Sophie Devine is all set to take over as New Zealand's next skipper. © ICC

Form, timing and patience play a big part in one’s success in cricket. It is said when one’s form is good, you get wickets even off bad balls and inside-edges or mis-hits travel to the fence.

Sophie Devine, the big-hitting New Zealand allrounder, who appears to be in the form of her life, will undoubtedly testify to that theory. The allrounder’s splendid run of form began in the first-ever standalone edition of the Women’s Big Bash League when she notched up five consecutive fifties for Adelaide Strikers. While some of those knocks were not as fluent as she may have liked, her efforts were enough to carry her team through to their first final of the tournament. Devine eventually finished the season with a total of 769 runs, with eight half-centuries to her credit and an incredible 29 sixes — five of which came off a single over. To add to that she also proved her worth with the ball, taking 19 wickets. Devine’s incredible run meant she was adjudged Player of the Tournament for WBBL05.

Devine carried her stupendous form into the New Zealand domestic season— and a couple of matches in the Women’s National Cricket League (in Australia) — as well, leading Wellington Blaze to a hat-trick of T20 titles. She amassed 369 runs including a hundred, also blasting 25 sixes — the most in the competition — along the way. 

Riding on the back of Blaze’s success came an announcement from New Zealand Cricket, that further propelled Devine into the spotlight. The 30-year-old was appointed captain for the limited overs home series against South Africa and the following T20 World Cup in Australia. Not only was it a surprise, but also led to the question — what kind of effect will the new responsibility have on Devine’s game? Will she be able to cope with the pressure?

“I’m really proud and excited to lead the White Ferns,” Devine said on the day of the announcement. “This is a team I’m deeply passionate about and to have the opportunity to help drive its future is a privilege.”

“We’ve got a good mix of talent and experience in the group, and I’m looking forward to leaning on my fellow senior players to try and build on the good work done by Amy (Satterthwaite) and Suzie Bates.” 

For many players, captaincy — aside from being a great honour — drastically changes the way they approach or see the game; for others it is merely a formal extension of something they already do within the group. While one can only speculate which direction Devine’s career graph will now turn, one thing is for certain: it will be seen more as formal acknowledgement of something the allrounder has been doing for a large part of the last five years than anything else.

In cricket, there are many examples of captaincy bringing the best out of players. Mithali Raj, Meg Lanning and Heather Knight are a few names which come to mind when we talk of captains leading from the front in recent years. As seen in the table below, all three average significantly more as skipper than otherwise.

Player Runs as capt. Avg. as capt.Runs when not capt. Avg. when not capt.
Mithali Raj440254.34248645.20
Suzie Bates321451.83117828.73
Meg Lanning264057.39105343.87
Heather Knight154645.47125431.35

Devine can take inspiration from her own teammate and good friend Suzie Bates who has, over the years, led New Zealand remarkably well. In her 76 matches as ODI captain, Bates has scored 3214 runs at an average of 51.83. She has also notched eight of her ten hundreds in this period. 

A large part of captaincy is about playing the waiting game — devising strategies that could potentially play out over a few overs, or being patient with young players who are trying to find their feet in top-flight cricket. Devine is known for her big-hits and positive intent when she bats, and her ability to change the game with the ball. Now, having been handed the reins of the team, it will be interesting to see how she reacts to the challenge… Does she have the ability to be patient as well?

Her first major task will be to help her players identify their roles within the team. With a relatively young squad picked for the series against South Africa — Jess Kerr rewarded for her consistency at the domestic level, and Lauren Down returning to the squad — this will be a crucial step in giving the players some confidence. The team also sees the return of veteran ‘keeper Rachel Priest, who is back in the national setup after close to three years. With the countdown to the T20 World Cup already having begun, the series against South Africa gives the newly appointed skipper an opportunity to assess team combinations and figure out how her players are responding to her style of leadership.

Once she has those things nailed down, Devine’s focus will shift to more pressing matters: improving New Zealand’s dismal recent record in ICC T20 World Cups. After being runners-up in the 2009 and 2010 editions, the Kiwis have only once made the final four in the next four editions. Devine will certainly be keen to right those wrongs and help New Zealand consistently challenge the top teams again. 

Her path ahead is no doubt daunting, but considering the run of form she is in, Devine will be able to take up this new challenge with confidence and freedom. Only time will tell whether she will be New Zealand’s saviour. An interesting period awaits.

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