Captaining one’s country in any sport is a privilege that every player grows up dreaming of. However, a home World Cup can push a player to the extremes and put a lot of pressure on them. But in Sophie Devine, New Zealand have a feisty player who is perfectly suited for the job. She recently led Perth Scorchers to a Women’s Big Bash League triumph. In the last few years, she has gone from strength to strength and managed to get her name on the honours boards for a few reasons.
As she prepares herself for the World Cup at home, Devine had an exclusive chat with Women’s CricZone as Amazon Prime Video signed a five-year deal to stream all international cricket matches in New Zealand for the Indian audience.
In the interview, she spoke about her team’s preparation, her break away from cricket in 2021, facing India before the World Cup and her successful WBBL campaign.
New Zealand played England and Australia at home in 2021 and also toured England. How do you rate your team's performance in these series?
I guess we were pretty disappointing. In the series against Australia, we realised how strong they were and how much of a dominant force they are in the women’s game. So, we were really disappointed with the series. But then leading into the tour of the UK where we played England, although the results probably didn’t go our way, I felt we certainly put up a fight in all the games, which I think is a really pleasing sign and shows good intent that we are moving in the right direction. We have always looked at the bigger picture with the World Cup being one of the pinnacle events we are focusing on. Again, it would have been nice to win a few games on the road, but for us it is about making sure we are all ready leading into this World Cup.
There were multiple close matches during the England series. What do you think the team has learned from the hard fought series?
I think being in situations where the game is on the line and we have got to learn how to win those sorts of games. So, having gone through such games and lost those certain moments, I believe it was a good learning curve for the whole group. We certainly had quite a young side there and we were missing a couple of key players. So for us to get exposed to conditions, scenarios and situations, I guess it will hold us in good stead moving forward.
Your team will face India ahead of the World Cup. They showed their fighting spirit against Australia. How do you look at that challenge of facing India at home?
I watched their (India) series against Australia quite closely and I thought it was a great series. Both teams have match-winners throughout their side. And we know that India is going to be a great threat even though we are playing in our home conditions and we might have home ground advantage. But the Indian side has got a number of players who are world class and we know we have to be at our best and I think it is a great opportunity leading into the World Cup. So, we need to make sure that we are getting our tactics and strategies right. Team selection is going to be really important because there is not much of a gap between finishing the India series and getting straight into the World Cup.
We all remember the last time New Zealand hosted the World Cup, they also won it. How much do you think home advantage will be at play during this World Cup?
I think it will certainly have an advantage. The fact that a lot of our players have played at all the grounds where we are going to play in, I think that is a great thing. The schedule is such that we are going to play in each of the venues across New Zealand, which is a great thing. Each ground has its different strengths and weaknesses. The key thing about the wickets in New Zealand is that they can appear to be a bit green and spicy for the bowlers. So, there might be a bit in it and that is the great thing about cricket, you find yourself playing in different conditions.
We are certainly going to rely on local players who have played at these grounds a lot lately. So, I guess that will be an advantage of sorts. And I guess it is always good to spend time in your country where you are familiar with how things operate and don't worry too much about it. That is something we are going to certainly lean on throughout the tournament. But we also know all of that comes with pressure, playing at home and playing in front of your family. So, it will be a wholesome opportunity to play at home.
Does the home World Cup add any pressure on your side. How are you as the New Zealand captain planning to tackle this with the relatively young squad?
The first thing is acknowledging and addressing it. I think that is something we have spoken about as a group. Last couple of years, the COVID has rationalised a few people and disrupted a few things. So being able to speak about how we are feeling and the emotions that come with it and certainly the pressure of playing at home and wanting to perform and wanting to make the most of the home ground advantage is certainly something that we are aware of as a group. But it is going to be a constant dialogue that we are certainly going to have as a group as we move through the tournament. Media can be an important part of it. Conditions, being able to spend time with family and friends and getting away from the cricket environment can be important. That is something I am keen on. I want us to get the balance right and get some time away. It can be a very encompassing game when you are in the thick of it. So for us, it will be important that we get the balance right.
You have a varied pace bowling attack starting with the speed of Lea Tahuhu, swing of Jess Kerr with options like Molly Penfold in the mix. Will there be specific plans for various opponents keeping this in mind?
I think it is a great thing. I mentioned looking at the bigger picture and because of that we have exposed a lot of players to the White Ferns environment, which means it has given us options moving forward to the World Cup. That basically means we can play different teams against different oppositions at different grounds. Some wickets might have a bit more pace in it, so we will go with a bit more pace or if the wicket has a bit of turn, we might think of carrying a bit more spinners in the team. It is a good thing that over the last couple of years, the group has really grown and we are not just 11 or 12 players, we are a squad of 18 or 19, all of whom can play a pivotal role in the starting XI. So, that is something we have been working on for the last couple of years.
ALSO READ: Injury, milestones and a home World Cup: a sit-down with Suzie Bates
You recently won your first WBBL title with Perth Scorchers. How the experience of winning WBBL as a captain will help in doing the same role for New Zealand going into the World Cup?
I think it was a really special campaign for us to be able to lift the trophy. That is something every player wants to do, doesn’t matter what the competition is. So, that was really special for me to be able to be part of that group and as you say to take that experience back to New Zealand and the White Ferns environment is something that I am looking forward to. I certainly learned a lot during my time. You talk about the pressure, we had finished on top of the points table in the group stage and we were expected to win. So, to be able to deliver on that expectation and how we handled it as a group was really important. And that came down to communication and talking a lot about things. So, I am really excited to get back in the White Ferns environment and share my learnings from the past couple of months from the WBBL.
You took a break from cricket for a while. How refreshed were you after making a comeback in the series against England?
It was a bit of an enforced break for me to make sure that I get the balance right by having a bit of time away from cricket and I needed to do that. It was really good for me to go back to the basics and spend some time with family and friends. Looking ahead with a big 12 months coming up, not just the World Cup but also the Commonwealth Games too, that was certainly special. So, making sure I get the balance right is going to be a continual thing. It is not about 'one break and I will be all good', but it is about how do I manage moving forward specially with COVID hanging around and being in bubbles. So, yeah it is good to stay on top of things.
Amelia Kerr recently talked about her mental health battles. You have also spoken about the issues. How important do you think it is to have an open conversation on this matter?
I think it's huge. And I think it is important for us as athletes we have got the platform to be able to speak about it. It is not just the problem that the general public faces. We are human beings as well and we are going to go through the same struggles. So, I was very proud of Amelia (Kerr) for being able to speak up, being able to step away and take time for herself, acknowledging and accepting that she needs to take a break from cricket, which she absolutely loves. And it is awesome for us to see her come back in the environment now that she is ready to. I certainly encourage anyone and everyone to talk about it, with your teammates, your coach, your manager, your family and friends. I think it is so important that we are able to have these conversations and have it openly and honestly. You know, it is important to remember that life can be tough sometimes and it can get easier if you can have someone to lean on.
ALSO READ: Moments you want to play are ones where you bowl the last over or hit the winning runs: Amelia Kerr
Hopefully, Amelia Kerr makes it to the World Cup squad for New Zealand. How important is her role going to be as a middle-order batter and a premier spinner of the team?
I guess we all know the amount of talent she brings to the side and we certainly missed her over in England. I think the great thing about her is that she is just so hungry to work and perform and help this team win games of cricket, which is a great attitude to have. I know she has been getting runs for fun in domestic cricket which is great news for us. And it is going to be about how we use her in helping ourselves win games of cricket. The best thing is she is so versatile, she can bat anywhere in the order and with the ball, obviously she is a real wicket-taking option for us. So to have someone like that on our side is going to be a weapon.
The best of New Zealand cricket is now going to be on Amazon Prime Video. How do you think fans will respond?
I think it is a fantastic opportunity to be able to feature on Amazon Prime Video. I think we all know that the world is changing and how we consume media is not just about TV at this moment. It is on cell phones, it is on laptops, you know devices all around the place. So, it is an awesome way to get into more people’s viewing time, which is a really exciting thing for us. We are always screaming for more exposure, particularly in the women’s game. So, to be in a partnership with Amazon Prime Video is certainly going to grow the game.
What is your favourite sporting documentary or series on Amazon Prime Video?
Jezz! that is tough. I like the 'All or Nothing' series which actually covers a lot of teams. I am actually watching the Tottenham Hotspur one at the moment, which is just so insightful in terms of how all the teams operate. And obviously, each organization and sport is slightly different. But, it is certainly an eye opener for me. That is one I am watching at this moment but there are just so many options there.