Leading into the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2020, New Zealand’s fortunes seemingly hinged on Sophie Devine. The right-hander was in the middle of an incredible run of form, having blasted a record five consecutive fifty-plus scores in T20Is and looked primed to add to that number. Form with the bat aside, Devine had been given the additional responsibility of leading New Zealand in the showpiece event – her importance had doubled overnight.
To kick off the tournament, she added one more fifty to her tally, crunching an unbeaten 75 against a spirited Sri Lanka, to get her side off to a winning start. Despite her blistering innings – which consisted of six fours and two sixes – it was not Devine who won the player of the match award, but medium pacer Hayley Jensen. The right-arm seamer picked up three important wickets to help restrict Sri Lanka to a modest 127.
Coming into the tournament Jacob Oram, New Zealand’s bowling coach, had spoken about Jensen’s variation and her use of various slower balls, including the knuckleball that often flummoxes the batters. “From New Zealand, Hayley Jensen has got a really good slower ball. Probably giving away no secrets, there's videos around everywhere, probably the knuckleball - a lot of bowlers bowl the knuckleball, but Hayley bowls it really well.” Oram told ESPNCricinfo.
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Through the World Cup, Jensen used that variation to good effect, picking up seven wickets along the way. She constantly kept the stumps in play, bowling tight lines and bringing the batters forward. Often coming in to bowl in the middle overs, Jensen had to deal with batters who, by then, were well set. However, she not only proved to be New Zealand’s ‘golden arm’ – taking wickets at regular intervals – but also managed to keep the scoring rate down, maintaining a tournament economy rate of just 5.21.
In the first game, Sri Lanka had added 60 for the opening wicket, setting the perfect platform for the middle order, but Jensen came in and applied the brakes to the scoring rate. Her spell of 3 for 16 included the scalps of Anushka Sanjeewani, Shashikala Siriwardena and Kavisha Dilhari. All three batters were dismissed searching for quick runs – misreading Jensen’s slower deliveries and only managing to pop catches to the fielders. It was a game-changing spell, one that allowed New Zealand to bat freely.
If the encounter against Sri Lanka was about Jensen restricting the opposition batters, the match against Bangladesh was a real test of nerves. Opting to bat first, New Zealand were bundled out for just 91. Bangladesh could taste victory – the game was theirs for the taking. To make matters worse for New Zealand, Lea Tahuhu bowled a poor first over with as many as four wides. It seemed nerves had gotten to New Zealand.
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However, Bangladesh did as only Bangladesh could and imploded when they seemed well on track. Brought into the attack a touch earlier than usual, Jensen thrived on a surface that played a touch slow and low. The pitch at the Junction Oval clearly suited her stump-to-stump style and she was not going to miss out. Through another incredibly disciplined and intelligent spell of bowling, the right-armer triggered Bangladesh’s collapse, finishing with figures of 3 for 11. Once again, she attacked the stumps and bowled wonderful lengths, not giving Bangladesh any freebies whatsoever. In combination with Amelia Kerr and Leigh Kasperk, Jensen almost completely dried up the runs, forcing Bangladesh to go searching for boundaries in order to ease the pressure. Her efforts saw her win another player of the match award – doing her reputation absolutely no harm!
Thus, there is little doubt that the 27-year-old was the star for New Zealand through their T20 World Cup campaign. Amidst more celebrated players such as Devine, Suzie Bates, Kerr and Rachel Priest, Jensen quietly went about her work in Australia. That she overshadowed Tahuhu, New Zealand’s most experienced seamer, underlines her value to the team. When her team was searching for a hero, she made sure to step up. Although New Zealand failed to get past the group stage, Jensen’s performances through the tournament have given them something to cheer about. There is skill (and heart) beyond those big names. She calls herself Hayley Jensen!