September 26, 2000

Wicket-keeper ready to 'rock and Rolls'

Ssshh. Don't say it too loudly. But one New Zealand sportswoman identifies with the sporting attitude exhibited by Australian rugby captain John Eales.

It's bad enough that it was Eales' inspiring leadership, and his individual skill that denied New Zealand's All Blacks the Tri-Nations championship and, more importantly, the Bledisloe Cup this year.

But when Eales calmly kicked the winning penalty goal in the last act of the series-winning test match in Wellington, one New Zealand woman cricketer who could identify with his feat under extreme pressure was wicket-keeper Rebecca Rolls.

"He's a great model for any sports person," Rolls said.

"He's so humble despite all the setbacks he has had in his career, yet he is such an outstanding player and leader."

Rolls was in Christchurch with the CLEAR White Ferns at the weekend to take part in the side's last winter camp in the lead-up to November-December's CricInfo Women's World Cup.

Adopting some Australian attitudes to sport may prove a little more acceptable to New Zealanders across all sports after the Olympic Games where the Aussie approach has rewarded excellence, not only in performance but, most importantly, also in preparation.

New Zealand knows that if it is to succeed this year in the World Cup it will have to beat Australia, possibly twice, after they meet in the tournament opener on November 29.

For New Zealand's cricket women, the Australians are the gauges by which all success is measured. They now meet annually and there is no doubt that New Zealand has become much more competitive against them.

The free-flow of ideas between the two cricket nations has also opened up opportunities to study the Australian way.

For Rolls that has also allowed her to study the work of Australian men's wicket-keeping maestro Ian Healy. It's not only his glove technique that has inspired her, but also the way he developed his batting to the point where he became a genuine all-rounder.

As a batswoman of no mean potential herself, she also delights in the example set by Indian hero Sachin Tendulkar and New Zealand's own Chris Cairns, especially with the example he has set in recent times.

Rolls remembers the frustration of losing the last World Cup final to Australia in India.

She could equate with the comment made by New Zealand softball third baseman Dean Rice who was a member of the side, which lost the World Series final to Canada in 1992.

In the lead-up to New Zealand's successful 1996 campaign, Rice commented that thinking about the lost final was unavoidable for four years.

"It was like sleeping on a pillow of rocks every night," he said.

Playing at home, without the prolonged bus trips that are part and parcel of playing cricket in India, would give New Zealand a better incentive this time around.

"We've been really setting high standards in our training and have been training out of our comfort zone," she said.

Rolls admitted the tournament had been quite a preoccupation for her despite her work as a policewoman in the busiest police area of New Zealand, in south Auckland.

But she is determined to be in her best possible form because as wicket-keeper she takes personal responsibility for the team's performance in the field.

"If I'm on top of my game then the team should be," she said.

From a batting point of view, she has her own goals in the middle-order where she will be looking to regain the sort of form that saw her help New Zealand to a Shell Rose Bowl series win over Australia with two fine innings in Palmerston North.

In the first game, Australia scored 227 for five. New Zealand reached 143 for four before Rolls took a hand and scored 60 from 48 balls to push the team within reach of victory.

Two days later she was in the act again when her 44 helped New Zealand reach 204 for eight. Australia was dismissed for 181.

"Hopefully, I'll still be considered for the middle-order. In our practices we've been working on finding gaps in the field. Last year we were hitting some lovely cover drives, but straight to fielders.

"We've been working on easing back on the power of our shots to go for placement. And we've also been batting the nets with game situations in our minds as much as we can.

"Finding gaps in the field is something the Aussies are very good at," she said.

Rolls is pleased with the results of the fitness work she has done. Her concentration levels are good and she said, "the fitter we are, the easier it is to concentrate."

Having had so much exposure to Australia across many sports, New Zealand knows what to expect when the crunch time comes.

But New Zealand is likely to employ the same approach as the men's team did at the 1992 World Cup where New Zealand was such a force.

On that occasion, the Kiwis worked on their opponents by colour, taking the country and reputation out of the occasion.

"Of course we rate them, but we will treat them as a team in yellow.

"We know from the times we have beaten them that if we can win the first game they have struggled to come back in.

"In the last series we played we were in a position to win two of the games we lost," she said.

Other teams had individuals who could inspire their sides to wins but for Rolls it is the collective strength as a team which makes Australia so dangerous.

"My hope is that at the end of it all I can look back and know the preparation I have done has paid off and that I was in the best form I could possibly be, having left no stone unturned in my preparation.

"I believe you make your own luck. In our own minds we know we have done the preparation and we can't start looking at what other teams are doing.

"It's time we stood up and got counted," she said.