New Zealand Women look like a fun team. They play their cricket with much enthusiasm and laughter and no one better represents that than Sophie Devine. The allrounder spent most of the warm-up ahead of the team’s match against South Africa Women at the M Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore on Saturday (March 26) rolling on the ground and laughing along with her teammates, but once she walked onto the field, it was business as usual.
That the team is enjoying one another’s company is evident in their celebrations as well. In Twenty20 cricket it is not often one sees fielders run in from everywhere to congratulate a bowler when a wicket falls even in the 19th over. But when Rachel Priest dived full length to her right to pull off a blinder to send back Sune Luus off the bowling of Devine, the entire team surrounded her. It wasn’t the high-fives that were special, but that everyone seemed to be genuinely happy for Priest. There may have been a little shock among the group as well, because there was much laughter!
Priest’s brilliance meant Devine found herself on a hat-trick, and she proceeded to bowl a slower ball way outside off stump – a wide! “I copped a bit of stick from Sara McGlashan [for that] too. She said that was probably the worst hat-trick ball she’s ever seen in her life,” said Devine, laughing. “I bowled a wide, so I could have another crack at it (the hat-trick).”
New Zealand’s laughter didn’t end when they left the field. While Suzie Bates and Priest gave the team a rollicking start in their chase of 100, the players in the dugout continued to be in high spirits. As the crowd in Bangalore roared their appreciation for every boundary, the New Zealand dugout joined in too, with almost schoolgirl-like enthusiasm.
There is an inevitability about New Zealand victories even though they don’t come with the calm and cold precision of an Australian team led by Steve Waugh. It is hard to believe that this is the New Zealand team that, like their male counterparts, have been perennial bridesmaids at world tournaments. What then, has changed for them?
“I don’t think there’s any real secret (to our recent success),” said Bates, New Zealand’s captain, while addressing the media. “I think we are just really confident with the players that we’ve got and we’ve had everyone contributing throughout the tournament, which is great. The bowling line-up is very balanced and the batters are really experienced and in very good form.”
Despite coming into the World T20 on a high after beating Australia Women at home, Bates’s side lost both their warm-up games in Chennai against England Women. To pick themselves up after that and win all four league games seemed like quite a turnaround, but the captain didn’t think so.
“With warm-up games it’s always difficult because we did try a few things and it was more about giving everyone opportunities,” she said. “We knew that we weren’t necessarily putting forward our World Cup plans, but those games were really close and I think we were able to learn from those losses.”
Whomever they face in the semifinals, New Zealand will certainly go in as the favourites, based on current form and with the lessons they have learnt from previous failed campaigns. “We’ve got a lot of experience being in final situations and that’s going to hold us in good stead moving forward,” said Devine, New Zealand’s Player of the Match against South Africa. “Most of our team have experienced being in a final, whether it is on a world stage or domestically. Also, the form that we are in, we know that if we can perform to the best of our ability we are going to be a really hard side to beat. We have earned the right to play the next game, but nothing further. So we need to turn up again against whomever we play and give it our all.”
From the very start of the tournament, both captain and coach have made it clear that they want to take the tournament one day at a time, a lesson they probably learnt from their loss to South Africa that knocked them out of the 2014 World T20 in Bangladesh.
Having buried those ghosts, New Zealand can finally look to the semifinal, but as Devine mentioned, they can look no farther and Bates too is of the same belief. “Semifinal and finals cricket is a totally different story and it doesn’t really matter what we have done leading up to that next game,” said the captain. “We are just going to make sure that we keep our feet on the ground because in semifinal cricket anything can happen and we don’t know who we are playing.”
With the laughter, enjoyment and confidence carrying them forward, New Zealand are most definitely the team to beat this World T20, but they are unlikely to buy that. If anything, they may just laugh at the thought!