As extinction threatens, a star emerges

A little over 18 months ago, one of the world’s greatest wielders of a cricket bat was working in a veterinarian clinic in the little Canterbury town of Dunsandel.

Amy Satterthwaite, who has a degree majoring in animal science, was content in her full-time job as the office manager of Selwyn-Rakaia Vet Services, which specialises in the wellbeing of dairy cows. Over seven years, they gladly gave her time off to travel the world playing cricket.

But then, at 28 - an age when many top women cricketers decide to give up the game - Satterthwaite figured it was time to give cricket all she had. The North Canterbury farm girl who played her first match with boys aged eight, starred for the Canterbury women at 16 and hasn't missed a game since, could finally devote her full attention to the game she loved.

So she left the livestock to play in the new professional women’s cricket leagues in Australia and England.

When she returned home, she did the almost unfathomable – scoring four back-to-back centuries in One Day Internationals for the White Ferns.

A month on from scoring the final ton that put her in the world record books – a gritty and painful 102 not out against world champions Australia at Eden Park – Satterthwaite is still taken aback by her purple patch. Especially to be mentioned in the same breath as one of her childhood idols, Sri Lankan legend Kumar Sangakarra - the only other player in world cricket, man or woman, to achieve the feat.

As that last outstanding knock played out, the 30-year-old left-handed Satterthwaite was battling excruciating cramps in both calves and her groin, and it only briefly crossed her mind that she was on the verge of achieving something incredibly rare.

“I was in so much pain that it put me into a bit of a trance,” she says.

“But that was a good thing, not focusing on external things. I was pretty determined to win that game [the first in the Rose Bowl series]. It was our highest-ever run chase against Australia [276 runs] - so I knew it had to be a pretty big performance to achieve it. In doing so, I got the 100 and we got over the line.”

Still, the woman nicknamed Branch for her tall willowy stature, isn’t unsure how she kept upright for those 142 minutes. “That night I ended up on the bathroom floor, feeling like I had rigor mortis,” she says.

The timing of Satterthwaite's emergence as a genuine world class talent and the dramatic improvement of the White Ferns in head-to-head competition with the Australia's Southern Stars - the dominant force in the international game - would appear to fly in the face of a recent report that questions whether the sport in New Zealand is an "endangered species".

“We’re in a fragile place – a scary place right now."

Former Auckland cricketer Sarah Beaman's Women and Cricket Report , released in November last year, found that just 10 percent of cricketers in New Zealand were female – and 90 percent of those were aged under 12. Over the last 10 years, there was a 40 percent decline in secondary school girls cricket, and 90 percent of clubs didn’t have any all-girls teams at all.

The game is floundering.

And yet so far in 2017 the White Ferns have defeated Australia in a T20 series on Australian soil (including dismissing their arch rivals for a record low 66 in the series decider); gone within of whisker of recapturing a Rose Bowl trophy (awarded to the winner of an annual ODI series) that has eluded them since 1998; and produced a player who has equaled the world record for consecutive ODI centuries?

There is a danger, says Satterthwaite, that the recent upturn in fortunes at the highest level could produce a false sense of security around the strength of women’s game here..

“We’re in a fragile place – a scary place right now,” she says.

“In Canterbury, not only the numbers, but the quality of cricket being played, has declined a lot."

The good news is that eye-catching performances such as Satterthwaite's and the introduction of televised professional women's T20 leagues could well spark a revival of interest in the game.

As well as doing her bit as a role model on the big stage, Satterthwaite is putting in the hard yards at grassroots level Canterbury Cricket's women's cricket performance manager. This season she created a twilight schoolgirl competition “with a soft ball, eight-a-side, short but fun” format that proved highly popular.

"It’s slightly frustrating I can’t do more because I’m away so often, but rewarding in what I have been able to do in the last 18 months," she says.

On the pitch, Satterthwaite puts her form down to the good old fashioned cricketing staples of experience and time in the middle.

A member of the national side for a decade, she has spent the last two years working closely with former Canterbury Magicians team-mate and White Ferns coach Haidee Tiffen.

Building belief in her players is a key focus of Tiffen's - and an area Satterthwaite knew she needed to improve.

Known for being incredibly tough on herself, there have been times during her career where she felt she hadn’t contributed enough “big, match-winning performances”.

“Cricket can be pretty horrible at times when you’re not performing," she says.

When she was dropped from the White Ferns early in 2014, she considered quitting.

“But the positive thing was that I was hurting, so I knew I didn’t want to run away and give up. It motivated me to work harder. It’s been a good turnaround.”

Those who’ve seen the elegant shot-maker grow have always known she was something special. Her parents, Mike and Sue, often remind her of how, as a wee dot, she picked up her father’s bat and assumed the stance of a seasoned cricketer.

“No one had ever told me what to do, it just came naturally from hours of watching dad play,” she says.

Mike Satterthwaite was a stalwart in the Canterbury Country rep side, and later became chairman of Canterbury Cricket.

Amy grew up on the family’s 1500ha farm, Palmside, in Culverdon, where she shadowed her father, shearing sheep and driving tractors. In return, he spent hours with the eldest and sportiest of the three Satterthwaite kids, throwing a cricket ball to her on the back lawn, and teaching her how to bowl.

“I remember first playing cricket with the boys at the Culverden Domain, and getting a lot of stick, especially if I got a duck. But I kept going back,” she says.

She had to go to Christchurch to find an all-girls team.

Tiffen vividly remembers the lanky teenager’s debut in the Canterbury women’s side she captained. “Everyone had talked about this 16-year-old who had so much talent, and from that first game I knew we had something special,” Tiffen says.

“She brings a calmness to the crease. She’s a great thinker of the game. Her trademark shot is a classic drive through extra cover – and when she hits that spot, we know Amy is going to have a good day.”

Pokerfaced beneath her helmet, Satterthwaite says she’s not one to go shouting from the rooftops about her achievements, but there’s one she is “deep down pretty proud of”. Since that first game for Canterbury 14 years ago, she hasn’t missed a match for the Magicians. She is the Laura Langman of women’s cricket.

“It’s a pretty special record. But there’s the potential that it could come to an end next season, the way the cricket landscape is changing,” she says. She knows her hand could be forced to play overseas.

She’s loved her last two summers in the Australian Women’s Big Bash, playing for the Hobart Hurricanes – this January, she bowled the best figures of the season, 5-17, including a hat-trick. That’s another string to Satterthwaite’s bow – she’s a record-smashing bowler. In her Twenty20 debut in 2007, she took 6-17 against England; still the best bowling figures in women’s T20 internationals.

Then, in her custom of reinventing and reinvigorating herself, she converted from a right-armed medium pacer to a successful off-spinner.

Satterthwaite also played in the inaugural Kia Super League in England last year, captaining the Lancashire Thunder. This new professional era in women’s cricket is keeping Kiwi players in the game longer, and escalating their experience and building their confidence, she says.

“In the past, we put the likes of Australian and English players on a pedestal. They are amazing, but once you’ve played alongside them you realise you can match them,” she says.

That was evident in this year’s Rose Bowl series against Australia, where the White Ferns came achingly close to bringing the trophy home for the first time in 18 years. What also became obvious during the three-match series was the age difference between the sides.

“We had a chuckle when they put the players’ ages up on the big screen, and we were quite old compared to the Australians,” Satterthwaite says. “But it shows we’ve been able to keep a core group of experience together, creating some stability. They say that from a batting point of view, you don’t mature till your late 20s. Most of our top five are in their 30s.”

Being paid certainly helps to keep them playing. Last year NZC gave the White Ferns a 100 percent pay rise – with retainers ranging from $20,000 to $34,000 – still a far cry from the Black Caps’ pay cheques. “If you’d told me five years ago, I would be able to make a living out of cricket, I wouldn’t have believed you. That transformation has been amazing,” Satterthwaite says.

FOUR OF THE BEST - Satterthwaite's consecutive 100s

November 11, 2016: 137 not out v Pakistan at Lincoln

November 13, 2016: 115 not out v Pakistan at Lincoln

November 19, 2016: 123 v Pakistan at Nelson

February 26, 2017: 102 not out v Australia at Auckland

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