New Zealand players celebrating a dismissal. © Getty Images

Amy Satterthwaite’s pregnancy, was the second-most exciting news to come out of New Zealand in the last fortnight. The honour of most exciting went to the ‘Women’s Master Agreement’ (WMA)— a document that will see Satterthwaite being paid her full (contract) retainer despite not being able to train or play.

However, things were not always this way… Let’s rewind a little…

In November 2018, shortly after the loss to Australia in their second group game of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in the Caribbean, Satterthwaite sat dejectedly in the press conference. As she searched for words to explain how her team had fallen so far behind the rest of the pack, crashing out of their second World Cup in the group stage, the same question kept cropping up— was there depth in New Zealand cricket?

“I think you’ve got glimpses of it,” she had said. “You’ve seen the likes of Amelia Kerr come in, in the last sort of 12 to 18 months, and really slot in nicely and perform brilliantly. There’s certainly the odd player there, but that’s probably something we’ve got to keep building. We’ve seen with Australia and England, with the competitions that they’ve brought in, that (they) have started to probably grow their depths even more and we’ve got to keep addressing it in our country.”

Nine months on, New Zealand Cricket and New Zealand Cricket Players’ Association have finally taken a step in the right direction to address those issues.

On 13 August 2019 NZC announced the creation of the WMA, a new three year Memorandum of Understanding which will provide greater financial stability to the country’s female cricketers. According to the agreement, NZC have more than doubled their expenditure on women’s cricket, increased the number of centrally contracted players from 15 to 17, and also introduced eight development and 54 (9 players from each of the six teams) contracts for domestic players.

“With the domestic contracts that have come in, I think it’s a massive step forward in creating a framework that can be built on,” Satterthwaite told Women’s CricZone. “And you know, looking to the future, I think it’s only going to help us create depth which will help us be stronger in the long term. I think that will be a big step forward for us.”

“(The discussion) for this MoU has probably been going on for the last five or six months. It is a long process, but it’s a really important one, I guess, to make sure that we get the details right, and I certainly think that NZC have done a fantastic job in terms of showing how much they want to invest in the women’s game. It means a lot to us as players, and it’s really exciting to be a part of it at the moment when it’s growing and getting bigger and bigger and going from strength to strength.”

Formerly one of the most dominant teams in the world, New Zealand have fallen off that perch. In recent times, their over-reliance on Suzie Bates, Sophie Devine and Satterthwaite has been quite evident. That none of the other players have consistently been able to lift their games and win matches for New Zealand has been one of their major concerns.

Satterthwaite believes that the reason for this inconsistency is the players’ lack of time to train. With the semi-professional nature of the international game in New Zealand, many of the players have part-time or full-time jobs to help keep them afloat. The balancing act— between earning a living, and finding time to work on their game— was something that the players naturally found quite hard. Most recently, Katie Perkins and Katey Martin have had to withdraw from series because of work commitments, while Rachel Priest is currently plying her trade as a ‘freelance cricketer’ in Australia and England.

While the gap between New Zealand and the top three countries continued to grow, their dependence on the trio of Devine, Bates and Satterthwaite with the bat, and Lea Tahuhu with the ball, pointed to a chasm that was developing within the team itself. All four players trained as full-time professionals, while the others struggled with the same.

“To be honest I think it was more the day to day training that had the biggest impact (on the team’s performances),” Satterthwaite explained. “For the most part, a lot of the girls were generally available for tours, but I think you saw that a lot of our top players within the side naturally were the ones who were full-time cricketers or able to play around the world and put most of their time into improving as cricketers. Whereas, we had girls who were part-time working, we had students and we had full-time workers as well, so it was a real balancing act for a lot of those players to be able to improve as a cricketers as well as earn a living. So, I think we’ll certainly see a change with that, now that we’ve got the ability for 17 people to really invest in their training.”

As per the previous MoU, 15 centrally contracted players earned annual retainers ranging between NZ$ 21,000 to NZ$ 35,000. In addition to that would receive a T20I match fee of NZ$ 310 and NZ$ 420 for ODIs. The domestic players, on the other hand, received only NZ$ 55 on travel days.

An overview of Women’s Master Agreement. ©Women’s CricZone

With the pay disparity in New Zealand domestic cricket at the forefront of many discussions towards the end of the 2018-19 domestic season, it seems NZC have acknowledged their shortcomings and clearly indicated their interest in and desire to see the women’s game grow.

The contracting of domestic players will lead to a semi-professional setup in New Zealand. Having not received a match fee for their games last year, to now potentially being contracted, there is much to look forward to for the young players.

However, Satterthwaite is aware that there is no such thing as a quick fix. The impact of these decisions will take time to show, but she is hopeful that the international team will experience a bit of accelerated growth. Having a chance to train and play full time leading into the T20 World Cup 2020 in Australia and then the 2021 ODI World Cup at home, the 32-year-old believes that New Zealand cricket will by then be in a good place.

“I think these things do take time and you have to acknowledge that it’s not going to all happen overnight,” she said. “Obviously with the White Ferns themselves getting higher reimbursements, that’s going to mean that we are able to put more time into our cricket and hopefully, over the next sort of 18 months, make some real gains in that department looking forward to, initially, the T20 World Cup in Australia and then the 50-over World Cup at home. So I think you’d like to hope it’d have a real impact in that time. Then, the sort of wider investment will take longer to have an impact and (it) could take the next sort of three-five years to really see the benefit from that.”

There has never been a dearth of talent in New Zealand, but the jump from domestic to international cricket— as with most other teams— has looked very high. The likes of Rosemary Mair and Jess Watkin, both extremely talented and skillful players, appeared raw and incredibly unsure in their first outings. It was not a deer in the headlights moment, but there was much to learn and process it appeared. Contrast this with Georgia Wareham and Sophie Molineux, Australia’s latest sensations, who have taken to the top level like fish to water.

Amelia Kerr appeals for a wicket. ©ICC

There is no dearth of talent in New Zealand. Amelia Kerr being one example. ©ICC

With NZC having seemingly got the planning right, it is now time for the real work to begin. More camps, more development programs and hopefully more series to help accelerate the process to close the gap.

“I think now we’ll probably see a few more camps which will have a lot more players involved, so I think then you start to get people having a taste of not only (understanding) the level it requires to, sort of, compete at international cricket, but also the training, and what that training looks like. I think from that point of view it’s going to be a huge kind of education piece, which is what this new setup will allow us to do,” said Satterthwaite.

“We’ve got eight girls who are going to be on development contracts and again, are going to get exposure to some camps. Through having that access you are then able to educate them around all sorts of different things— mental skills, nutrition, recovery, the training itself— and you get the ability to let them have a taste of that before they get to the New Zealand environment. Probably what we’ve seen in the past is that players have often been selected and then are starting to learn about some of these attributes. I think that’s going to be a big difference, that they will get access to that earlier and they will then be able to make those gains before they hopefully get selected for New Zealand.”

In the first edition of the Women’s CricZone magazine, Frances Mackay wrote, “At the end of the day a gap will always exist between domestic and international cricket but it doesn’t have to be insurmountable. However, it is easier to walk up a carefully planned out and supported set of steps and into the international game, rather than attempting to jump from the bottom rung and cling onto the ledge by your fingertips hoping for the best.”

It seems the New Zealand board have finally listened to their women’s team’s call and formulated an agreement that will help with that growth. With a wider pool of contracted players— extending to the domestic circuit— and a significant pay hike for centrally contracted players, NZC are moving forward. They have laid down the marker for other countries.

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