Bates rides crest of cricket’s wave

Suzie Bates is one of the modern breed of cricket stars with their ‘have bat, will travel’ careers. The New Zealand captain is back with inaugural champions Southern Vipers for the second Kia Women’s Super League, starting today. Alex Smith catches up with the all-rounder

Suzie Bates is the second best Twenty20 cricketer in the world and she has a minor gripe with her accommodation in Southampton. “As you get a little bit older you want the comfort of a lounge,” she says.

Even after the joint successes of the World Cup and the inaugural Kia Women’s Super League last summer, Bates and her Southern Vipers team-mates are again billeted in university halls.

It is a far cry from the men’s game: Hampshire’s overseas megastar, the Pakistani Shahid Afridi, boasts a plush suite at the Hilton Hotel overlooking the Ageas Bowl where the Vipers begin their title defence against the Western Storm today. And all Wisden’s Leading Woman Cricketer in the World 2015 wants is a lounge.

Instead, the New Zealander has been forced to roll back the years to her student days of almost a decade ago. But it didn’t faze her last year and it won’t faze her in 2017.

“With the team we have it suits some of the girls really well that they can go back to uni and they love it in halls. There are two floors and it is no coincidence there is a youngies and an oldies floor. I went and visited the young girls the other night and they had the Xbox out. I wasn’t any good at it. But I’m fine with staying in halls again, though, as it is going all right … at the moment!”

Bates was the second highest run scorer in the Super League last year, with 232 stylish runs including a match-winning 52 in the final. She was also the second best wicket-taker in the competition with nine. So she might have expected more than basic accommodation in return for her key role in the Vipers’ success. But at least she has a brand spanking new set of wheels, courtesy of tournament sponsors Kia.

Bates is an all-rounder in every sense. Before becoming the White Ferns’ captain, and opening both batting and bowling for franchises around the world, Bates juggled cricket with basketball, and even represented New Zealand at the 2008 Olympics. She eventually decided to go full-time with cricket after realising with a heavy heart that it offered a better career path – despite her sister Olivia recently earning a professional netball contract.

“If I was to pursue basketball then it was going to be in Australia or overseas and I wasn’t quite ready to give up playing for New Zealand at the time,” Bates admits. “I’m glad I have gone this way and I still love it. Besides, I’m not sure if my body could handle all the impact [of basketball], but I would like to get back out there at some point.”

In a world of Chris Gayle, Kevin Pietersen and Aaron Finch, Bates is foraging her own career as a ‘have bat, will travel’ superstar. The 29-year-old has already slogged her way this year through the Big Bash in Australia and Rose Bowl in New Zealand before landing in the UK to give Hampshire’s women a helping hand in division two of their 50-over competition – she averaged 130 – in preparation for the Super League.

She said: “It is really hard to turn those things down. You are very conscious that the game is only going to get bigger and better, and when you are in the mix then you have to make the most of the opportunity. There are going to be younger players coming through, and while I am wanted then I am going to keep on saying yes.”

Another in the cricket version of the Harlem Globetrotters is New Zealand cricket’s master blaster, and one of Bates’s heroes, Brendon McCullum. She admits she gets star-struck around her fellow Dunedian. “It might have reduced a little bit now because I saw him around the Champions Trophy,” Bates confesses with a red face.

“I went up to Cardiff to catch up with some of the New Zealand cricket media guys and he sat down for half an hour and had a chat. Then you realise he is just as down-to-earth as most people are from Otago.

“I think it came from when I was younger. It is hard to get rid of that young girl who fell in love with the game, and he was one of the players I loved watching. There are players like him and Nathan Astle who are my memories of watching cricket and idolising cricket players.”

The Vipers will play two of their three Super League games at the 16,500-capacity Ageas Bowl, where there were competition-high attendances last year. After England’s World Cup triumph over India in front of a packed Lord’s last month, Bates is hoping to feel the love on a domestic level.

“Even I was surprised that Lord’s was sold out,” Bates said. “The way that crowd turned out for that game was so exciting for women’s cricket. It made me proud, even though I wanted to be a part of it, and not just watch.

“With the World Cup being so well televised in England and around the world, I think people now know women players and can follow them in their different Super League teams. Last year we were really surprised by the turnout at the Ageas Bowl, and for the opening game [which is a double-header with Hampshire men’s NatWest T20 Blast match against Glamorgan] there will be a bigger crowd.”

Car manufactures Kia are in the second of two years sponsoring the Super League, after becoming stand-a-lone champions of women’s cricket in England five years ago. Bates believes having split backers between male and female formats of the sport is important.

“That is the key to a lot of the team’s successes is having people who want to solely invest into women’s cricket,” she said. “They see the revenue and the opportunity there is to sponsor women which is what Kia have done in the Super League.

“I have said for about the last five years that there is no rocket science – that once the girls start training more and start getting faster, stronger and fitter, and they can spend more time on their skills, the game is only going to get better and more exciting to watch.”

Bates may be living with 14 other girls in student accommodation, but the other option is going back to New Zealand and moving back in with her parents. Bates revealed: “I haven’t been home since May. The last two years I have probably been home for a couple of months, and that includes while we are touring at home. That is why I moved back in with my mum and dad – I was paying rent at a place that I never saw!”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Smith. Alex’s latest articles

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