Cricket: Suzie Bates - from the backyard to best in the world

New Zealand women's cricket captain Suzie Bates displays her technique to young players at the...
New Zealand women's cricket captain Suzie Bates displays her technique to young players at the Edgar Centre. Watching (from left) are Megan Meltzer (12), Sophie Dijkstra (13), Libby Briggs (9) and Jordan Meltzer (10). Photo by Linda Robertson.
Bates in younger days. Photo supplied.
Bates in younger days. Photo supplied.

There is no better subject to begin our series celebrating women in sport than Suzie Bates. The champion Otago sportswoman has starred for her country in two sports and can now make a living from her No 1 code. She talks to sports editor Hayden Meikle.

From exile in the referees' room to a car with her own photo on the side.

From the pigtailed schoolgirl to the inspirational promoter of the sport she loves and wants other women to embrace.

From backyard cricketer to the best player in the world.

Suzie Bates has come a long way.

The multi-talented Otago star has been breaking through barriers since she picked up a cricket bat, and the past 12 months have brought another series of epochal moments for the one they call Super Suzie.

In February, she followed a phenomenal domestic summer - 705 runs at an average of 117.50, including three centuries - by being named the player of the Women's World Cup, scoring 407 runs (average 67.83).

Two months later, she was unveiled as one of four players in the first wave of New Zealand women to receive full-time cricket contracts.

On Friday, she was named women's ODI player of the year at the International Cricket Council awards.

Captain of the New Zealand cricket team. An Olympian, in basketball. A strong, passionate, dedicated, vibrant - and marketable - young athlete.

The dollars should be rolling in. Sponsors should be falling over themselves to link with this superstar. And she should be on the evening news more than some rugby team training in summer.

It is impossible not to suspect all those things would be happening if she was Simon Bates, not Suzie Bates.

''You do get a little envious of some male sportsmen who perhaps take what they get for granted,'' she said.

''You wonder if administrators don't value us as much as the men, of if the public aren't entertained by some women's sports as much as they could be if we were exposed more.

''I don't necessarily think being fully professional is where something like women's cricket is at. But I guess you do want to be rewarded for the effort you put in.''

The White Ferns are seldom on television, so they get no real opportunity to promote their sport to the masses.

Bates wonders if the cricket powers-that-be have got into a chicken-and-egg situation.

''People think that when we do well, and start winning, we'll get on TV and our profile will go up.

''But wouldn't it be better to invest a bit of money and get the White Ferns on TV anyway? Cricket people will watch it and our profile will rise.''

Then there is that other thorny issue which inevitably arises in women's sport: sex appeal.

These are more enlightened times but only a fool would deny there are still links between the perceived attractiveness of a female athlete and her profile and earning power.

''I see which sportswomen are really pushed,'' Bates said.

''You look at some of the hockey girls. They've had success. But they are also attractive and blonde, and I guess sponsors see that as what the public wants.

''We've seen it in cricket. People want to promote the more feminine-looking ones. And that's a shame, because anyone can be a role model.

''They were promoting this American football game a while back with women in lingerie. I really struggle to see how that sort of thing can be promoted.''

Bates is one of four notable sporting siblings, nourished by parents Robin and Jo. She has two older brothers, Tom and Henry, both of whom were useful cricketers. Younger sister Olivia plays netball for Otago.

The story goes that Suzie Bates was born late at night, and her parents were informed they had a third boy. It turned out to be a daughter, but one who would grow up tagging around with the boys and cut her cricketing teeth with her brothers in the backyard.

''I just remember bowling to Tom for hours and hours. He would let me bowl from about a metre away. I didn't often get a bat, but I was always involved. They'd even let me play in games when their friends came over.''

Bates also tried football and rugby - she made the Otago under-11 rugby team and was forced to get changed in the referees' room on her own at a tournament - but basketball and cricket, especially, were her chosen sports.

A strong and skilled girl, she played organised cricket in boys grades, and even went to the South Island primary schoolboys tournament with the Otago team.

''I do wonder what might have happened if I had kept playing with the boys. They got stronger and faster, obviously, but it would have been interesting to see how I would have gone.''

At Otago Girls' High School, a request was made for Bates to play for Otago Boys'. It was politely declined - the Bates family understood, as it would have meant a boy at the school missing out - but Otago Girls' did get to play in a boys grade.

Bates later played for University-Grange men's teams at second and third grade level.

''Club cricket was interesting. University-Grange was an awesome club, because both my brothers were there. But the opposition wasn't always friendly. The most sledging I've ever had would have been in a second grade game.

''I didn't enjoy some of the men's cricket at first, but I sort of got over it.''

Bates has played the occasional game of senior men's cricket in recent years but now gets her fill of action through the White Ferns programme, the Otago Sparks in the domestic competition and stints for Western Australia.

None of those gigs will make her a millionaire but the New Zealand Cricket contract, which allows her to play and train and coach and promote the sport, provides some security.

''It's been challenging. I didn't quite know what to expect, but the fact NZC have recognised the women's team is pretty exciting,'' she said.

''We've got a long way to go. There have been a few teething problems and we haven't quite had a clear direction of what they want us to deliver.

''I'm coaching girls in the winter, trying to get round the regions to support women's cricket and get into schools, and basically be a role model.

''Initially, I probably struggled with the concept of being a role model.

"I took for granted the position I was in. But then you hear some really nice comments from parents, and you think back to when you were a girl getting into cricket.

"If I can inspire one or two girls to want to play cricket for Otago and New Zealand, it's worth it.''

Basketball has taken a back seat since she was given the New Zealand cricket captaincy two years ago, but Bates still managed to fit in some games on the hardwood for Otago this year.

Another big cricket event, the women's world twenty20 tournament, looms in March, and the White Ferns skipper is desperate to help her team win a major title.

Maybe then, Super Suzie and her colleagues will get some of the attention they deserve.

TOMORROW: The Football Ferns, and women in racing.



Suzie Bates
Sporting queen

Age: 26.

Born: Dunedin.

Education: Otago Girls' High School, University of Otago.



Right-hand batsman, right-arm medium-pace bowler.

White Ferns debut 2006.59 ODIs, 1923 runs (average 36.98), five centuries, 44 wickets (average 30.97).54 T20s, 1202 runs (strike rate 102.29), five 50s, 26 wickets (average 23.65).

Named player of the 2013 Women's World Cup.

Named ICC women's ODI player of 2013.

New Zealand ODI record 168 v Pakistan at 2009 World Cup.

Debut for Otago Sparks aged 15.73 domestic one-day games, 2071 runs (average 33.95), four centuries, 74 wickets (average 30.56).

Domestic record 183 not out v Auckland, 2005-06. Also has the second (164 not out v Wellington) and third (160 not out v Canterbury) highest domestic innings.

Also plays for Western Fury in Australian league.



Point guard.

Played for Otago Breakers and Otago Goldrush.

Tall Ferns debut 2007.

Played in 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Appeared for the Christchurch Sirens and Logan Thunder in the Australian national league.


Suzie on. -

1 The standard of women's cricket: I think it's improved massively at the international level, in terms of athleticism, the ability to hit the ball hard, the throwing. That's because other countries have professionalised their teams. Domestically, the top three or four from each team have improved, but the next tier has stayed the same for about 10 years.

2 Not getting to play test cricket: I come and watch first-class games at the University Oval and all I can think is how good it would be to be able to bat for as long as you want. I would love to have even one test a year.

3 Basketball: I looked quite heavily into going to an American college. But I think Cricket might have caught wind of it because I made the New Zealand cricket team that summer. I think I could have gone over there, and not looked back. But it just wasn't to be.



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