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Very little Down time - NZ batter keen to seal top-order spot after baby break

White Ferns mums unite as batter prepares to tour England five months after giving birth

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Lauren Down bats, New Zealand vs India, ODI, Queenstown, February 24, 2022

Lauren Down wants to make a top-order spot her own  •  Getty Images

Lauren Down always planned to return to cricket after becoming a first-time mother and now, just five months after giving birth, she intends to cement a place in New Zealand's top order, starting with the upcoming ODI series in England.
Down, 29, welcomed daughter Ruby into the world in early January. She last travelled with New Zealand as part of their T20 World Cup squad in South Africa nearly a year earlier and this week returned to the ODI squad for three matches against England starting in Durham on June 26 saying that a cricket comeback was "always in the back of my mind".
"I knew that, one, I wanted to be a mum and have a family but, two, that I still wanted to give cricket a good crack and I was hoping that if everything went well with giving birth and through the pregnancy that I would be able to return," Down said. "Fortunately the comeback has gone pretty well so far. It's been tough at times and physically a bit draining, but it's been really good and it's nice being a mum and still being able to play cricket as well.
"My partner, I'm very fortunate with him that he can stay at home and help look after Ruby while I'm training and it makes this whole journey a lot easier. There's been some sleepless nights and then getting up and trying to do a little bit of training, which is a little bit harder than normal, but when you come home at the end of the day and see a little smiling face, it all feels worth it."
Down said she also felt blessed to have two other mums to lean on for advice, the now-retired Amy Satterthwaite and Lea Tahuhu, who are expecting their second child before Tahuhu links up with New Zealand for the T20I leg of the England tour, starting on July 6.
"I'm obviously really fortunate with Amy and Lea having little Grace and they've been through this journey already, so I've definitely lent on them a lot during my pregnancy and also now coming back and talking to them about what worked for them and what challenges they faced," Down said. "I'm very lucky to have Lea around the group still as well.
"Your body goes through a whole lot of change through the pregnancy and then slowly trying to work back into things and get back to the fitness I was at beforehand, it's been a bit tough being at the bottom of the pack in the running sessions with the White Ferns girls, but I know I'll get back there and it's been nice just to be back with the group and training again."
While Down has had to work hard to regain her fitness levels in a relatively short period of time, she is well versed in managing a comeback.
She missed the home ODI World Cup in early 2022 after fracturing her thumb while fielding in a bilateral series against India just before the tournament. She had only been back training for about a month following that injury when she was selected in New Zealand's squad for the Commonwealth Games but pulled out to prioritise her wellbeing, later saying she had put too much pressure on herself to be back in time, hoping not to miss a second big tournament that year.
This time, Down is ready to return, and she will only play the ODIs in England.
"Time away from the game was actually quite nice, it was refreshing and then it just sort of made me hungry to get back and just want to get back into the fold as soon as I could," she said. "I knew it was going to be tight in terms of timeframes getting back for this England series, but I just wanted to give myself the best chance that I could to put my hand up and fortunately I'm able to get on the plane next week.
"I missed the girls a lot. I think I probably watched every ball of every game when I was on leave and it was great to sit back and watch the girls as a fan, but I definitely missed everyone and I'm really glad to be back now."
In her 28 ODIs to date, Down has batted between No.1 and No.7, the majority in the top three and she is keen to stay up the order in both formats going forward, having largely batted at No.5 and No. 6 in her 13 T20Is so far.
"I've floated a little bit up and down the order throughout my career so far but, coming back into the fold, I'm hoping to sort of bat around the top order and try and cement a spot up there in both formats would be ideal," she said.
"One thing I've been working on is trying to open up that 360-degree game and try and access different areas to help score and that sort of thing. It's definitely something the team and then myself as well have been working on."
Earlier this year, New Zealand lost a home T20I series to England 4-1 and won just one of their three ODIs. Immediately afterwards, captain Sophie Devine said she expected her squad to be "absolutely flogged" during a set of training camps ahead of the return tour as they looked to build on the gains she saw in that series.
Three training camps later, head coach Ben Sawyer said his players had worked hard on their fitness and effort in the field with "numerous PBs" achieved in the gym.
On Down's return, he said: "She spoke to us after having the bub and wanted to get back into it and be considered for selection so we've looked at her these last couple of camps and she's going really, really well. She's earned a spot back up there at the top of the order and I think especially in ODI cricket, she'll be a real force for us up there. I'm looking forward to seeing what she can do on the UK tour."

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor, women's cricket, at ESPNcricinfo