Is Lea Tahuhu intimidating?
Well, she does have a 126kph delivery against her name. And her rising short ball isn’t quite cookies and cream. Ask Meg Lanning how she felt to see the top of off knocked over by one that zipped past this last Women’s Big Bash League.
Off the field too, Tahuhu comes across as a no-nonsense person. There is no oversharing. Nothing about her says frivolous – her choices of books and sport and travel is what you’d want your best you – the perfectly filtered one the world sees on Instagram – to be. So I walked into my interview with her during the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 a tad wary.
Thirty minutes and an unscathed recorder later, I had my answer. Tahuhu smiles widely and frequently, she jokes, she likes Harry Potter and the Alex Cross books, she has one eye on the rugby league State of Origin series. Also, brevity works for her. And she’s definitely no-nonsense.
New Zealand’s pacer isn’t ‘intimidating’. At all. But one would be well advised against messing with the fastest bowler in women’s cricket right now.
She’s a pretty competitive person, with a driving desire to win. It’s that competitive streak that makes her part of the “nine-equal club” in the team batting line-up: “We don’t like to call ourselves 10 and 11, we’re always pushing to get higher up!” But, at the same time: “The personal achievements don’t drive me. I remember the great team wins – whether I’ve had an impact on the game or someone else gets the wickets or runs – the wins stick with me.”
When she bowls a bouncer, it’s not about the aggression. “It gets your teammates fired up more than anything, which gives you the energy to go back to your mark and run in and do it again,” she says. “It’s a genuine chance to take a wicket and just to make sure the batters realise you’ve got it in your armoury.
“It’s more about not trying to get over-excited about bowling one. You’re not looking to hit them in the head, you want to get a wicket out of it.”
Similarly, the number on the speed gun isn’t enough. “It’s something you strive for as a fast bowler starting out – you want to be the quickest going around. But you also want to be consistent, and that’s something I’m more proud of over the last 18 months, being able to get that consistency with the speed.”
Consistency is a lesson Tahuhu has had to learn, having been in and out of the team in the initial years after her international debut as a 21-year-old in 2011. In the past two years, she’s been working with John Furlong, who’s now part of the White Ferns set-up as a high performance analyst, and it’s paid off. “We changed a few things with grip and run-up and something just sort of clicked. It’s great when you find a coach that you click with and find a few small adjustments can make a big difference.”
So today, nearly two decades after a school caretaker spotted her “mucking around” and invited to join a local Christchurch club to kickstart her life in cricket, she can go into a game trusting her instinct and skills. “It’s such a feeling thing,” she explains. “With fast bowling, a lot of it comes down to rhythm. Some days you wake up and you’re a little bit stiffer and you think it’s going to be a little bit harder to get through. You can generally tell from the first couple of balls how the day is going to go.”
Tahuhu is a much sought-after player in women’s leagues. She’s played for Melbourne Renegades in the WBBL, Surrey Stars in the Super League in England and will turn out for Lancashire Thunder this year. She’s also enjoyed a stint in domestic county cricket in the lead up to the World Cup.
Given her busy calendar, and the long schedule of the World Cup itself, you’d expect concerns about injuries. Unsurprisingly, Tahuhu would take game time over winter training indoors any day.
“Recovery is right up there as one of the most important things,” she explains. “I’ve learnt that over the last couple of years, taken it more seriously as well. We’re really lucky that we’ve got a great [system] that sort of implements our recovery – some protein after training, an ice bath, we’ve got recovery boots that most of the pace bowlers will get into as well.
“You just have to be smart about what you’re doing because this is a full-on tournament and there’s a long way to go still.”
One week in, this tournament isn’t just challenging for bowlers in terms of fitness, though. The batters have been calling the shots, with seven centuries struck already. Tahuhu is equanimous. “You can’t really do much about it!” she says. “It’s showing the batters that are here are absolutely world class. It makes you think as a bowler that you’ve to get smarter and better and make sure you’re hitting your lengths and your areas, and prevent those centuries from happening against you.”
It’s said with that easy smile and relaxed air. But surely one isn’t mistaken in picking up a slight edge? Batters (and perhaps the odd interviewer) facing Tahuhu may not come up against a textbook, snarling, fast bowler, but they had better keep their eye on the ball.