Not bad for teen coaxed into playing

Former St Hilda's Collegiate captain Bella James shows off the prize she collected at the New Zealand cricket awards last week. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Former St Hilda's Collegiate captain Bella James shows off the prize she collected at the New Zealand cricket awards last week. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Bella James had her name scribbled down on the team list before she even arrived at St Hilda's Collegiate.

The school's cricket coach Neil Rosenberg had heard about this promising youngster from two pretty decent informers.

White Ferns captain Suzie Bates and former Otago spinner Emma Campbell had visited James' school in Arrowtown in a bid to drum up some enthusiasm for the sport. James stood out for her raw talent and the pair tipped off Rosenberg with an email.

That was five years ago. Last week, James was waiting nervously to go up on stage and collect her trophy at the New Zealand cricket awards.

The 18-year-old was named player of the tournament at the New Zealand secondary schools girls finals. The wicketkeeper-batsman captained an unbeaten St Hilda's team to glory late last year, and was the tournament's leading scorer with 191 runs at an average of 38.20.

''Being at the awards was quite surreal,'' James said.

''Just seeing all the players that you look up to like Suzie and Katey [Martin], who I am lucky enough to play with.''

It was a good night for Otago. Dunedin umpire Kannan Jagannathan was presented with the community cricket official of the year award for going out of his way to help junior umpires while developing his own skills.

Volts left-armer Neil Wagner won the Winsor Cup for bowling and was named test player of the year. Bates was named women's twenty20 player of the year.

Martin won the Ruth Martin Cup for domestic batting and provincial team-mate Leigh Kasperek scooped the Phyl Blackler Cup for women's domestic bowling.

It was mighty effort from the smallest of the six major associations.

For James, her journey from novice to champion secondary school player started with a little bit of encouragement from Bates and Campbell.

''They were throwing balls at me and said, 'Oh, you are quite good. Do you play?'''

When they found out James was moving to Dunedin, they let ''Rosie'' know.

''They had sent Neil Rosenberg an email and, as soon as I got to St Hilda's, he came up and said, 'Are you Bella James? You should play cricket'.''

Rosenberg nurtured her talent with his passion and enthusiasm for the St Hilda's cricket programme, and James did the rest.

''He is just incredible with the amount of effort and time he puts into it,'' she said.

While James, who starting studying sports management and coaching at Otago Polytechnic this year, was coaxed into the sport initially, she absolutely ''loves it''.

She has been playing for the Sparks since she was 15 and was part of the T20 squad which won the tournament this summer. She plans to keep playing and hopes to pursue an international career.

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