Tahuhu out to remain the world’s fastest bowler
Back from a freak injury, White Ferns quick bowler Lea Tahuhu continues to make the most of her 'gift' as the world's fastest woman with a cricket ball
There are more than a few players around the cricket world who wish Lea Tahuhu had stuck with her first role in the sport.
She started playing the game as an eight-year-old, as a batswoman. It didn’t take long for things to change.
Now the Canterbury player is arguably the fastest bowler in the women’s game worldwide, well capable of putting the wind up any batswomen who take her lightly.
She’s among the leading players in the White Ferns, a key figure alongside the likes of Suzie Bates, Sophie Devine, Amelia Kerr and her partner in life, Amy Satterthwaite.
And she’s also making an impact leading the pace attack of the Melbourne Renegades, who sit mid-table in the Women’s Big Bash League across the Tasman. Satterthwaite, who’s expecting their first child early next year, has been in Melbourne doing a spot of specialist coaching with the side she captained the past two seasons.
Cutting to the chase, has Tahuhu’s speed ever been measured?
Try 126kph, during the world T20 in the Caribbean a year ago. That’ll do nicely.
You could call her the White Ferns’ Shane Bond or Lockie Ferguson. Then again, don’t.
Where the former champion quick Bond and the current Black Caps speedster Ferguson have clocked up 150kph or just over – and a rare few men have been timed at 160kph - that’s hardly a fair comparison, for all sorts of physiological reasons best saved for another day.
However, the mantle of the world’s fastest woman sits neatly with the 29-year-old Tahuhu.
She has former England and Canterbury wicketkeeper Mandie Godliman to thank, along with the caretaker at her Linwood North primary school in Christchurch, for the route her life has taken.
It was the school groundsman who first spotted a bit of early talent.
"I was eight and he saw me mucking around at lunchtime,’’ Tahuhu recalls.
‘"He played for the St Albans club. He had a chat with my parents and asked would my sister and I be keen on signing up? Twenty-one years later, I’m still playing for Saints.’’
Godliman, who played one test and a handful of ODIs for England in the early 2000s, had moved to New Zealand and was coaching in Christchurch when Tahuhu was at Aranui High School.
She was playing age group tournaments with Christchurch Metro - as a batswoman.
"It wasn’t till I was 13 or 14, and had grown a little bit, that I turned up to winter training and could actually bowl a little quicker than the others,” Tahuhu says. ‘’Mandie said we should invest in this a bit and see where it goes.’’
It was a significant development, not only in the future for the White Ferns but also importantly for the young teenager.
"I think as a kid you just want to do everything, be involved in the game as much as you can,” says Tahuhu.
"Once I realised I had a little more pace, it meant I would open the bowling, so that meant I was in the game straight away, which was fun. That was one thing that made me want to stick with it.
"And as I got older, I thought not a lot of the other girls were able to bowl as quickly, so that was a point of difference that made me think it would take me somewhere.’’
So far, Tahuhu has totted up 66 ODIs, taking 70 wickets at 31.2 runs, and 50 T20 internationals, bagging 44 wickets at 20.8 apiece. She’s a blink outside the top 10 in rankings in both forms of the game.
She made her debut in both disciplines in June 2011, just 11 days apart. The ODI start in Brisbane was made memorable by the game being delayed by a couple of days for bad weather, heightening the nerves, but also for the fact her father was in the stand watching.
And a third point about that day: she took her maiden international wicket, none other than Australian captain and star batsman Meg Lanning, bowled for 11. As an opening scalp that surely whetted the appetite.
Being at the top of any particular tree leads inevitably to athletes scrapping hard to avoid relinquishing No.1 spot. Tahuhu is no different.
There’s a 20-year-old from Bendigo, Tayla Vlaeminck, who is just breaking into the Australian team. She’s been clocked at 120kph and has age on her side.
She’s also already had two anterior cruciate ligament injuries and a dislocated shoulder, so best wait and see.
"When you can hit those faster speeds, you don’t want to give it away,’’ Tahuhu says.
"It can be hard on the body sometimes, but you’ve got to take that gift you’ve been given and do the best you can.’’
Tahuhu is back from a bizarre injury suffered during the final of India's Women's T20 Challenge in May. As her Supernovas side scored the winning runs, Tahuhu punched the air in victory - painfully dislocating her shoulder. She was back at the bowling crease by August, fortunately avoiding surgery.
So why is she able to bowl faster than anyone else? No doubt there’s a bit of luck involved in terms of injuries, or lack of them. But Tahuhu has heard other theories.
"I’ve been told recently it’s my quick arm speed which allows me to get a little bit quicker. But I don’t think pace bowling has a certain makeup, if you will,” she says.
“Look at [Black Cap star left armer] Trent Boult, he’s on the slender side and can bowl quick, and [Australian] Mitch Starc. Then you have bulkier pace bowlers.
"I don’t think there’s anything that allows you to do it. It’s a feeling, and for me it’s all about rhythm. If you get good rhythm to and through the crease, then you are able to generate good pace.’’
Tahuhu turned professional in 2015, getting a Women’s Big Bash League contract with the Melbourne Renegades; with that and her New Zealand Cricket contract, she was able to focus fully on her cricket.
"It was a really big moment in my life. Not a lot of people can call themselves a professional female cricketer; it is very special and something I’m very thankful for.’’
The White Ferns’ last two major international assignments have been disappointing. Both the World Cup in 2017 – where they lost to Australia, England and India to miss the semi-finals - and the World T20 in the Caribbean worked out poorly.
But there are hopes for a significant improvement at the next global T20 event, in Australia in March, and not to forget the 2021 World Cup, which will be staged in New Zealand.
South Africa are in New Zealand for a lengthy series of matches early next year, acting as a lead-in to the T20 event.
"We’ve certainly got a very good team and should have a good crack,’’ Tahuhu says of the T20. ‘’Seven of us are playing in the WBBL so that’s going to be good preparation.’’
As for the World Cup on home turf, it’s all very well to say there’s a lot of cricket to be played before then. Still, it’s in the minds. Tahuhu says the players do talk about it.
"We want to leave a bit of a legacy on the New Zealand public. Having a home World Cup is incredibly special. I know the girls are really excited and dreaming of holding the trophy aloft before family and friends,’’ she says.
Tahuhu has a more personal big moment well before then, however, with her first child due to arrive in early January.
She has it all worked out. The WBBL final is on December 8, which is when she’s hoping she will finish her stint and head home to Satterthwaite in Christchurch.
Things are, she says, ‘’ticking along well’’. When she gets home ‘"we’ll be on high alert’’, she quips.
A busy life is about to get a lot busier.