It was the start of the English summer in the year 2018. Hosts England had been joined by New Zealand and South Africa to play a T20I tri-series. New Zealand were in the middle of a hot run of form, having trounced Ireland in the preceding ODI series. They had amassed three consecutive scores of over 400 – including a world-record 491 for 4 – and gone on to register easy victories – each with a difference of more than 300 runs.
Going into the tri-series then, they were without doubt, the team to beat.
New Zealand’s opening match of the series came against South Africa on June 20 at the County Ground in Taunton – a pitch tailor-made for batting. Dane van Niekerk, South Africa’s captain, won the toss and sent the opposition in, hoping her famed bowling attack could restrict New Zealand to a gettable total.
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In walked the New Zealand’s openers, Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine, the self-anointed ‘Smash Sisters’, determined to make full use of “the good batting deck”. Skipper Bates started things off by dispatching Shabnim Ismail for three consecutive boundaries in only the second over, thus getting herself, and New Zealand, off to a flier.
“I remember starting against (Marizanne) Kapp and Ismail and it was a flat wicket and extremely fast outfield,” Bates told Women’s CricZone of the innings. “So, once I got a start I remember thinking to make the most of this batting opportunity in batter-friendly conditions.”
Although Kapp was able to keep things tight at one end – conceding only six runs in her opening two overs – New Zealand’s opening pair tore into Ismail at the other end, taking her for 26 runs at the start. They were determined to put South Africa under pressure in conditions that played to their advantage.
“Against South Africa you obviously have to respect Kapp and Ismail upfront, but if they bowl any lose deliveries, you have to put them away. At times you have to be aggressive to take them off their lengths, but I was able to just play good cricket shots that day and get value for my shots. Then, once I got in, I was able to be more aggressive against the spinners and try and target the gaps for my boundaries and hit the pockets with such a fast outfield.”
Put under the pump at the very outset, van Niekerk was forced to alter her plans quickly. She turned to Zintle Mali and Raisibe Ntozakhe in search of wickets, but they too were welcomed with a flurry of boundaries – these off the bat of Devine.
Meanwhile, by the halfway stage, Bates had moved to 44 off 32 balls and was primed to take on the spinners, van Niekerk and Sune Luus. In typical style she danced down the track, getting to the pitch of the ball to launch over the in-field or went deep in her crease to access the open pockets behind square.
“Usually when we are batting in a partnership like that there is not much that is needed to be said,” Bates says of the conversation in the middle. “We have batted so much together. Often it is just recognising when the other batter is on and trying to give them as much strike as possible and then both discussing boundary options to each bowler and backing each other to do that and then run hard.”
Having played second fiddle to Devine through most part of the first half of the innings, Bates expanded her range once she brought up her fifty. She took Luus’ second over for 20 runs – of which Devine accounted for only one – significantly picking up the pace.
Soon enough, she had raced to 78 off just 47 deliveries, and, with six overs to go, it seemed a maiden T20I ton was staring her in the face.
The moment finally arrived when, in the 17th over, she struck back-to-back boundaries off the bowling of van Niekerk, thus reaching the mark in 55 deliveries. Bates’ acceleration was on point – her second half-century coming off just 22 balls.
Quite fittingly for the senior pro, it was her old mate Devine celebrating with her in the middle.
“I remember being pretty chuffed at the time because it was my first T20I hundred for New Zealand. I also just remember thinking how much fun batting was out there with Sophie, and trying to just enjoy the moment because they don’t come around all the time.”
The pair went on to add a massive 182 runs for the first wicket – at the time, then highest-ever stand in women’s T20Is – before Devine departed for 73. Bates, however, continued on her merry way, finishing unconquered on 124 off just 66 balls, with 16 fours and three sixes.
After registering their highest T20I total of 216 for 1, New Zealand went on to boss proceedings with the ball, keeping South Africa to 150 for 6, romping to a comfortable 66-run win. Undoubtedly, Bates was crowned player of the match.