Scoring victories for women in cricket

David Leggat meets the two women who've collected national cricket honours traditionally won by men. 

Among the 26 New Zealand Cricket awards handed out this year over video linkup - celebrating the great, the good, the promising and the honest servants of the game - there were two which stood out for their relative rarity.

Kim Cotton was awarded 'New Zealand Umpire of the Year', and Annette Campbell received the 'Official of the Year' honour under the community cricket block of awards.

What made their honours significant was they were the only awards open to both men and women - and were won by women.

This shouldn’t matter these days – time was when the only award a woman might have won was for rustling up best tea and scones at the lunch interval.

Thankfully, those times have long gone. Both women were chuffed with their recognition – and even if they were received without the ringing applause which they would have got in normal circumstances, you get a feeling both would do it for nix, such is their affection for the game.

They came to cricket in very different ways.

Kim Cotton - Umpire of the Year

Cotton, born in Auckland, led a nomadic lifestyle through her early years, thanks to her father’s job as a Woolworths branch manager, often overseeing the final stages of new builds.

She and her older sister and younger brother saw plenty of the country for a time. A deep breath and off we go… two years in Fiji were followed by Auckland, Gore (where Kim started primary school), then Invercargill (where she began playing cricket at school), and Nelson.

That was followed by two years in the United Kingdom, playing cricket in Kent, then Christchurch for six years and Timaru for four, during which time she took up umpiring.

She then settled in Kaiapoi, on the northern outskirts of Christchurch, where she’s in practice as a lawyer.

She often played in boys’ teams at primary and intermediate schools, and while attending Nayland College in Nelson, played in men’s club cricket. Those four years Cotton describes as “character building”.

“A couple of teams had young lads. I was more of a bowler and they didn’t like getting out to a girl,” she says. “The guys in my team weren’t happy about that. They were very supportive and pointed out they were just insecure.”

Cotton began contemplating umpiring as she realised the clock was ticking on her playing days.

“When I moved to Timaru for my first job as a lawyer, I played a little but I was getting on a bit, so I thought what would I do if I wasn’t playing?” she says

“I decided to give umpiring a go and if I didn’t enjoy that, I’d give scoring a go because I just love cricket.”

NZ Cricket’s presentation referred to 42-year-old Cotton’s ‘‘meteoric” rise through the ranks. Clearly there’s an aptitude for that form of officialdom.

“The learning of the laws came quite easily to me after having studied for law,” she says. “I know I made a lot of mistakes early on. It’s a learning curve. There’s a lot more to umpiring than you appreciate as a player.”

In June 2011, Cotton officiated in her first Hawke Cup game between Mid-Canterbury and Otago Country, a step down from first-class cricket. But the trajectory was heading steadily upwards.

 She’d started umpiring in men’s senior club cricket in Timaru and for a time she reckons 99 percent of her work was in the men’s game. Now she says that’s turned around to be about 80 percent of her activity being in women’s cricket.

Cotton is yet to officiate in a men’s Plunket Shield first-class game, but made her 50-over Ford Trophy debut last November – Auckland’s 167-run flogging of Canterbury at Hagley Oval. New Zealand has a top domestic list of nine umpires – all men – and she’s the sole female member on the reserve panel of 12.

She’s now totted up standing in 20 international matches, 16 T20s and four ODIs since 2018. Her first men’s international came early this year, as third umpire in New Zealand’s ODI against India in Hamilton.

But easily her biggest thrill so far has been officiating the final of the women’s World Cup at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in March this year. The game, in which Australia beat South Africa, drew a staggering audience of over 86,000.

“The noise from the crowd was amazing,” she recalls.  It was very well promoted – you could tell they’d put a lot of effort into it.”

Cotton can’t think of a specific low point, other than to accept all umpires make mistakes.

“Initially it did nag at me, but that’s part of the learning curve. Now I can acknowledge if I get it wrong, and park it to one side. That’s one thing you’ve got to learn as an umpire,” she says.

Being nominated was “a nice surprise” and as she watched the video of her year, and what she’d done: “I thought that sounded pretty good. And it was nice, all the messages I got, from scorers and former umpires. All the hard work paid off.”

Annette Campbell - Official of the Year

Campbell’s introduction to cricket could scarcely have been more different. A World Cup was looming and her son Stuart expressed an interest in taking up the sport.

Papatoetoe was the local club, and Stuart started in the under 14-18 age group. His mum got involved as there were not a lot of parents there for the teenage age group.

“I put my hand up to manage a team and that’s when I started scoring,” Campbell says. “I enjoyed it because I enjoy numbers and the logic of everything balancing. If someone doesn’t like numbers, then they won’t like scoring. It’s not theoretical; it’s practical.”

Now retired, Campbell had worked in the film industry, in administration and accounting roles, before moving into finance.

Annette Campbell scoring at Cornwall Park on the last day of Auckland club cricket before lockdown. Photos: supplied

She had no previous interest in cricket; there were no ties to the sport in her family.

“It was because someone needed to do it and I enjoyed it because you’re so much more immersed in the game than just watching it,” she says.

“People say umpires have the best seats in the house, but actually the best seat is the scorers because at any given point, you know exactly everything about the state of the match.”

Since starting scoring, Campbell has had one break from the duty when she switched from Papatoetoe seniors to the Cornwall club – “It was about two weeks”.

She still scores for Cornwall, a 20-year unbroken run, and has been doing the book for Auckland from around the mid-1990s. Don’t ask her to remember specific dates or games. That’s not what she got into it for.

“When you start doing it, you never think you’re going to go on for years. I’ve never taken a note of what games I’ve done,” she says.

When NZ Cricket took over organising scorers for the six major associations over a decade ago, Campbell was installed as Auckland’s regional scoring manager, ensuring games that mattered had scorers appointed.

She’s been in the stands, or pavilions for men’s and women’s cricket for an age, part of the furniture at Eden Park and the other club grounds in the region.

International appointments came along from about the mid-90s – true to her word she can’t recall the first, but has particularly enjoyed occasions when England, with their travelling fans, have been in town helping produce a rousing atmosphere.

The game has changed in Campbell’s time. The pen and paper are gone; now at Eden Park there’s a scoreboard to maintain, and an NZ Cricket website to service.

She likes that scorers and their contributions are now more recognised. “We are the hidden officials. Umpires are the obvious ones and it’s been quite a battle for recognition, and continues to be in some instances.

“The value of scorers to the game is now more critical, and it is a big commitment. It can be very difficult to get people to do it.”

It’s been a big season for Campbell. She was also awarded Auckland Cricket’s Carton Cup for long volunteer service.

She’s on the Auckland Cricket Umpires’ and Scorers Association and is a board member of the national body of the same name.

As for the NZ Cricket award, Campbell admits she was “flabbergasted” when told the news – “completely out of left field”.

There have been thrills along the way, such as working at the Pacifica Cup in Auckland in 2001, which was a pre-qualifier for the following World Cup, and working at the Asian Games in South Korea six years ago.

But it would be hard to top scoring when New Zealand beat South Africa in the men’s World Cup semifinal at Eden Park in 2015 – the night of Grant Elliott’s memorable clout into the stand at wide long on from the penultimate ball by Dale Steyn to end one of the most thrilling of all one-day internationals.

“Never for a minute would I have thought when I picked up a pen and scorebook that I would end up having that opportunity,” Campbell says. “I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to have had that experience.”

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