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Sophie Devine on stepping away from cricket: 'I just knew I couldn't do a job'

The allrounder is now back with the New Zealand squad and has no plans to ditch the captaincy

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
Sophie Devine withdrew herself from New Zealand duty last season  •  Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

Sophie Devine withdrew herself from New Zealand duty last season  •  Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

New Zealand captain Sophie Devine has opened up on her decision to take a break from the game at the end of last season, with her fatigue having reached a point where she did not feel able to do herself or her team justice.
Devine stepped away after the first T20I against Australia in late March - following a run of seven internationals that brought a top score of 17 - and revealed she did not think about the game for about two months. She is now back with the New Zealand squad as part of their first winter training camp in Christchurch and wants to retain the captaincy ahead of a 12-month period that includes a tour of England, the home one-day World Cup and the Commonwealth Games.
"Looking back, and hindsight is a wonderful thing, it had probably been bubbling away for a little while," Devine said. "For me I just knew I couldn't do a job. It's the same thing as if I broke a leg or pulled my hamstring - if I can't complete the job to 100% then I need to take a serious look if I'm worthy of being in that team. And at that stage, I couldn't live up to my role, what I expect of myself, as well as what my team-mates expect of me.
"I had my own little bubble for probably two months and spent that time going back to simple things, spending time away from cricket first and foremost and spending it with loved ones which was really important. I needed to get back to what makes me feel good. I had fantastic support which made it easier for me, wasn't having to worry about expectations. I really did switch off from everyone and everything which I needed to do at that time."
Amy Satterthwaite stepped into the captaincy against Australia but Devine said her commitment to the role had never wavered. "I certainly do want to keep with it, that's something that has stayed throughout."
While not singling out one factor that led her to the point of taking the break, Devine acknowledged the challenges presented by Covid-19. Last year she was part of the New Zealand squad that had two weeks quarantine in Brisbane before facing Australia, was then part of the WBBL hub in Sydney and then did two more weeks of quarantine on returning home.
"Covid has certainly thrown a spanner in the works and spending time in numerous different bubbles and quarantine, it's a bizarre environment," she said. "Think it was a combination of a lot of different things."
Devine has been working with New Zealand Cricket's psychologist Natalie Hogg to put in place strategies if she feels she is having difficulties again, and also hopes her situation encourages others to speak out or seek help if they need it.
"Hopefully it doesn't happen again, but it might and hopefully I'm in a better position to deal with it if those things do come up. And I can share my stories with others to know it's okay to be able to step away. It's not just athletes, it's everyone. We need to create that space for people to be able to talk about mental health.
"It seems to be quite topical at the moment, the really important thing to keep remembering is we are humans too - humans first and athletes second. We are not shying away from the fact that we know we are going to scrutinised from the public, media, everything and we don't want to step away from that. It's just remembering behind the helmet, the bat and the pads there's a person under there too."
Joining Devine back in the New Zealand set-up at the training camp which has been largely focused on fitness testing has been Suzie Bates, who had shoulder surgery six months ago which ruled her out of the home summer.
Bates has picked up a bat again over the last month and is confident that she is on track to return to action. She admitted she found it tough being around the game in the initial part of her recovery which included a commentary role, but by the end of the season was eager to be involved.
"It was an interesting experience. The first tour against England I wanted nothing to do with it, but with commentating I couldn't help it, but then the Aussie series I felt like I wanted to be back around the group just trying to help because I could sense that individuals were struggling a bit.
"It was a tough summer but I'm absolutely fizzed that I haven't missed a World Cup. All going well my shoulder will be fit to play a full part again.
"In my White Ferns career this is probably the most exciting 12 months that we've got with a home World Cup and a Commonwealth Games. So when I was sat at home feeling a bit sorry for myself, to know those two tournaments were ahead of us was really exciting."

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo