global tournaments in the recent past. 2010 was the last time you reached a final, and 2016 was the last time you got to the knockout stage. Do those disappointments weigh heavily on you? And how do you pick yourself up after those campaigns and refocus on the next task at hand?
I think if we’re completely honest, the senior players would admit that it has weighed on us in the past. We went through a period where we were always in the semis and finals at least, and then like you say, since 2016 there’s a period where we haven’t made those finals. I think it did play a part, but I know for a fact that we’ve talked about that and we’ve well and truly moved on. There’s no point looking back. We’ve got a completely new group, completely new coaching staff, you know. A lot of those [senior] players have had time away from the game to reflect and we’re not worried about that now. It’s all about just doing what we can each day to be better and I think that’s what exciting. This group has really moved on from past performances and we’re now just looking to the future.
You’ve spoken elsewhere about how New Zealand are kind of playing catch up to the likes of Australia and England in terms of their professional structures, and how in New Zealand it will take time for the effects of the contracts to show. In the short term what do you think New Zealand can do to keep pace with the other, better resourced teams?
I think having a break from the environment and looking at it from a different perspective, I’ve already seen that change. And like you say, it may take a couple more years to really reap the benefits of that (contract system). But if we carry on what we’ve done from the last two years – and that is train more together – although we may not have professional setups domestically, the more the White Ferns can train together and bring players into that environment, the better we are going to be. And that’s exactly what we’ve done in the last two years.
You may get to see on this tour a young fast bowler, Molly Penfold. Just having her around the group all year training with us, bowling, doing the fitness, you’ll definitely see the improvement. So, we just need to keep doing what we’ve done this year – train hard and train together. I think that’s going to help us compete, and then the future will look after itself.
Just from a broader perspective – how do you think that difference in professionalism or professional environments in different countries is affecting the women’s game? How dangerous is that divide that’s developing between better resourced teams and lower ranked teams?
I guess with the current state of the world and COVID, that’s kind of put a halt to seeing that progression and I guess it’s evened out the playing field. People have played the same amount of cricket almost because there haven’t been opportunities for anyone. Training and resources have been difficult for everyone, so I guess we won’t really know that until the next cycle after the World Cup and perhaps once the pandemic’s over and done with.
There’s no rocket science to it. The more professional players you have in your country, the more they are able to train, and the better the quality of the competition is. Australia and England have led the way in that, and by professionalising domestic cricket you just have a larger pool of players to pick from and then when you’re playing domestic cricket you are getting prepared for international cricket better. So, the more the other countries around the world can get that professional setup at domestic level, the more it’s going to even out across the world. The danger is that Australia and England keep improving at a faster rate, but I know countries are determined to get that professional setup worldwide. So, time will tell, I guess.
On to happier things now… 15 years, over 250 games, close to 8000 runs, a cupboard full of awards… Did the teenaged Suzie Bates ever dream of achieving all these things? Aside from a World Cup, what else remains on your to-do list?
Firstly no, absolutely not! I don’t think teenage Suzie even thought all this was possible. When I was playing it was simply just playing for Otago. Then, I made the White Ferns, and I just wanted to play as many games as I could. And I’m still here, which is pretty cool. Yeah, like you say, the World Cup is a massive thing that I’ve always wanted to tick off. But I guess at the end of the day for me it’s just about looking back on that career and know I’ve given everything that I had at that moment in time and I’m going to carry on doing that until I finish.
Once I don’t feel like I can give that then I’ll step away, but at the moment I’m just loving every moment and good things happen when you are enjoying it, and just sticking to the process. So, ‘what will be will be’ is kind of my, I guess, old age, philosophical approach now… And you can want to win all those things, but actually, at the end of the day they don’t mean that much when you finish. It’s just about being the best you can be and trying to create a great team around you to achieve good things together.
How does Suzie Bates want to be remembered?
To be fair it’s as simple as being a great teammate. I think when you look back on your career people forget the stats, people forget the runs you’ve scored. That’s obviously the goal and you train for that, but you just want to be remembered as a great teammate. And if I can do that, I’ll be happy because I know I’ve got some friends for life from cricket and that’s pretty special.