Cricket: White Fern star Sophie Devine on having no female models to inspiring girls of today

Sophie Devine of New Zealand hits out during an ODI against England. Photosport

When Sophie Devine first made the Wellington women’s representative side, she didn’t even know such a team existed.

Growing up in Tawa, her cricketing heroes were Black Caps like Nathan Astle and Stephen Fleming as well as firebrand Aussie quick Brett Lee, with his 150km/h deliveries.

Devine was a promising young player – she would set plenty of records at Tawa College and turned out for the boys 1st XI – but couldn’t identify any female models.

“I didn’t see many female players – it wasn’t really on TV,” the White Ferns captain tells the Herald. “The first time I saw a female team was at the 2000 World Cup in Christchurch. I was like ‘oh, we have a New Zealand women’s team’.”

It was a similar story when the fourth former was called up for her first-class debut in 2003.

“I didn’t know there was a Wellington women’s team,” says Devine. “It wasn’t till I was picked in the side that I knew. It’s that visibility; if you can’t see it how do you even know about it?

“Especially for me, because I played boys cricket and boys rep stuff, I wasn’t in the women’s or girls cricket circles. I didn’t know much about it. It has certainly changed a little bit now.”

That change over the last two decades has been significant. Devine and her White Ferns teammates are regularly seen on television and have strong profiles in the cricketing community.

There is still some way to go, but the progress is worth celebrating, especially on International Women’s Day. And the fact that New Zealand will host three of the biggest World Cups in female sport over the next three years (rugby, cricket and football) is an unprecedented situation.

White Ferns captain Sophie Devine takes a selfie with the winning Auckland team following the U19 T20 Cricket tournament. Photosport
White Ferns captain Sophie Devine takes a selfie with the winning Auckland team following the U19 T20 Cricket tournament. Photosport

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to play in front of home crowds,” says Devine.

“But in the bigger picture is we’ve got three Women’s World Cups [here] and it’s across three years. I’ve never heard of that before in one country. It’s a special opportunity to share, to learn and to be involved in women’s sport at a special time.”

The 31-year-old is somewhat envious of today’s teenagers, given the doors that are opening in female sport.

“It’s definitely on the incline,” says Devine. “Sometimes I wish I was born 10 or 15 years ago because the opportunities that have started to come up now with woman’s sport are unbelievable.

“I’m very fortunate to be playing in this period but I guess I’m jealous of these younger kids that are coming through because the opportunities are endless really.”

Devine was first picked for the Ferns in her penultimate year of high school, then had to balance subsequent university studies in Christchurch with her sports career. But she realises her fortune, coming to prominence as women’s cricket transitioned from amateur to full-time – “I’ve never really had a proper job”.

But for the next wave, the sky is the limit, with the opportunities to travel and play professionally, something that was a fanciful dream for players of yesteryear, who had to fit full time employment around their sporting ambitions.

“I struggle to think about them holding down a full-time job while training full-time back then – it blows my mind,” says Devine.

“So much credit and respect go to those players that have come before me, but the opportunities now are for players to invest their lives focusing on their sport and it’s not just cricket and netball. It’s also rugby, basketball, football…there are so many options out there.

“Of course I am going to say everyone come play cricket but if we have got kids getting out there, staying active and playing multiple sports that’s what’s really exciting.”

While money is often the focus, with television deals pumping cash into the game, Devine says the key to the growth of women’s cricket has been the resources wrapped around that financial investment.

“You can throw money at it but you can still be training out on club grounds and not have the coaching support that you need,” explains Devine. “We’ve been really lucky here in New Zealand; the strength and conditioning, the coaching, the one-on-one skills that you’re getting now, we are starting to see players that are fitter, faster, stronger, who can hit the ball further and bowl the ball faster.

“All those things happen because [players] have had that support and investment into them and the opportunity to dedicate their life to sport has made the biggest difference.”

When asked about the vision for women’s cricket, Devine has a simple wish list.

“The end goal is that people don’t call me a female cricketer – I’m just a cricketer and it doesn’t matter about gender,” says Devine. “That’s the path that we’re heading towards now and the more we can be on level pegging with the boys, the better.”

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