Cricket

Breakthrough bowler lines up the Aussies

It’s a cricketing tale so often told: almost by default, the junior sibling in a large family becomes a very good bowler, forged by long spells with the ball in hand – and hardly ever getting a bat.

And so it is with the latest White Ferns pace bowling prospect, Rosemary Mair - a 20-year-old from Taradale whose skills were honed in the back yard against three cricket-mad older brothers.

“I could never get them out so I’d be bowling all day,” the Central Hinds’ rising star says.

Unsurprisingly, then, she prefers the chance to sink her teeth into longer bowling spells in the 50-over ODI format, over the typically bowler-unfriendly hustle and bustle of T20 cricket.

After surviving a trial-by-fire international debut in the 3-0 whitewash of India in the recent T20I series, Mair is chuffed to have been retained in the White Ferns squad that has travelled to Australia. Over the next 10 days, they will attempt to batter down the walls of history and claim their first Rose Bowl since 1999.

For the White Ferns, the Rose Bowl represents the ultimate challenge. Australia has dominated the trans-Tasman ODI series since it was introduced in 1984, winning 73 of 100 matches.

The summer of 2009/10 was particularly brutal, with the Aussies sweeping all eight matches in a home and away series. Things, though, have been a lot tighter of late, with the White Ferns claiming the first matches of both the 2015/16 and 2016/17 series, only to agonisingly fail to seal the deal.

After some tough times that have included an early exit from the T20 World Cup and a home series ODI loss to India, the Ferns have headed across the ditch in a relatively buoyant mood. Even if that may have been tempered by the loss of coach Haidee Tiffen, who opted not to tour after a review of the sub-par World Cup campaign recommended the coach’s role be advertised.

For Mair, the buzz of making her international debut in the 3-0 T20 sweep of India – and claiming the prized scalp of reigning ICC women’s world player of the year Smriti Mandhana in the process - certainly hasn’t faded.

“I did find bowling to some of [the Indian] batters pretty daunting,” she admits.

But, having played women’s senior cricket since the age of 13, against and alongside the likes of Abby Burrows, Rachel Priest and Sara McGlashan, in what was then a four-team Hawke's Bay competition, Mair is used to a challenge.

“It was pretty scary – a little 13-year-old getting smashed around the park,” she recalls of stepping from junior boys cricket into a women’s competition full of experienced adults.

That wheel has turned, with Mair now the player who Hawke's Bay’s aspiring youngsters look up to.

After its competitive women’s cricket competition decreased to just two teams in 2016, Hawke's Bay Cricket switched to an eight-a-side social format for female players aged 11 years and older, held on Friday nights.

Mair continues to play in that competition whenever she can. 

“She doesn’t bowl full pace to the younger kids or anything but they get a real buzz out of having her around,” Hawke's Bay women’s cricket development officer Bob Morgan says. “It’s really great that she’s still a part of it. It’s fantastic for the game here.”

This season that competition featured five teams. Next season, it's expected to increase to eight, across two divisions (competitive and non-competitive).

Just as she did against India, Mair survived the trial by fire of her early club cricket days – and then thrived. By 15 she was representing CD, building a resumé that includes captaining Hawke's Bay and CD’s U21 sides. “It feels like I have been around a while”, she admits.

International cricket, however, is a whole new ball game.

“When I bowl for CD I like to have my own plans, set my own fields,” she says.

For the White Ferns it’s more a case of doing as instructed.

With the T20s against India played as double-headers with the Black Caps, and all three matches going down to the wire, Mair was also subjected to an atmosphere she’d never previously experienced.

“It was so loud. We couldn’t hear what each other was saying. It was pretty cool. Usually you have to give energy to the team and make the atmosphere yourself, so it was awesome with heaps of people there,” she says.

The main thing going through her head in the dramatic finishes was: “Don’t stuff it up”.

White Ferns captain Amy Satterthwaite was particularly impressed with Mair’s calmness under pressure, particularly after receiving some early tap from Mandhana.

Mair’s strength was an uncanny ability to hit a length that troubled batters, Satterthwaite says.

“She hits that kind of awkward area and asks a lot of questions of the batters,” Satterthwaite says. “She’s someone who can beat the bat, which you don’t see a lot of in this day and age when batters are playing a lot more deliveries.

“That’s a useful thing for us to have. The beauty of her as well is that she can be very versatile and bowl at any stage of the game with some good variations. We’re excited to see what she can continue to produce for us.”

Mair is fully aware of the challenge that awaits in Australia, beginning with the first match of the three-match series at Perth’s famous WACA ground on Friday.

“They do have a really long batting line-up. So we’ll have to go into having made plans, stick to them and trust ourselves," she says.

"In the T20s [against India] we were under the pump in all three games but handled the pressure and came out on top. So everyone is feeling pretty confident going into Aussie.”

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