What went wrong for New Zealand at the ICC Women’s World T20 2018? Separating Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine for a start, writes Karunya Keshav.
When the New Zealand side landed in the Caribbean for the ICC Women’s World T20 2018, unfathomably chipper after a 40-hour journey, their biggest concern was that their beloved coffee maker, unlike their spirits, hadn’t survived the many flights.
For a team whose fuel is coffee and dance, ‘Marty’s cafe’ – the name a hat-tip to Katey Martin, who was in charge of it – was an integral part of recent tours of Dubai and England. The team called for, and got, a replacement from back home.
Fixing a broken World T20 campaign, however, will be a lot trickier.
The more time you spend doing something the better you are going to get at it
The tournament in the Caribbean is the fourth in a row where the team has underperformed, and the second soon after the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 in England in which they crashed out before the knock-out stage. So what has gone wrong?
New Zealand, the No.3 side on the MRF Tyres ICC Women’s T20I Team Rankings, are there for a reason. In the past year, they’ve been explosive in the 50-over and 20-over formats: they needed just 11 overs for a 10-wicket win over Ireland, reaching 142/0. For a few hours, against South Africa, they had the highest ever T20I score of 216/1. They thrice posted 400-plus totals in one-day internationals.
Their attitude has been a natural fit for the T20 game – good-natured, positive and lively, even discounting the caffeine high and musical boosts. Especially in the batting, before ‘fearless’ cricket became a T20 tactic, it was their primary setting. It helped that not only did they want to swat ball after ball into the stands, but they could also physically keep up the bludgeoning.
Much of this has to do with Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine. And therein lies the rub.
We thought we could potentially lengthen our batting order a little bit (by pushing Sophie Devine down)
In Bates and Devine, New Zealand have two players who go down as the greats of the limited-overs game. They have been the first names on teamsheets of leagues around the world. As a pair, there are few batters that have found more success: they have four century stands and seven fifties in T20Is; three and six respectively as the opening pair.
In the World T20, however, the two were split up. And it never quite seemed to work.
“We thought we could potentially lengthen our batting order a little bit,” said Maddy Green, the New Zealand vice-captain, explaining the decision. “[As] two of our key batters, if we can keep them batting for a long time throughout the course of the game, that's going to help us win games.”
But the line-up remained dependent on the two, with seniors like Amy Satterthwaite and Green herself not entirely comfortable in their short stays in the middle. Martin – who works in IT when not playing cricket, and apart from being wicket-keeper and Barista to the team is also tech support – has rediscovered runs and a stickiness at the crease in recent times, but doesn’t often find good support at the other end.
“It's just about winning critical moments in each game, and that's what Australia and India did against us in those first two games
Continuing to depend on them shows that work needs to be done on improving bench strength. “We've got glimpses of it (bench strength),” said Satterthwaite, the captain. “Certainly the odd player there, but it's probably something we've got to keep building.
“You've seen the likes of Australia and England with the competitions that they've brought in, that have started to probably grow their depths even more and we've got to keep addressing it in our country.”
“It would be good to get to a point where cricket is their primary focus,” added Martin, pointing to those players who balance the game with jobs or studies. Not everyone is on a contract, after all. “The more time you spend doing something the better you are going to get at it.”
Perhaps an issue that doesn’t have to wait a generational shift for a solution is how the team reacts under pressure. They’ve fallen apart in high-stakes games, including in 2016, the 2017 World Cup and in must-win clashes in this tournament.
The scheduling didn’t go in their favour in Guyana, having to play their Group B games against the toughest oppositions in India and Australia first up, both of which they lost. How might their confidence have been different had they begun with Devine’s 21-ball fifty against Ireland in their first match?
“It's just about winning critical moments in each game,” rued Green. “And that's what Australia and India did against us in those first two games.”
Martin too stressed on seizing the moments: “We’ve spoken a lot of performing under pressure. We’ve been training a lot more under pressure situations.” They’ll have to wait to put those skills to test again.
The White Ferns, like the Black Caps, are an extremely likable team. They’re athletes and entertainers. In a way, so far, they’d been punching above their weight, driven by that natural feel for T20 cricket. But as the competition closes in, they will have to quickly smell the coffee and maybe stir the pot a little bit.