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Sophie Devine: 'We need to normalise the conversation around mental health'

"I've been having to fight hard for the last couple of months to get in that space."

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Flaying England's bowling over the fence repeatedly at Hove felt "like home" for Sophie Devine.
Devine, the New Zealand captain and opener, cleared the rope four times - twice onto the roof of the hospitality boxes - on her way to a half-century which secured a series-levelling victory for her side in her 100th T20 international.
"The way I describe it is it just feels comfortable and it feels like home in a sense," Devine said. "It's what all batters, it's what all cricketers, it's what all athletes, aim to achieve - that real Zen headspace where you're not thinking of anything, there's nothing in your mind, there's clarity, and you really know what you're out there to achieve.
"I had to fight hard and I've been having to fight hard for the last couple of months to get in that space. Not playing and not playing as well as I would like with the bat, today it was about getting in the scrap and putting myself in a position where, when the ball was in my slot, being able to put it away."
It was a welcome return to form, given that playing such a milestone match - only Amy Satterthwaite and Suzie Bates among New Zealand women have played as many T20Is - wasn't even on Devine's mind when she took a mental health break in March.
Saturday night marked just her second match back after Wednesday's clash which England won emphatically by 46 runs.
Devine took the important wickets of Nat Sciver and Amy Jones to help restrict England to 127 for 7 at Hove before her boundary-laden fifty took the White Ferns within 28 runs of the target with enough wickets in hand to prevail despite a late wobble by the middle order.
"It's hard to put into words how I was feeling at the start of the year," Devine said. "Mentally I was nowhere and to try and play international cricket when mentally you're not at the top of your game, let alone 50 percent, it's always going to be bloody hard.
"Looking back on it, I was nowhere near my best with the bat and mentally I wasn't in a position to produce my best either. It's nice to have been able to step away and to put some things into place around that.
"I think we all know the environment that we find ourselves in now is bloody challenging. I'm extremely grateful that we're able to continue to play cricket because I know people are doing it really tough around the world."
Devine spent time working with White Ferns head coach Bob Carter, making technical changes to help her improve and now she is seeing results in an innings like her latest one which she said "certainly helps the confidence levels".
Also of help was the support she received from team-mates, staff and her national board when she decided to take time out.
"We need to really speak up. We're no different to anyone else in the public it just so happens that we're scrutinised so heavily in the media and the public and that's part of the job."
"It's becoming a lot more common, which I think it needs to be," Devine said. "We saw it with Naomi Osaka, we've seen a lot of athletes back in New Zealand actually stepping up and being really honest around how they're feeling and the mental space that they find themselves in, and I think we need to normalise that conversation.
"We need to really speak up. We're no different to anyone else in the public it just so happens that we're scrutinised so heavily in the media and the public and that's part of the job - absolutely I put my hand up and acknowledge that that's part of it - but we're no different, we still suffer and go through challenges like everyone else.
"I've been lucky to say I've been so well supported by the board, the players' association, family and friends and I think it is really important that anyone that is in that space has the opportunity to talk up and feels that way too."
Given what she has been through and the rarity of reaching 100 games, there was a sense that her team wanted to lift for their captain after a ragged and, in Devine's words, "rusty" performance in the series opener at Chelmsford. Speaking after Saturday night's match, her voice wavered as she reflected on their effort.
"That's a great thing about this group, I feel so well supported," Devine said. "In my milestone game, there were some beautiful words spoken by Amy and Suzie, who I've played a lot of cricket with.
"It was quite tough to hold back the tears around that because it was quite emotional thinking about it but this group is so special, and the amount of care that is within this group is unbelievable.
"That's what's going to hold us in really good stead moving forward, when we care about each other as people I think it really shows out that they're on the park and, absolutely, I think everyone probably gained another five percent for a milestone match.
"It's tough being away from home - we become each others' family - so I certainly feel very loved and very well supported from this group."

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo