Suzie Bates, the highest run-scorer in women’s Twenty20 Internationals, is resetting her goals after giving up New Zealand captaincy, she tells Karunya Keshav.
“Sorry I missed that question, because they were dancing” – Suzie Bates in mock annoyance waves away her team-mates who were fooling around in the background during our chat on the sidelines of the ICC Women’s World T20 2018. Ten minutes later, having patiently explained her approach to batting, to mindfulness, to the changing women’s game, she had joined them in the off-key singing and dancing. A longtime Beyonce fan, Bates is convinced singing the loudest, if not the best, means she gets the right of being centre stage in these White Ferns riff-offs.
Despite her protestations to the contrary, Bates is a legend of the women’s game, a ‘Queen Bey’ herself like Beyonce if you will. A non-exhaustive list of her T20I records: most runs (2846), most matches (104, joint with Jenny Gunn) and second-highest individual score (124*). She needs one more wicket to do the all-round double of 50 wickets and 2000 runs. She’s New Zealand’s highest run-getter in one-day internationals as well, and only Meg Lanning (12) has more hundreds than her 10 in the format.
And she’s played basketball at the Olympics!
In September, Bates stepped down as New Zealand captain. That series against Australia felt “a fair little bit weird”, she admitted. For instance, when she was asked to bowl, she wasn’t quite ready to go on – previously as skipper, she always knew when she’d bring herself on, after all – and she had to remember to voice her fields to the new captain.
But it had more than its share of up-sides. “I’m annoying the girls a lot more on the field,” she laughs. “It’s allowed me to have fun and just concentrate on my batting, which has been really good so far.
"Although it looks like I come across as fearless, there’s a lot more planning to it, and there’s also self doubt when you’re not going well."
“I’m [also] enjoying when the captain has faith in you and they chuck you the ball. It’s a nice feeling. When you’re captain yourself you doubt whether you’re the right option or not, you’re making that decision.”
At 31, Bates made the call to quit captaincy because she felt it was time to do all she could to extend her career, and simply enjoy the game. To slow down in some ways. Be more relaxed. And it's worked. “It’s just such an exciting time to be playing, and I want to make the most of it.”
Having made her debut in 2006, she’s never in these 12 years been one to fear making the big changes for the sake of her game. In her mid-20s, for instance, she completely broke down her batting and started over from scratch to overcome technical inadequacies. And T20, a format that’s brought her much success – including a first T20I century this year – has required a massive change in attitude.
“T20 has been the biggest challenge for me,” she says. “In 50-over cricket, I just played each ball on its merit and naturally I wanted to score runs. In T20, if you play the ball on its merits, you can be none off 10 and you haven’t done a good job.
“Although it looks like I come across as fearless, there’s a lot more planning to it, and there’s also self doubt when you’re not going well. Being able to remain confident, no matter if you’ve scored runs or not scored runs has been the biggest key in T20 cricket. You’ve got to bounce back from failure, because the nature of the game is that if you play it in the right way, you’re not going to be consistent or scoring runs.”
"I’d love to have a switch hit, where they’ve got the whole off-side up and you could just turn around and whack it for six over that side!"
The first 10 balls she finds the most important. And then, it’s about identifying when she can switch off a little bit in the middle – maybe even have a little sing to herself at the non-striker’s end – and when to focus.
“You’ve always got to be planning a hit, thinking a little more about your boundary options than 50-over cricket,” she explained. “So there is a little bit more thinking, but when I’m back at my mark, the key is to be watching and not overthinking.
“Every cricketer and batter will admit to getting nerves, I still see that as a really good thing. I have learnt to control that, more through breathing techniques and just trying to slow things down through routines and focusing on my breath, and that I’m not getting caught up the hype of what’s going on.”
At the World T20, where New Zealand are in Group B alongside Australia, India, Pakistan and Ireland, Bates wants to take her game up another notch, targeting becoming a more 360-degree player.
“I’d love to have a switch hit, where they’ve got the whole off-side up and you could just turn around and whack it for six over that side!” she laughs. “That would be my dream!
“The key phrase now is ‘being able to hit 360’. That’s something I’ve wanted to bring into my game, hitting behind the wicket and reverse sweeping. But the balance is that my strengths have got me to where I am right now, hitting down the ground and hitting powerfully. It’s about making sure I’m still working on those because those are my strengths and if you can get the ball in front of the wicket it’s just as effective.”
The one thing missing on a glittering CV is a World Cup or World T20 trophy, and Bates admits the near misses in 2010, when they lost the final, and 2016, when they suffered their first defeat in the semi-final, still hurt.
“That’s probably my main driver, but also know that to get the best out of me, I have to have some individual goals and it is because I’m an opening batter, I want to score runs that win games. That means often scoring fifties and kicking on to hundreds if I’m in that position.”
Maybe, then, Queen Suzie isn't quite slowing down.