Bates smashes her way into England's concerns
The scintillating Suzie Bates headed into Thursday's match averaging a disappointing 23.71 for her international season but smashed her way to thrilling form today in a special innings against Pakistan. Bates showed natural timing and all her flair - she is also an Olympic basketballer - to carve up 168 and plenty of records in the process.
Her total was the highest for a female New Zealand batsman, beating Karen Le Combers' 135 not out against Ireland in 1996. This was also her personal best in ODIs, eclipsing her 122 against India in 2007, while being the third-highest ever, behind Charlotte Edwards' unbeaten 173 and Belinda Clark's 229 not out.
She shared in the best-ever partnership for New Zealand with Haidee Tiffen, their 262 breaking a record that had stood since 1982, when Barbara Bevege and Lesley Murdoch shared 180 against an international XI. Murdoch, here as New Zealand's media manager, thought today's feat was "Fantastic - couldn't have gone to more gifted players." It was also the highest second-wicket stand, beating the 224 of Netherlands' Debby Kooij and Pauline te Beest against Scotland in 2003.
The pair helped New Zealand record their highest ODI total away from home, and the sixth-highest of all women's cricket. The side already own the record, piling up 455 for 5 at Christchurch in 1997 in what was Pakistan's second ever ODI.
The modest Bates was unaware of the feats. Told she had brought up New Zealand's highest total, the soft-spoken Bates said, "Oh, didn't know that. Huge honour."
Her opposition may have the lowest tournament ranking, but that is to take nothing away from her classy strokeplay which the World Cup crowds have largely been deprived of. Today they were treated to a masterclass of dominant, attractive batting which came as no surprise to her loyal fans.
The Pakistan bowlers were strong and straight to begin with, but she made it it look easy to face. "I got off to a good start and the wicket was probably the best we've played on this tournament," she said. "Haidee kept me ticking along and I just seemed to be seeing the ball like it was a lot bigger than it was."
Prior to today, her top international score for this season was 47, made in the last game against India. That innings was a gritty, back-to-the-wall affair as New Zealand ground out a crucial win. There the 21-year-old Bates showed a maturity her side greatly required, while beginning her return to form. "It was a huge boost to finish off a game like that," she said. "We haven't been so good at chasing runs in the past and to finish really it was a struggle out there."
But today she played with an unreserved, happy abandon - raining down sixes, with a flood of fours - even though this was a must-win game. "Really enjoyable," she said of her unrestricted majesty being given free rein. "To relax and let loose, it was I think … the previous innings was a huge boost."
Tactically, her instructions were simple. "I was just told to hit sixes and keep my head still so that was easy to concentrate on." And so she did - mixing natural timing with eye-catching excitement - including a series of straight sixes, and even a cover-driven one. In all, she recorded 19 fours and six sixes, with a strike-rate of 160.
Her innings was not chanceless - there was a missed run-out on 40 when Tiffen drove back to Naila Nazir but the bowler was too slow, and then on 122, Nain Abidi spilled at square leg, having got two hands to the ball.
Largely favouring the aerial route, it finally proved her undoing as she holed out on the wide long-on boundary. But she had already delighted a modest crowd and the ABC cameras, who picked the right moment to turn up at Drummoyne.
As for good personal timing, Bates' innings comes at a crucial moment ahead of Sunday's final. "It was disappointing the way I've gone up until now," she said, "but it's good that I'm timing the form at the right time and hopefully I can carry on."
Bates is back to her best - worrying news for England.
Jenny Roesler is a former assistant editor at Cricinfo