Suzie Bates, run and gun between basketball and cricket
There are several dual internationals in women's cricket - Ellyse Perry is probably the most talked-about - who go about juggling two completely different sports, training routines, playing mindsets and the like because they love both and can't bring themselves to abandon one for the other. Suzie Bates, New Zealand captain and allrounder, basketball player and Beijing 2008 Olympian, is one of them.
Bates is currently in the form of her life with the bat. She's made the most runs in the Women's World Cup - 386 at an average of 77.20 with a century and three fifties from six innings. While Bates says basketball has had a role to play in improving her mental and physical fitness, the clincher has been her decision to focus solely on cricket for some time now. Having earlier done the same for basketball to be able to play the 2008 Olympics, Bates admits the decision was "tough".
Basketball fulfilled Bates' dream of going to the Olympics and gave her a chance to see athletes that one would otherwise "only see on television." She met Dirk Nowitzki, the German NBA basketball player, who was a "really nice guy." Bates didn't get to speak to Rafael Nadal but followed his progress through the tennis draw and found him "pretty cool." She still regrets missing the opening ceremony - "you get to do it only once" - as her team had a game to play early next morning.
It sounds as good as it can get - representing your country at the highest level in two sports in parallel, but it puts enormous strain on body and mind. While still only in her mid-twenties, Bates was starting to find adapting to the changeovers increasingly draining. "I reached a stage where I didn't feel I was doing either (game) justice," Bates says. "I was inconsistent with my cricket and not as good at basketball as I could have been."
In mid-2011, Bates was offered the New Zealand captaincy. She took it up, knowing the responsibility would mean far greater devotion to cricket in terms of time. That she is thriving in her enhanced role is evident in the manner she's batted in the World Cup.
"When the captaincy came up I was like, yes, I am going to give it a good crack, with the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka and the World Cup here. I just put the basketball on the side. It has made me enjoy my cricket better as I came fully prepared, practising consistently rather than playing basketball one day and then doing nets practising my skills. This has been the longest time I have focussed on cricket.
"Once I accepted it, it has changed my mind. Being a leader and getting the team to commit, I can't be seen doing my own thing and have to commit fully to the programme. I am loving the challenge. Now that I have experienced captaincy, I don't know how you play without doing it."
While she adores basketball, cricket is clearly Bates' greater passion. A strapping, aggressive batsman, her basketball experiences have endowed her with considerable stamina. She can bat on and on and hates getting out.
"I had two brothers who played basketball and cricket. That is where I got introduced. I think being a New Zealander I was exposed more to cricket, watched more cricket and had more cricket idols. That is why I have had more of a passion. I still love basketball. It is just not there that much in New Zealand."
Dual internationals face constant, conflicting demands on their time. Perry was asked last year by the coach of her Canberra-based football club to choose between soccer and cricket, leading to her quitting the club. Like Perry, Bates has been used to balancing both sports from an early age.
"When I went to Beijing I had to give up cricket for 18 months and choose basketball. At high school, there was a national cricket tournament and I had a New Zealand basketball trial. There were always those decisions. I sort of planned well in advance. Someone like Ellyse Perry has had pressures over time. I look back and I don't know how well I have handled the quick changeovers. Now I am getting older and taking more time to recover."
Whatever be the pressures, Bates knows she is among a chosen few individuals who have had the best of two worlds, and is glad to have been able to do it the way she has. "At times it has been tiring, but I have achieved most things I considered to in the long term. The World Cup (in cricket) has always been the goal. We'll get there eventually I hope. There is nothing I'll change, especially where I am now with my cricket. I am loving it, playing more regularly has been really good with my form."
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo