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Interviews

Sara McGlashan: 'The key is ensuring players outside of franchise cricket have opportunities to accelerate their game'

The former New Zealand batter and now high-performance coach talks about her career and about shaping the players of the future

McGlashan at an ICC coaching clinic with children in Vanuatu in 2012: "I always loved working with kids and sport"  •  Hamish Blair/Getty Images

McGlashan at an ICC coaching clinic with children in Vanuatu in 2012: "I always loved working with kids and sport"  •  Hamish Blair/Getty Images

Sara McGlashan has been a stalwart of women's cricket in New Zealand, featuring in over 200 internationals across formats in a 14-year career, including an ODI World Cup final in 2009. She also had a successful stint with Sydney Sixers in the WBBL, playing in four finals and winning two. Now a high-performance coach with New Zealand Cricket, McGlashan spoke about her career, the women's game, her coaching experiences so far, and preparing young girls for a career in cricket in New Zealand.
You played over 200 games for New Zealand in all three formats, your brother [Peter McGlashan] also played for New Zealand, and your grandfather [Robin Schofield] played a lot of first-class cricket. What was your childhood like in a sporting household?
For me it was - and you hear it quite a bit - I did whatever my brother was doing. I was in his shadow more often than not. He used to go down to the local park with my grandfather when he was younger, so I'd just run around and chase balls, and probably annoy them, to be honest. But whatever he was doing, I wanted to be involved in. So that's probably why I played cricket and football as well.
When did you realise you were getting serious about cricket?
Not sure you really even realise things are getting serious… I guess once you start making representative teams. So probably when I first played state cricket, which would have been at the back end of my high-school studies. And it was after that that I got a spot at the New Zealand Cricket Academy at Lincoln University. So that's probably when cricket got serious for me, when I would have been 19-20 years old.
How difficult was it to choose cricket as a career when you were young and there were no contracts for women? You played other sports as well.
I played football at the same time as I was playing cricket. It was just when National League football was becoming a summer sport, so I played one year there, and due to them clashing I decided that cricket probably presented more opportunities at that time at a higher level. Ironically, I often tell people that I enjoyed football more than I enjoy cricket (laughs). Even now. But I think they are two very different sports.
"Just getting the opportunity to know players as people, rather than as cricketers - that's something I was really grateful for in my Big Bash experience. You realise everyone's human at the end of the day"
Did you have a day job at that time?
Through most of my international career, I was working [on the side] at the same time. I was always working in an area that allowed me to still play for New Zealand. So, often it was either in a cricketing environment or a school environment where there's flexibility to still be touring. But I loved working with kids and with sport as well.
How does playing multiple sports while growing up impact an athlete's personality?
It's good to be exposed to different environments and different coaches, whether that's with different teams within one sport or with different sports. It's really important as well that you're playing with different people, you're learning different things, you have different challenges put in front of you. And you have the chance to switch off from one and switch on to the other, rather than just being focused on one thing the whole time.
Is that why we've seen some multi-sport players like Suzie Bates (basketball), Sophie Devine (hockey), Ellyse Perry (football) and others play at the top level? Does it reflect in your game in some way?
Yeah, possibly. It wasn't a conscious thing to be involved in more than one sport. I think when you're young and sporty, you like giving lots of things a go. For me that always was football and cricket. It's something I've always encouraged people to do, to try and do both for as long as possible. I'd often use Suzie and Sophie as good examples of that, and the fact that they were both playing senior international sport for two different sports. That's a lot harder to do now than it was five or ten years ago. It's probably not quite realistic, but it's still something you can do at the senior level.
You were among the first set of women's players to be contracted by NZC. At that time did you think the pay gap between men's and women's cricket would close as soon after your retirement as it did?
That's how we hoped it would happen. The timing has probably been about right. There's still a lot of movement that can take place in that sort of area, but it's definitely something that realistically needed to happen. You look at the scheduling now for women's international cricket and they're [constantly] on the road, whether that's home tours or away tours. Realistically you need to be a full-time athlete who is paid well to be able to perform at that level.
What do you think will be the immediate improvements in the women's game as a result of match-fee parity in New Zealand?
I'd imagine most of it will be long term. Short term it might [impact] whether we retain senior players in domestic cricket. I think it's important that you still have those experienced players to be able to mentor and be role models for the youth coming through. It will also allow those domestic players, especially, to be able to take time off work and to be reimbursed financially for that. From a domestic point of view it's good to see that things are changing a little bit.
Do you expect some of the top players to pick New Zealand domestic cricket over tournaments like the WBBL now? It's something that's come up in the past and you even voiced your opinion about it a few years ago.
That's a hard one. There's fewer and fewer windows available for the international players. I think at the moment the experience and the exposure that our players get in the WBBL is really good. [The key] is how we can balance that with those players still being involved in our domestic competitions, and try to strengthen our domestic cricket so that those players are used to playing competitive cricket.
You played the first ever T20 international, in 2004. The format has evolved a lot since then in terms of use of data, match-ups, tactics, although there's a lot more in the men's game. Do you foresee that kind of growth in the women's game as well?
Yeah, absolutely. Part of that is the amount of footage that becomes available and the analysis that's involved in that… It's all out there for everyone to see at the moment, which at pinnacle events like a World Cup is really exciting, because there's a lot of information that teams can get on different players.
I think the nice thing is international players just actually get to know each other [through T20 competitions] - and just getting the opportunity to know them as people, rather than as cricketers, is a really nice aspect. That's something I was really grateful for in my Big Bash experience. You realise everyone's human at the end of the day.
What were the changes you had to make in your game for T20s?
The first T20 we played, we didn't even know what we were doing (laughs). It was just fun and games, to be honest. It was crazy to think what a T20 game is like now. For me, what I enjoyed most about T20 cricket was trying to become more innovative with the bat and being able to access 360 [degrees of the field].
"When people are achieving their goals or their dreams or doing things they never thought they could do, I think that's when coaching becomes a really enjoyable job"
Did it strike any of you at the time that this format was going to be the future?
No, honestly. I don't know if you can get footage of it, but it was so bad (laughs). Scores were pretty low then - even in women's 50-over cricket scores weren't huge - and when we approached the T20, it probably wasn't that different to 50-over cricket. I think the skills that are on display now at the senior level are very impressive.
What's exciting in women's T20s from a coaching perspective, especially with two T20 World Cups coming up, at the Under-19 and senior level?
The young players that'll be on display. The thought of what the final of the Under-19 World Cup could look like in terms of what's out in the middle is really exciting. The cricket over in South Africa will be of some amazing standards and there'll be those youngsters that will just pop up and become household names pretty quickly. To be fair, some are already household names. I think that's an exciting thing with the T20 format.
How do you train the U-19 girls for a World Cup? Do they know what to expect, given they likely wouldn't have played a lot of their opponents before?
At the end of the day, especially for us in New Zealand, it's just about focusing on themselves and the team and what we're trying to do, rather than worrying too much about the opposition. As long as they're clear on what they want to do - that is the main thing. This group here in India [a development squad which played five T20s against India Women Under-19], they haven't played cricket outside of New Zealand, so a lot of it will be to try and keep them calm and clear about what they're trying to do, because a lot of things can be overwhelming quickly.
What have been the highlights of your coaching career so far?
Just seeing people grow or seeing players be surprised when they do things they didn't think they could do. Those are the moments I enjoy whether that's on or off the field. Cricket is an amazing vehicle to become a better person in so many areas. When people are achieving their goals or their dreams or doing things they never thought they could do, I think that's when coaching becomes a really enjoyable job.
You made four successive finals with Sydney Sixers in the WBBL and won two of them. They were in the final again this season. What makes that team so successful?
When I first got there, what stood out for me was just the people in the group - the players and the staff were just an amazing bunch. Early on we never talked about winning titles - and that's probably a key thing - it really was just about playing hard on the field and having fun and enjoying each other's company off the field. I think at the end of the day that's how you probably get the best out of people, especially in franchise cricket where it's just about going well out in the middle. Probably credit to Ben Sawyer [head coach] early on with that ability to get that group of players together. Especially with overseas players, being able to make them gel quickly is really important, and he was very good at doing that.
New Zealand Women on the other hand haven't had that kind of success in recent World Cups despite having the personnel to lift trophies. Why do you think that is?
Things are starting to change. There's a lot more contact time with the players, from a coaching point of view, like in the lead-up to that home World Cup. The senior group of players, like the Suzies and Sophies, are playing cricket 24x7. They're playing in England, Australia, in high-pressure situations a lot of the time, so the key thing is making sure the group of players who aren't away playing franchise cricket have opportunities to accelerate their cricket. Either we need to look at things differently or just ensure that they are our focus as the next group of players.
New Zealand also haven't played Tests in a while; you played in the last one, in fact, in 2004. There are also no Tests for New Zealand in the first women's FTP that runs until April 2025. Do you see some Tests being scheduled for New Zealand in the future?
I'm not sure, to be honest. I guess when you add in a Test match you probably add another couple of weeks to a tour. There's probably a few things to consider and I actually don't know who makes those decisions (laughs).

Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo