India played their 100th T20I on Friday (February 8), but it wasn’t a happy game. The team suffered a nail-biting loss in the second T20I against New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland. Suzie Bates anchored the hosts’ chase of 136 with a measured 52-ball 62, helping New Zealand seal the T20I series with a game to spare. Bates thus joined ‘Smash Sister’ Sophie Devine as New Zealand’s only other half-centurion in the T20I series so far.
Although Bates may have stolen the headlines (and the player of the match award), it was Katey Martin’s energy in the field, and later her calmness at the end of the chase, that helped New Zealand keep it together when it looked like their lower-middle order would emulate India’s efforts in Wellington. What should have been a comfortable chase, turned into a chaotic end after Bates’ dismissal in the 18th over. If not for Martin’s telling blow off the first ball of the last over (and India’s helter-skelter throwing thereafter), the series may have still been alive.
At first glance, Martin’s T20I record is not very impressive. It reads: 73 matches, 58 innings, 765 runs at an average of 17.79 and a strike rate of 109.91, including four half-centuries. But a look at her record since 1 January 2018— when she became a more regular member of the side and began batting (consistently) in the top 6— and the right-hander’s numbers do catch your eye: 18 matches, 454 runs, an average of 37.83 and strike rate of 131.59. She has scored all her half-centuries during this period and also hit 60 of her career 80 fours, and 6 of her career 7 sixes.
There is no doubt that Martin adds a great deal of value to the New Zealand batting line up. She is a busy player who manipulates the field well, runs hard between the wickets, accesses different areas, and has added an element of power to her game. Formerly, someone who scored heavily on the leg-side and was very strong square of the wicket, Martin has now developed the ability to hit over cover and even go straight over the bowler. It was a skill she used very well in her match-turning cameo in the first T20I at Wellington.
Having come in with the score at 116 for 3 in the 16th over, Martin immediately hit her stride. She played a reverse sweep to get her innings underway and then began her game of cat and mouse with the Indian bowlers. With Anuja Patil attempting to bowl short and wide to control the area New Zealand scored in, Martin stood well outside off stump to try and expand her scoring options. She jumped on the back foot to keep the scoreboard moving before finally launching into Radha Yadav in the last over.
She first took the left-armer over cover, then hit her with the wind over long on, before depositing the last delivery over the rope as well. They were shots that showed how much the 34-year old had grown and worked on her game. Her footwork was immaculate, allowing her to get into wonderful positions to manipulate to both sides of the field. She finished with an unbeaten 27 off 14 deliveries— 15 of which came off Radha’s over. It was a knock that snatched the momentum right out of India’s hands.
In the field, like most wicket-keepers, Martin is a bundle of energy— always cheering on her bowlers, pushing her fielders to put in the extra effort, and, of course, having the odd word with the batters.
On Friday, her chirp to Harmanpreet Kaur was an example of how witty she can be: “If I can hit a six, she’s going to clear the whole stadium,” Martin remarked to Leigh Kasperek as the off-spinner was getting ready to bowl to Kaur.
The Indian captain had just walked out to bat with her team decently placed at 72 for 2 in the 11th over. At the other end, Jemimah Rodrigues was motoring towards her fifth T20I half-century. Kaur would need to bat through (and begin to challenge the boundary) if India were to reach their target of 170.
Kaur went forward and defended her first delivery from Kasperek. “Lovely areas, Leigh!” came the appreciation behind the stumps.
A prodded single to mid-wicket, and it was Rodrigues on strike. “Here’s the prodigy now!” said Martin.
Rodrigues nudged a delivery just past Bates at short mid-wicket to get off strike. It was Kaur again…
“This is the top four right her, Batesy,” she exclaimed. “Come on Leigh! One for the Sparks now!” (Kasperek and Martin both play for the Otago Sparks in the New Zealand domestic circuit).
Kaur glided a slightly shorter and quicker delivery through slip for a boundary, “Oh no!” came Martin’s cry.
It was a delicate shot, not the bludgeon that is Kaur’s signature. Was her hit ‘out of the stadium’ coming soon?
Next delivery, Kaur chipped an innocuous half volley straight to Amy Satterthwaite at short extra cover. It may not have been the little nudge about her six hitting abilities that got to Kaur, but the comment was an example of how Martin is constantly in the ear of the batters— trying to distract them, and get under their skin.
On air, Emily Drumm, former New Zealand captain-turned-commentator, described Martin as “one of those annoying players whom you do not want to play against… You definitely want her in your side.” She is constantly in the ear of her fielders and bowlers, shouting instructions from behind the stumps.
It’s not just her tongue that is sharp, Martin’s skills with the gloves are quite impressive as well. Aside from the one missed opportunity off Amelia Kerr when Rodrigues was on 53, Martin was safe behind the stumps. She was clean with her glove-work, fast with her movements, and also very quick to prevent India from taking any singles when the ball was in her vicinity. The only time the batters did try to take her on, Martin hit the bullseye, dismissing Deepti Sharma with a quick turn and throw.
Her biggest impact on Friday, however, came in the final over with New Zealand needing nine off six deliveries. Martin, who had walked in to bat in the 15th over, was hitting the ball cleanly, quite easily finding the gaps, and most importantly, didn’t look like she was fazed by the situation.
Thanks to some “high-risk, low percentage cricket” from New Zealand, India had scrapped their way back when the match seemed dead and gone. If they wanted to win though, they would have to get through Martin. The 34-year-old was calm and very confident. Her task was simple— read the play and try to find the boundary early in the over.
With the field up on the off-side, and Mansi Joshi bowling, Martin chose to back away and crash a short ball over cover. It was a brutal blow— she walked out of the crease, saw the width, and swung through the line. If India thought they had their noses in front at the start of the over, Martin’s boundary swung the game (once again) in New Zealand’s favour.
Martin’s contributions are easy to miss. Her person doesn’t scream ‘superstar’ like Bates or Devine. She is not one of New Zealand’s most celebrated players, but she is one of their more underrated players— the engine room around which the middle order works. Over the last year she has proven (many times over) what an asset she is to the team.
While India seem intent on packing their team with young talent, Martin is showing that that may not be the only way to go… One can get better with age— after all, it is just a number.