When New Zealand Women take on South Africa Women in Derby on Wednesday (June 28), it will be the 100th One-Day International for Suzie Bates, their captain. A large part of Bates’s success has been possible because of her strong opening partnership with Rachel Priest, the wicketkeeper who has often flown under the radar despite impressive numbers since being promoted to the top of the order during the tour of Windies in September 2014. Together, they have put on 1408 runs in 29 innings since coming together at the top – way ahead of the second-best opening association of 666 between Lauren Winfield and Tammy Beaumont for England Women in the same duration.
Priest herself is just a few weeks away from completing ten years of international cricket. She spoke at length to Wisden India about her natural hitting abilities, her relationship with Bates and the future of New Zealand Women, among other things. Excerpts:
You will be completing a decade in international cricket on July 19, but you have often flown under the radar…
I didn’t feel like it was coming up, to be honest. It feels a lot longer than that, and also a lot shorter than that. It’s a long time, but you also have to think that you have a long time retired also. I am really lucky and feel privileged to have played for New Zealand for so long, and am still enjoying it.
When I started my career, I batted lower down the order and was more of a pinch-hitter. I tend to think a lot of wicketkeepers just go under the radar. People don’t really notice you when you are playing well. It’s only when you start making mistakes (that you get spoken about). I am happy to be flying under the radar, to be honest. The big stars in our team have a lot of pressure on them to perform.
Why was the decision taken to promote you as an opener in 2014?
It was a probably a decision potentially between the selectors, Haidee (Tiffen, the coach) and Suzie. They had a discussion on how they want the team to move forward. Haidee told me about it. I was just told to play my natural game. There was no big pressure on me to play a certain type as I am naturally attacking. It just works. The team needed it at that time, I was there to fill that role.
We saw how we were playing one-day cricket and T20 cricket, and we wanted to change the brand. We wanted to be a bit more aggressive and make use of the first ten overs. I used to open in domestic cricket in New Zealand pretty much from the beginning. I have always been known as quite aggressive, not overtly technical. My role is to take off some pressure from the middle order. It doesn’t always come off. Also, just to take a bit of pressure off from Suzie at the other end.
I have had a lot of batting time in the last couple of years, and I feel privileged. Obviously, Suzie and me have built a relationship batting together. We know each other’s game really well, and I think we work really well together.
Deandra Dottin is often referred to as someone who made power-hitting popular in women’s cricket, but you too are a pioneer in that aspect. Now more teams are integrating that style into their play. How have things evolved from your perspective?
I guess I wasn’t trying to be a pioneer. I just naturally try to hit the ball hard and a long way, which can be my downfall at times as well.
Women’s game has changed a lot, especially in the ten years that I have been playing. I like to be aggressive early. It definitely will come into women’s cricket a lot more. You can see the teams are adjusting their batting order and having some of the hitters at the top. Usually those people would come at No. 6, 7, 8 trying to finish the innings. Women’s cricket has changed so much that you really need to be going from ball one. There are much bigger scores being hit and they are being chased down as well.
What kind of work did you do as a kid to develop your hitting abilities?
I played a lot of men’s and boys’ cricket growing up. There wasn’t much girls’ cricket happening in my area while growing up. I was really lucky to have a supportive club, coaches and mates. Maybe playing with the boys and against the boys just rubs on to you. You know you have to be more aggressive. Potentially the ball is coming on a bit harder, so you go a bit harder at it as well. To be honest, it wasn’t something I specifically worked on. I just naturally have an aggressive tendency, which, as I said earlier, can come off sometimes, but is not going to work every time. It just works for me.
Who were your heroes growing up?
Craig McMillian and Nathan Astle were quite big hitters in their day. Adam Gilchrist is another player I liked watching. Cricket’s changed a lot since I watched it in my younger days, when I first decided to play. Maybe that too has something to do with my aggressive nature. I saw that men’s cricket was changing and they were going a lot harder, even in Test matches. Nathan Astle scored 200 against England (222 off 168 balls in Christchurch), and I can vividly remember watching it on television. It gave me a thought that I would like to be hitting the ball into the stands. Men’s cricket has shaped my cricket as well.
How much have modern bats enabled your hitting abilities?
The bats have obviously gotten bigger. They have got a way to make bigger but lighter bats. My bats are made by MG2, which is a small company in New Zealand. It’s all hand-made. I have a lot to thank for those bats. I remember the first bat I ever played with as a child is completely different to the one I use now obviously – a lot smaller, not as good wood. A lot has to do with power, but I also have a lot to say for a really, really nice piece of wood.
I take a lot of inputs from Marty, my bat-maker. He knows my game really well. I know him from a long time, and he has been my sponsor from the start basically. He has a lot of knowledge. He has made bats for lots of good players. He sort of asks you things like where you want the middle, how you want the ‘V’ to be. I haven’t had a bad bat from him basically. He just hands me one and says try this out, and it is usually pretty good.
It was the series against Sri Lanka Women at home in 2015 that established you as an opener, when you hit two centuries in three games. What did you do differently in that series?
I did a lot of work in the winter with our batting coach, and tightened my batting a little bit. I think I had the mindset of giving myself the time to get in. Probably previous to that, I had gone really hard early and got out in the first five overs some times. We talked before the series that I can still be aggressive, but give myself the first five overs, adjust to the wicket, look at the bowlers because I hadn’t played Sri Lanka often outside of a World Cup. So, I really had a big push towards keeping the ball on the ground in the first few overs. It just came off in that series. That 157 (highest score by a wicketkeeper in ODIs) was pretty special, and was a back-up to the earlier 100 I had. Obviously to do that in front of a few family members was really special.
You have opened in 31 ODI innings now, but there have been no centuries except for those two. Do you regret it at times?
Hopefully I have a few more games left in me. I have had a few good scores – 70s and 80s. I think I will still sort of go hard. It doesn’t bother me, getting to those milestones, as long as we win games. If we won the game and I was on 85, it’s fine with me. I just try to get as many runs as possible for the team and if that turns into a hundred, then it’s great.
What is your relationship with Bates?
If I was half the player Suzie is, then I would be very, very happy. She is an amazing talent. I am lucky enough to often be in the best house in the seat to see her score those runs.
We are pretty good mates off the field. She has been there for my whole career. On the field, we know what our roles are. We are pretty relaxed out there and know each other’s game really well. We can chat about the game, have a bit of laugh if we need to, and we have been playing for a long time. Our job is to get the team off to a good start. We have had some good partnerships and that just takes some pressure off the middle order. It is just enjoyable to bat with someone with whom you have been playing for so long, and are good mates as well.
We both like to get going, so at times we have to rein each other in slightly. We don’t have to say much. We know each other well to speak one sentence and then we are sort of back on track. We have each other’s back, and hopefully we can have some more of the innings we have had in the past.
You are one of the wicketkeepers in the circuit who doesn’t wear traditional wicketkeeping pads…
My wicketkeeping style is not technical again. I sort of change from the traditional full-squat to a sort of half crouch. It’s not that many people do, but it sort of works for me. It is a powerful position to be in, which works for me.
I wear hockey nation pads, as it is about having the ease in moving around. I was playing in Jamaica and it was so hot. I said I can’t be bothered wearing pads anymore. I have had enough. I wore soccer nation pads at that stage, but I got some hockey nation ones after that.
The game evolves, and everyone is trying to find the easiest path to success and that’s just one thing that has changed. Now a lot of them are using it. My pads protect my shin, not my knees but the gloves are around there. You will have to be really unlucky to be hit right on your knee. I have been hit on my thigh a couple of times, but that will happen whether you wear pads or not.
New Zealand haven’t been able to win an ICC event yet, but what are your favourite memories?
There are so many memories in ten years. I can remember us winning the first T20I series against the Aussies. Beating the Aussies is always special, and that was awesome. We once won a game against England at Lord’s. There have been a lot of disappointments along the way; like you said, the World Cups haven’t really gone as per plan. But look, a lot of our memories are off-field stuff. We do a lot of travelling together in bus and planes. The good thing about this group is that we are just a bunch of mates. We are lucky enough that we have played together for a long time, we are good friends, we enjoy each other’s company, and have a lot of fun while we play. So, I feel really lucky to hold these people as some of my good friends. We will remain friends long after we finish playing cricket.
There are memories on the field, for sure, and lots of them are of watching my teammates score hundreds. Suzie and Amy (Satterthwaite), the other day (against Sri Lanka) batted beautifully. What’s good about this team is that we enjoy each other’s success. Hopefully, come the end of this World Cup and we will have more success.
New Zealand’s seam attack has always been good, but quite a few good spinners have emerged in the last couple of years. How have you adjusted to the change as a wicketkeeper?
We have some really, really good spinners in the domestic set-up and in this team. I am really lucky to have played domestic cricket with Amelia (Kerr), who is our 16-year-old legspinner. I had seen her prior to when she got into the team, which is lucky because she is quite tricky to bat as well as keep wickets to. We obviously play domestic cricket against each other as well. It’s about getting in and facing them a little bit at camps, and seeing the kind of balls they have and what they are going to try in different situations. If they kind of tell me that, then I am expecting it. We are really lucky to have a good crop of spinners. That’s another thing that has changed in women’s cricket – spin has really become a big part of it. Even from a batting perspective, it has led to adjustments. I generally tend to like the pace to be more, but I have worked pretty hard on my sweep shots and options against spinners.
As someone who has been integral in this side, how do you see the team evolving over the next five years?
We changed our brand a couple of years ago to be a little bit more aggressive. We would want to stick to that going forward. A lot has been spoken about how we are an old team, with a lot of people who have played for so long. Hopefully, we are inspiring the next crop of players to play the same brand as we have. It works for this group. We have always won well when we have stuck to our brand. It is something I am sure the coaching staff will keep pushing and keep trying to instill that into all the players who will be there after this World Cup or are going to come in as well. I think we have an environment where it is easy to come and express yourself.