On June 15, New Zealand would have officially ‘eliminated’ coronavirus and lifted restrictions in an attempt to return to normalcy. It would also finally see a return to action for Suzie Bates, who would step into the indoor nets back home in Dunedin after almost two months of strict lockdown throughout the country.
Suzannah Wilson Bates’ list of achievements is substantial – ICC ODI Woman Cricketer of the Year in 2013 and again in 2016, when she also added the T20 Woman Cricketer of the Year to her kitty; most T20I runs and the only one, man or woman, to get more than 3000 (3243 — that’s 449 more than Virat Kohli); sixth on the scorer’s list in ODIs and the most by a New Zealand woman (4534); second most T20I played by a woman cricketer, one behind Ellyse Perry’s 120 matches. Clearly, she has been around for a while, with quite a lot to show for it. Oh, she also happens to be an Olympian, being part of the New Zealand basketball team at Beijing in 2008.
“There may need to be more tournament-style play to reduce travel and have International Series in one city. I think it has shown that a lot of sport’s business models are not sustainable from professional to grassroots and everyone is going to have to reassess how to make more sustainable models for grassroots and professional men’s and women’s sport.”
So when the 32-year old says that “cricket and sports are going to have to take a hard look at how they run programmes” and “get smarter with their investments and planning” it comes from a place of experience. The New Zealand all-rounder, one of the biggest names in women’s cricket, loved being home but now can’t wait to get back on the field even as she admits to Sportstar that it would not be easy to get accustomed to the ‘new normal’ in professional sports.
How have you managed the last two months – away from cricket, uncertain times – and how would you look back at this period?
It has definitely been a strange time. Initially, I enjoyed the change of pace and downtime and having a break from cricket and travel and being able to spend some time at home. The White Ferns stayed connected through running and yoga which definitely helped me, and lots of Netflix shows in the evening. New Zealand have done a very good job at containing the virus so I am excited to get back into the indoor nets next week. Looking back, I have realised that at times, during a hectic cricket season, I need to still find time to slow down and enjoy the simple things. I have always appreciated my lifestyle as a professional cricketer but I will never take for granted the freedom to travel and play cricket around the world again. I am really missing watching and playing cricket and endless summers.
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The world has changed with a ‘new normal’ in social behaviour. How do you think it is going to affect sports in general and cricket in particular going forward?
I think cricket and sports are going to have to take a hard look at how they run programmes. We are going to have to be smarter with how we invest in both men’s and women’s programmes and consider reducing domestic and international travel when it’s not always necessary. There may need to be more tournament-style play to reduce travel and have International Series in one city. I think it has shown that a lot of sport’s business models are not sustainable from professional to grassroots and everyone is going to have to reassess how to make more sustainable models for grassroots and professional men’s and women’s sport.
There is a lot of talk about new ICC guidelines for resumption of cricket – social distancing, no group celebrations, no use of saliva on the ball etc. How much do you think it will affect cricket the way we know it and do you think they will affect women’s cricket as much as they do the men?
I think it’s going to be difficult to enforce those guidelines in the heat of the battle. I think the ‘no use of saliva on the ball’ rule will impact the red ball game more than the white ball and with only one red ball game every now and then between Australia and England women in the Women’s Ashes, I don’t think it will impact us as much.
“I am trying to remain as positive as possible and planning as if the tournament (Women’s World Cup 2021) will go ahead as scheduled. Obviously, New Zealand is in a good place to host the tournament at this stage and there may need to be some level of quarantine for the other countries participating but as a team we will plan as if it will go ahead.”
New Zealand would host the Women’s World Cup early next year. How positive are you of it going ahead as scheduled given the present world coronavirus situation? Do you think there may be some forced changes – including restricting the competition to a single venue?
I am trying to remain as positive as possible and planning as if the tournament will go ahead as scheduled. Obviously, New Zealand is in a good place to host the tournament at this stage and there may need to be some level of quarantine for the other countries participating but as a team we will plan as if it will go ahead and wait until we hear anything different from the ICC and the Government. Reducing the venues may be a viable option to ensure the tournament can be held.
You have played against Indians across generations both internationally and in T20 Leagues. How would you compare the newer lot – the likes of Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues etc – and compare them to, say, Anjum Chopra or Mithali Raj?
It is always difficult to compare generations. I did not play a lot against Anjum but have played plenty of cricket against Mithali. She was in a class of her own with the bat for a long time in the Indian team and Anjum was a world-class batter also. It is very exciting for Indian women’s cricket to see the depth and talent coming through and T20 cricket encouraging an aggressive style of play with the likes of Smriti, Jemimah and Harmanpreet (Kaur) leading the way. The future of Indian women’s cricket looks very bright as we have seen with the emergence of Shafali Verma at the Women’s World Cup recently.
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As a former professional basketball player at the highest level, how do you see next year’s Tokyo Games playing out? Would it be the same as always or you expect the Olympics to also adjust to changes?
It is going to be difficult for global events to carry on as normal for the next couple of years. With the Olympics being one of the biggest global events, there is surely going to be some logistical challenges for all countries involved. I hope, for the sake of the athletes and for sports in general, that it happens and all athletes that have qualified can experience the Olympic experience. Even if there are less fans in Tokyo, the televised global event is vital for inspiring future Olympians.
On a lighter note, we have seen several cricketers exhibit their latent household skills on social media in these times. What would be Suzie Bates’ one hidden talent that she has indulged in in these times and one new skill she has picked up in the last two months?
I have had to cook a lot more but I can’t say it has improved that much! I have always enjoyed writing so a hidden talent would be some of the writing I have had more time to do during lock-down. Since restrictions have eased in New Zealand, I have also been able to play golf twice a week with my dad so my golf has definitely improved but still a lot needed there also!