Devine’s intervention brings new joy at the crease

The swashbuckling Sophie Devine has changed the way she sees her cricket career – and it’s paying off for the White Ferns. Suzanne McFadden reports.

Sophie Devine - the explosive, daring boundary-hunter of women’s cricket - has taken a new outlook on life and the game that she loves.

The White Ferns' powerful all-rounder says she now sees cricket “more as a game, than my whole life” – and that’s reflecting in the way she’s playing on the White Ferns’ current tour of Ireland and England.

In the past few weeks, she’s blasted the fastest century in New Zealand one-day history, from 59 balls off Irish bowlers; joined her captain Suzie Bates in scoring 182 for the first wicket against South Africa, a record for any wicket in men’s and women’s T20 internationals; and scored back-to-back 50s on the same day against South Africa and England.

This summer,  28-year-old Devine was crowned New Zealand women’s player of the year for both ODIs and T20s, after her stunning performances with both bat and ball against Pakistan and the West Indies.  

In last year’s World Cup, she provided one of the rare glittering moments for New Zealand, smacking nine sixes against Pakistan – setting the world record for most sixes in a women’s ODI innings. 

As Devine, who first made the White Ferns at 17, takes more enjoyment from the game, she wants to pass on the wisdom she's gathered to young players in the New Zealand side.

“If I can help those girls feel comfortable in this environment, and help them grow as players, then that’s something bigger than any records or whatever else I leave behind,” she says.

Devine became a full-time cricketer in 2013, having put her hockey career on hold when she missed out on the Black Sticks for the London Olympics. But in the last two years she’s worked on getting "a better perspective on life".

“When I was younger, I attached how I performed on the field to who I was as a person. Now, the biggest thing for me is to get to play with a bunch of mates around the world and have fun,” she says.

“I think it helps with the ups and downs you have in cricket. It’s definitely helped to level me out emotionally - if I get a duck or I’m scoring runs, I’m still the same person off the field.

“If I’d known this as a 20-year-old kid … But it’s all about learning, and you have to go through it and come out the other end. Now I know that it’s okay if I don’t score runs, that I can actually give something to the team if I don’t achieve in the field. I can still bring my energy and help my team-mates out.”

She hopes young White Ferns like Amelia Kerr and Jess Watkin will learn earlier than she did how to take enjoyment from being part of a team.

“Yeah, we always want to win, and we want to contribute to the team’s success. But at the end of the day we’re also working hard off the field and enjoying each other’s company,” Devine says.

“That’s what you’re going to remember 10, 20, 30 years down the track. Not a tour game against England in Chelmsford.”

Indeed, that last game against England in Chelmsford – the T20 tri-series final earlier this week – is a memory the White Ferns will be hoping to quickly erase.

New Zealand’s seven-wicket loss in the final was the third time in 10 days they’d been brought to their knees by the English. In fact, the White Ferns haven’t beaten England since February 2015.

“England seem to be our bogey team at the moment,” Devine says, on the eve of a three ODI series with the English, starting in Leeds on Saturday night (NZ time). 

“They’re not the world champions for nothing. The whole point of this tour was to come over and get exposure to great cricket before the T20 World Cup. England are a really slick unit; the way they’ve executed with both bat and ball has been fantastic for us to see how they operate. But we need to make sure we stand up and stick to what we’re good at.”

The White Ferns have acknowledged a number of areas they could be “a lot better at”, Devine says.

“One of them is our bowling - we haven’t been consistent enough. A side like England will put you away if you can’t put dot balls together, and you can’t build pressure,” she says.

“It doesn’t help that we haven’t been scoring the runs we would have liked, especially with the platform we sometimes lay down. But we’ve got to get the balance right, and make sure we have enough runs for our bowlers to bowl at, and put pressure on their batters.”

Devine has been opening the batting with Bates, who’s also been in recording-smashing form, and together they clouted 55 off the first five overs in the tri-series final. But once they were dismissed, the White Ferns’ middle order slumped. Devine wouldn’t place the blame on them.

“I know from personal experience that batting in the middle order is bloody tough work. You’re expected to go in and score at a 100-plus strike rate from ball one, and it’s not the easiest thing to do. The girls we have in those positions are great players and the whole team has full confidence in them. It’s more about executing our plans and being smart about it,” she says.

She’s relished the chance at the top of the order with Bates.

“We’ve been together not even 12 months yet. But to be able to bat at the other end to Suzie - who I think is one of the best batters this country has ever seen, and probably the world too - makes my job a lot easier,” she says.

“We know we have to set the platform. If we can kick on and one of us is still there in the 15th or 18th over, that’s going to put us in a really good position to make the most of those final overs.”

The White Ferns head to Leeds tomorrow, after a practice game with an English academy side to help them switch back to the 50-over mindset. Devine can’t wait to meet England in the form of the game she loves most.

“A lot of people have said T20 cricket is the way forward for the women’s game, and I don’t necessarily disagree with that. It’s great for the fans; it’s exciting,” she says. “But I’ve always loved 50-over cricket and the level of skill required. T20 cricket can be a big hit and giggle, where one person can have a bit of luck and win the game.”

Devine isn’t thinking about leaving cricket any time soon (although she says her body is “screaming at me something different”).

Still enjoying the game, she’s excited by the opportunities springing up in semi-professional T20 leagues. She’s been in dominant form for the Adelaide Strikers in Women’s Big Bash League across the Tasman, voted the team’s most valuable player this season.

“Part of me is quite jealous of the likes of Amelia and Jess. They’ve timed their run perfectly,” Devine laughs. “It’s an awesome time for women’s cricket, and it’s awesome for women’s sport.

“The coolest thing is that it’s encouraging more girls to get active, and that’s something I’ve always been passionate about. Find something that you love and just get out there with your mates.”

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