Cricket

Just 16, and already has Hearts in a spin

Spotted with a special talent, schoolgirl spin bowler Fran Jonas has been given an opportunity to develop the skills needed to become a White Fern 

She may have just signed on the dotted line of a contract with New Zealand Cricket, but Fran Jonas still has to ask her mum or dad to drive her to training.

Jonas has been recognised as a potential star of the game in New Zealand, thanks to the valuable weapon at her fingertips. But at the tender age of 16, she’s only just got her hands on a steering wheel with her learner's licence.

The left-arm orthodox spinner is the youngest of eight players from around the country who’ve been given development contracts with NZ Cricket for the approaching summer season.

A breakout star in her debut - at 15 - for the Auckland Hearts women’s side last season, Jonas will now come under the guidance of some of the best coaches in the country, and just as crucially, have her well-being as an elite sportswoman taken care of too.

It was a surprise, she says, to be seen as a prospective White Fern when she’s still in Year 11 at Baradene College. “But it’s so cool,” Jonas says. “I just want to develop my game and learn from other people.”  

She’s already learning a great deal from her Hearts captain, White Fern Anna Peterson, who's a spin bowler too.

Jonas remembers being "star struck" having a one-on-one session with Peterson when she was younger. And now they're team-mates. 

And Peterson, who’s just turned 30, may just learn a thing or two from the teenager.

“Spin bowling is an art. And Fran’s bowling is amazing,” Peterson says. "She has a really nice, fluid, repeatable action. She doesn’t need to overthink; the ball comes out really beautifully.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed having Fran in the group. The year before it was just me - and it was very hard being the only spin bowler. So we bounce ideas off each other.”

Her favourite player may be Black Caps spinner Mitchell Santner, but Fran Jonas has her "own thing going on".  Photo: Shovik Nandi/Auckland Cricket

Left-arm orthodox spinners aren’t exactly a rarity – think England women’s game-changer Sophie Ecclestone, former Black Caps captain Daniel Vettori and Jonas’ favourite player, Mitchell Santner. But they’re regarded as a valuable addition to a team.

“There aren’t many girls bowling left-arm spin…I don’t know of any other girls in Auckland anyway,” Jonas says.

Peterson is impressed by the way Jonas has kept her bowling simple, sticking to her stock ball last season, but she's now looking to introduce a few ‘change-ups’ – slower variation balls – to her repertoire.

“The two other great things about Fran are her mentality and her maturity. Pressure just doesn’t seem to get to her, yet. She’s stepped up in really big games in the big moments when we’ve needed her to,” says Peterson.

Like the final of the Hallyburton Johnstone Shield, the national 50-over championship, back in March. The Hearts beat the Northern Spirit in a high-scoring final, with Jonas claiming three wickets and bowling at the finish.

“She’s shown a maturity well beyond her years. She can handle her emotions and understand the pressure, and I think that’s just natural for her,” Peterson says.

“To get the development contract is a really just reward for what she’s done. Sure, she has heaps of talent, but she puts in a lot of work too. That’s something we really admire in her.”

Jonas started playing cricket at the age of six for the Cornwall club, where she still plays today. Like many kids, she followed her elder brother onto the pitch, and their dad, who’d never played cricket, became her coach.

She played with boys until she moved into hard ball cricket at 10. And then one day, she and her girl team-mates started mucking around at training, trying to spin the ball. And she became hooked.

“Dad tried to help me, but I’m left-handed, and he’s right-handed, so I played around with it myself,” she says. “Then in Year 7, my coach [at Baradene] was a left-arm spinner and he helped me.”

Almost unbelievably, three years later Jonas was fast-tracked into the Auckland Hearts.

Last year, she was playing for the Baradene 1st XI, the Auckland U21s, U19s and was in her last year with the U15s. She also turned out for the New Zealand U22 indoor cricket side. “Yeah that’s a lot of cricket, but it’s good,” Jonas says.

She started the Auckland women’s premier club season with a rush, taking 12 wickets for Cornwall in their first four games. And then having trained intermittently with the Hearts before the season, coach Nick White called on her to join the team for their first home game of the country’s premier women’s one-day competition.  

Making her debut was “definitely nerve-wracking," she says, "but everyone was really supportive, and all the girls were really good to me."

The Hearts have just started training for the 2020-21 season. Under Level 2.5, they work in groups of 10. Jonas has time to get home from school, do a little homework, then turn up for training at 6pm.

Young Hearts spin bowler Fran Jonas signs her autograph for an even younger fan. Photo: Phototek. 

She’s looking forward to discovering what her development contract will bring. The contracts were first introduced last season in NZ Cricket’s new Women’s Master Agreement. Each of the eight players earns $7500 to attend high performance camps and play in the two domestic competitions.

Two of Jonas' Hearts team-mates, Bella Armstrong, who's 20, and Skye Bowden, 19, also have contracts. 

Jonas wants to develop the batting side of her game. At the bottom of the order, the right-handed batswoman didn’t really get the chance to bat for the Hearts last season. 

NZ Cricket’s head of women’s high performance, Ant Sharp, says Jonas is “perfect” for the development contracts programme.

“We get to learn more about her as a person as well as developing her already exciting skill-set,” he says. “These contracts are about giving up-and-coming female cricketers a chance to develop their games by utilising the best coaching resources in the country.”

Part of the criteria for earning a development contract is players must have the potential to play professionally for their country in the future.

A place in the White Ferns is a dream Jonas has harboured since she was "quite young... I remember talking to the other girls in my team and saying ‘Wouldn’t it be so cool to play for the White Ferns?’” she says. “And it would be so cool to achieve it.”

It may not be this season, or the next – in time for the Cricket World Cup here in New Zealand in 2022.

But Peterson stresses it’s important Jonas still enjoys playing cricket with her schoolmates and other girls her own age for now.

“We’ve got to ensure the enjoyment factor is still there for her,” she says. “So many young girls are deemed too good for [age groups] or their schedules mean they can’t do both.

“But young girls need to be playing alongside their peers and dominating in their age groups, so they can come to a women’s domestic game and say ‘You know what? I took a five-for [five-wicket haul] last week, and now I can do that here’.”

Jonas is happy to take up for the challenge, and play as much cricket as she can.

* The eight NZ development contract players are: Bella Armstrong, Skye Bowden, Fran Jonas (Auckland); Katie Gurrey (Northern Districts); Jess Watkin (Central Districts); Rebecca Burns (Wellington); Jacinta Savage (Canterbury); Eden Carson (Otago). 

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