In October 2020, New Zealand faced Australia in the Rose Bowl series. With the hosts needing a mere 25 runs to register their 19th consecutive ODI win, Suzie Bates felt a niggle in her shoulder and chose to leave the field.
Although Bates remained with the squad for the remainder of the series, New Zealand physio Zoe Russell ruled the niggle serious enough to keep her from playing the next two games. At the time, they believed the injury was minor and recovery would be swift. Unfortunately for Bates, much worse was to come.
A month later, during the WBBL in Sydney, Bates was leading the Adelaide Strikers. She had a relatively quiet day with the bat but the Strikers were able to put 140 on the board. Again, during the chase, Bates tried to throw a ball from the boundary line. This time, the pain was excruciating.
On November 10, Strikers announced that her season was over. Surgery was imminent. “As a cricketer, you want to be fit and playing all the time, so to face a decent stint on the sidelines is tough news,” an emotional Bates said.
“For me, it’s about taking this process one step at a time. The first step is successful surgery. Once that’s done, I can then turn my mind to rehabilitation and the ultimate goal of getting back on the park as soon as possible.”
A week before Christmas in 2020, in an Instagram post, a smiling Bates revealed that the surgery went well. A grueling period of recovery awaited the 33-year-old – one that would force her to miss the home series against England in February, and another against Australia in March 2021.
However, she couldn’t stay away from the game and joined the Spark Sports commentary team for domestic and international fixtures. “I will thank the Sparks Sports crew for making me feel at home. It is nice to stay close to the game. To be on the other side of the game and gain a little perspective. As a cricketer, we need to have time away and you realize that it is just a game and you are just keen to get back at and enjoy it,” she recalled after hitting the century in the first ODI against India.
The away series against England in September marked her return. Back in action, she opened in the ODIs alongside Lauren Down. In the entire series, she could only score 57 runs in five innings at an average of 11.40. New Zealand suffered a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of England. Bates recalled these tough match-ups. Even in the loss, she felt like the team was improving every time.
“As a group, we have always believed in the team we have had and the skills we have. We have had tough match-ups throughout COVID against England and Australia, two of the best teams in the World. We haven’t come out on a winning side but we are improving as a group. Although people from the outside might not have seen it, I feel like, we have been in a really good place, and playing good cricket.”
After that crushing loss against England, Bates opted out of the seventh season of WBBL. Realities of the post-COVID-19 world forced her to withdraw from the competition. "At the time I had to make the decision, I had a spot booked by New Zealand Cricket to get me back into NZ and if I gave it up to fly straight to Australia, there was a high chance of being stranded in Australia post the Big Bash," Bates explained.
"This was not a risk I was willing to take with what the White Ferns have coming up this summer, including a home World Cup (beginning in March).”
ALSO READ: Injury, milestones and a home World Cup: a sit-down with Suzie Bates
At home, Otago Sparks coach Craig Cumming helped her and together the search for the old, more dominant Suzie began. “I had come back from England and put in a lot of work throughout the winter and was feeling really good. It felt like my technique was in a really good position but I kept finding always to get out. Then I got back with some domestic cricket with Sparks and the opportunity to get some big scores.”
“I got out below 10 in three innings and we had a bit of a chat around what’s going in my mind. I think I was just putting so much pressure on myself leading into the World Cup to get into some form. And that was holding me back. I had to let go of that. With the help of him and the Sparks teammates, I managed to get a few runs. Once I started scoring them, I was just making sure I made the most of the form and not wanting to give my wicket away.”
‘The old Suzie’ found her form. She became the highest run-scorer of the Super Smash with 504 runs in 12 innings at an average of 56.00. Her five half-centuries were monumental as Sparks made it to the final of the T20 league. Bates was gearing up for something big, which happened against India in the first ODI. Her 11th ODI century arrived at the best possible time for her and her team.
“Having a serious shoulder injury, coming back in the England series, and not performing how I would have liked, there were a few self-doubts creeping in. So it’s really nice to have the domestic summer here. Just to get a little bit of a monkey off my back with the hundred to start the series off with a win,” she said.
Since the T20 World Cup in Australia in 2020, it seemed like New Zealand were one player away from being a complete team. Amy Satterthwaite missed the tournament due to pregnancy. Bates herself missed the series against England and Australia. Captain Sophie Devine took a break in the series against Australia. New Zealand then missed the services of Amelia Kerr in England.
ALSO READ: Behind the helmets, bats and pads, there’s a person: Sophie Devine
Bates understands the importance of having the best players back in the national side. Some of the biggest names in New Zealand cricket are back together and rearing to go, playing some good cricket.
“Although people from the outside might not have seen it, I feel like, we have been in a really good place, and playing good cricket. It is nice to get a win in the one-day format and start a series because that hasn’t always been the case. We have finally got all of our players back fit and healthy leading into the World Cup, which is perfect timing for us,” she said.
The band is finally back together for New Zealand. Things are shaping up for them. With Bates' hitting, Devine stringing together a few wins as skipper, Satterthwaite chipping in and the Kerr sisters taking responsibility, is this the White Ferns' chance to make it big in the home World Cup? 22 years after their first World Cup victory, can this team bring the glory back?