In any team sport, there are captains who lead from the front, and then there are leaders who also inspire, seek to make everyone around them better, and are loved by everyone. New Zealand’s star cricketer Sophie Devine belongs to the second category.
“I love Sophie Devine. I love how she goes about her game. She’s always also very welcoming and very supportive,” is how Kuwaiti cricketer Maryam Omar puts it. And she just had to be part of the same event as Devine (the ongoing FairBreak Invitational) to realise it.
Sample this. In the instance that she smashed a stunning, record-breaking 36-ball century for her domestic side Wellington Blaze in the Supersmash early last year, she was not celebrating. Instead she was the worried person in the ground because the six she hit into the bank, hit one of the kids watching the match. Devine looked heartbroken, barely smiling at reaching a landmark that may stand the test of time for all we know. The kid, of course, was alright and Devine went to spend time with her on the bank at the end of the match because she felt it was the right thing to do.
“We gave her a cap and a top just to say ‘thank you, hope you’re okay’. And actually her father has stayed in touch since that game, making sure that they get along to any games that are in Dunedin. An unfortunate incident, but an opportunity to hopefully have another fan for life,” Devine told Scroll.in recalling that day.
That is just who she is... one of the best batters the game has seen, a captain, leader and someone who looks to take the game forward with her every step of the way.
Scroll.in caught up with Devine who is currently part of the Tornadoes squad at the FairBreak Invitational. The New Zealand captain spoke about leading the team at the recent home World Cup, giving back to the women’s game, the prospect of a women’s IPL, importance of mental health discussions and more.
Excerpts from the interaction:
When you came back to domestic cricket for Wellington and scored the fastest T20 ton, one of the cool things was we could catch actually catch glimpses of that here in India. How important is that visibility at the domestic level?
It’s massive, I think it can’t be underestimated how important it is to be able to be seen, I think the incredible thing about the FairBreak tournament is how many countries have picked up the broadcast... which is so important to be able to see female role models and female cricketers in people’s homes, you know, at the stores, wherever it is that the TVs are. I think the coverage just is another piece of that puzzle for the women’s game, it’s making sure people know about it. And the media has a massive role to play in it. The radio, written word as well... making sure that there’s really a wide selection of coverage.
I think back to the start of my career and, you know, we would be playing out in the country in the middle of nowhere where no one could get to and no one would know that you’re playing, and to think now that we’re playing in the same stadiums as the men and it’s being broadcast, certainly improved a lot. But still a lot more that can be done to make sure that visually it’s been seen by as many people as possible.
The female role models you mentioned... you have to see someone to be be like them, right?
I’ve been extremely lucky growing up in New Zealand where we’ve had so many female role models in the sporting world to be able to look up. I think a lot of them are Olympians. Hopefully where this game is going now with more coverage is that people can see the likes of your Bates, the Knights... whoever it might be making sure that young girls but also young boys can see that at the end of the day, we’re just cricketers as well, it doesn’t matter if we are female or male. We’re cricketers, we play the same game. Yes, it might be slightly different. But we certainly all want to achieve the same thing, to be the best cricket players we can be.
You spoke about that during the World Cup, wanting to inspire young young girls and boys to take up a cricket bat or ball. Have you encountered instances of that since the tournament ended?
A lot of the girls from the New Zealand team shared messages that they’d received from people from all over the place who had either brought their young children to a game or had seen a game on television. They spoke about how encouraged and inspired they were to be able to go and play cricket. And for me personally, I had a couple of really nice messages from fans and from people that had gone to the games and you know, had really appreciated the time that the White Ferns had taken after the match to have photos taken and sign autographs. That’s part of our role, that we spend time with the fans, because at the end of the day, we want to play for them, we want to make them proud, and they have a huge role of supporting us.
And we certainly appreciate all the time and energy that they put into us and supporting us. It probably just helped gain a bit of perspective as well that there were a lot of people that were really proud of how we played and how we represented New Zealand. So to be able to read messages like that, it certainly made it a bit easier to tape it, since we didn’t make it further into the World Cup.
Alyssa Healy said during the World Cup that when India realise their potential, and with a women’s IPL in place, maybe in 10 years time they’re going to be unbeatable. And you’ve spoken a couple of times about how the IPL is probably the next step for the women’s game, not just Indian cricket.
From an outsider’s perspective, it certainly is the next step to me. And you know, sounds like there’s some really encouraging move towards hopefully a women’s IPL next year. Yeah, I echo Alyssa’s comments that as soon as that tournament happens, I’m going to be scared about what’s coming out of India.
We’ve already seen the likes of Smriti Mandhana, some of these young players coming through, obviously Shafali Verma as well... there’s so much talent there. And the more exposure that they get to overseas players, again, playing more cricket at a higher standard, that their game is just going to go up.
We’ve seen it in Australia, we’ve seen it in England, that the standard goes up, which I think is the most important thing. So I’m really hopeful that the women’s IPL gets up and running as soon as possible. I know there’s the Women’s T20 challenge that has happened now for the last couple of years and that’s been okay. But I certainly think that everyone that I’ve spoken to is ready for a Women’s IPL to take off.
The FairBreak Invitational experience in concept is a unique attempt and it has become quickly evident that it is all about players from associate nations getting a chance like no other in their lives to rub shoulders with players like you. How has it been for you?
It’s certainly been a pretty incredible opportunity. I think, for us in New Zealand, we know what it’s like to have limited resources and opportunities. The tournament has been unbelievable. I think the opportunity for full members to be playing alongside the Associate members has been something that I’ve certainly appreciated. I’ve been grateful to play alongside these players who just absolutely love cricket, it certainly has put a smile on my face. It’s been a reminder of the joy that cricket can bring. It doesn’t matter where you come from, or who you play for... we’re extremely lucky to be able to play cricket.
I see it as a bit of my role that we have to share the knowledge of the game. Never will you get players from so many different countries to spend time with players who have had so many different experiences in their own country. Also to learn from them and listen to what they’ve got around their cricketing journey has been a real privilege.
A teenager from Rwanda dismissing a World Cup winner from Australia... moments like that are just so pure.
That’s one of the areas where I really wanted to be involved, as I know from personal experience that playing with people is your best opportunity to learn. So to be able to play matches, you know, have a really good standard alongside these associate players has been the best learning opportunity. Like I have had the chance to open with Sterre Kalis from Netherlands and chatting to her in the middle... I think that’s where you get some really valuable growth. At training grounds as well as being able to share about how you bowl your slower ball, about how you’re going to take on a spinner, what the pitch conditions are going to do... it’s those little weak golden nuggets. I mean, you can talk over the phone or over Zoom all you want but to be able to live and breathe it, I think that’s what’s made this tournament so special and hopefully, has provided plenty of learning opportunities for everyone involved.
For us to learn about players from the UAE, from Rwanda, from Nepal, we’ve been really lucky. We’ve had Sita Rana from Nepal. And it’s just incredible to hear her story, her journey... just to hear how cricket works in the country, it certainly has made me extremely grateful for what we’ve got in New Zealand and the opportunities we get. It’s certainly been a real eye opener for me and shows how far we’ve got to go in the women’s game to gain parity, not only with the men but with each other. I think for the good of the women’s game, as we need these associate countries be playing as much cricket as possible and to be resourced so that they can they can, I guess, compete.
When Amelia Kerr had taken a break from the game, you spent time with her, I read how you would go and throw hoops with her just to chat with her. That awareness around the mental health in the game... from the time you started to now, how much has that changed? And how important is the conversation that we’re having around it?
It’s certainly something that needs to be spoken about. It’s becoming more normalised not just in a cricket environment, but in society as well, which I think is hugely important.
Again, I see that as part of my role, having experienced that myself personally, to be able to share my story and to support whoever needs it. Because I think it’s one of the toughest things I found as I felt so alone at that time and trying to deal with it. But I guess coming through the other side and continuing to manage it is so important... to be able to talk and to feel comfortable and confident enough. I know I mentioned at the time, but I was really proud of Melie to be able to take the time away, it wouldn’t have been easy as a youngster with everything on a plate for her to choose what she wants to do.
But at the end of the day, you’ve got to look after yourself first, because you’re a person a lot longer than you are a cricketer. I think the more that we can have these discussions around mental health, whether it’s in a cricket setting, whether it’s just in life, I think it’s hugely important, and certainly that we need to continue to do so whether we’ve experienced this ourselves, or we know someone that has.
From the outside there is a feeling that female cricketers care deeply for the growth of the game overall. There are a lot of examples within the game where there is collective feeling of wanting the game to grow. Is that a fair assessment?
Yeah, I think so. And I think that’s not just me, I think it’s been all female players that have gone before us and had have really paved the way for us to be in the position we’re in now. But we’ve also got a role and responsibility to make it even better for those playing in the future, as well as we’ve got to ensure that this game continues to grow. And there are more opportunities for females across the globe.
I certainly think it is part of our role to make sure that we share the love. I think it is a really cool community and women’s cricket is certainly growing, I think we’ve seen with the number of people that are watching, the number of people that are playing, it’s certainly been going up over the last couple of years.
During the World Cup you were frequently asked about the pressure of the home World Cup, the legacy and all that and you were level-headed through that entire phase, speaking about wanting to inspire. Once the tournament got over, did it take time to sink in? Did it take a lot emotionally out of you as a leader?
It certainly did. I think it was devastating not to go further in that home tournament. It’s certainly not how we planned or wished that our tournament would end, you know, missing out on the semifinals. I thought we played some really good cricket. Unfortunately, we just missed out. There were three extremely close games, if we would have won even one of those matches, it would have been a different story.
But I’m extremely proud. I was proud of the group at the time. And I’m proud of the group now. I’m really proud of the way New Zealand was put on show to the rest of the world, I hope everyone really enjoyed their time. There has been some excellent feedback about how much everyone enjoyed playing in New Zealand. And I think I was so chuffed to see the final, as much as I would have loved to have been playing, to see Australia and England going at it in front of a full crowd. And that’s probably one of the best games you’ll see of women’s cricket. Australia getting 300-plus runs and England getting close to 300... it just shows where the game has grown and the talent on show.
In 2019, when New Zealand Cricket brought in the new agreement, Satterthwaite had said that the most important aspect is actually the domestic side of things. How important has that been?
Hugely important. We’ve been really well supported by New Zealand Cricket. We’re extremely grateful and thankful for that. But I think we’ve seen the likes of Australia and how much they’ve invested into the women’s game and how successful they’ve been, and that hasn’t happened overnight. That’s taken many years of getting to that level. It’s not just about paying the players more... it’s the structure, the pathway, the resources, which I think is the most important thing.
People will always want to be paid more money, doesn’t matter what profession you’re in. But it’s making sure that the coaches are available, to be able to service your needs, that they have a high quality. The training facilities, the trainers, the nutritionists... there’s so much more to it than just getting more money in your pocket. And for us, as cricketers, we know that there’s obviously a bit of a gap between us and Australia. But we know that we’re also closing that gap.
You’ve spoken a lot about Test cricket in the past. It’s a little bit of a shame that Suzie, you and this group of New Zealand cricketers don’t get to don the whites. Is that something that’s still at the back of your mind? We have of course seen three Tests in recent times, would you encourage more of it? Or does that come at the cost of spreading the game further and is there a balance issue there?
Yeah, certainly a huge balance issue, I think. It was great to see three Tests in the last year. I know a lot of the players that I speak to would absolutely love to play Test cricket. They all think of it as the pinnacle of the game to be able to test themselves in that format and it’s certainly something that I’m still holding out for hopefully to be able to wear the black cap for New Zealand.
What’s been a really positive move is these bilateral series that are played in the multi-series format with points. I think that’s how I would encourage teams to go about playing their series. I think it keeps a real interest in these points allocated to each format. I’ve still got my fingers crossed and toes crossed, that New Zealand might be able to get a Test match before I retire.
I certainly think it is a balance. I understand, you know, the money and the resources that has to go into it to fund that. And I think that T20 cricket has been really valuable for the women’s game in terms of, you know, driving it forward in terms of viewership and broadcasting and things like that.
But any chance we can get to play Test cricket, I’m certainly going to be at the front of the line.