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Feature

Suzie Bates is back and so are New Zealand

The opener's unbeaten 81 propelled New Zealand to the tournament's highest score so far

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
18-Feb-2023
Suzie Bates batted through the innings and finished unbeaten on 81  •  ICC/Getty Images

Suzie Bates batted through the innings and finished unbeaten on 81  •  ICC/Getty Images

From carding the two lowest totals at this T20 World Cup - and their own second and fourth lowest score overall - New Zealand went on to post the tournament's highest score in their resounding comeback win over Bangladesh.
They were a batting line-up transformed from the one that was shot out for 76 and then 67 thanks largely to their experienced opener, Suzie Bates, who was dismissed for two ducks in the first two matches but scored an unbeaten 81 against Bangladesh. Truth be told, she was pleased to just get one run.
"I joked in the bus today about having one goal in the game and that was getting off the mark," Bates said, laughing after the game. "So when I got off the mark on the first ball I looked up to the dugout and it was a nice feeling."
Bates spent a significant amount of time in the nets on Thursday's optional training session, working more on the feeling of being out in the middle than her technique. "As soon as I hit the first ball, I was like 'oh these are nice nets'. It was good pace and bounce, so that helped after two low scores," she said. "I just wanted to bat and bat and we had lots of young bowlers running in. I was just getting in the zone of just batting in the nets, knowing that I wanted to spend time out in the middle."
Bates batted through New Zealand's innings and found her timing early on when she drove Marufa Akter wide of mid-on and also beat the deep midwicket fielder. She went on to tease fielders at long-on, deep midwicket again and fine leg as she found gaps and drilled the ball through them. Importantly, she also stayed away from the cross-batted shots that had been her undoing in the previous games and concentrated on "playing straight for longer", which worked well on a pitch with more pace and bounce than New Zealand got in Paarl.
"It felt like you got value for shots, so it allowed me to just stand still and play my natural game," Bates said. "A lesson is that that's probably when I'm at my best. [In] the first two games, I was taking the high risk early or playing across the line. That's not when I'm at my best. It was nice to talk about that as a batting group and me leading from the front after a tough start."
The conversations came after both Bates and captain Sophie Devine were left "pretty distraught" with their back-to-back defeats and "sort of tried to get together to work out how we were going to move forward as leaders of this team".
While they knew "some of our young girls just take it all in their stride", Bates admitted that she and Devine are among those who "take it a bit harder" because they know how much is expected of them given their experience. It's also that experience that led them to formulate a plan to go back to their own game ahead of this match against Bangladesh.
"Yesterday, Dean Brownlie, the batting coach, showed us some footage of the Bangladesh bowlers but then we kind of stopped that and said 'okay how do we want to play? And when are we at our best?' And that was almost that bully mentality that we're strong girls and hitting hard and straight down the ground, early in our innings, is how we all play at our best. So we just talked about what we were going to do," Bates said.
It worked for Bernadine Bezuidenhout, who opened the batting with Bates and was outscoring her in the initial phase, and for Maddy Green, who finished unbeaten on 44 off 20 balls but Devine, batting at No.4, went scoreless for the second time. Still, Bates credited her with being the fulcrum of the turnaround.
"It's been really hard for her but it's amazing that she's actually playing. She had a stress fracture in her foot, so for her to do the hard work to get here is kind of unbelievable but then she's not been able to perform. She's had such limited cricket so it's sort of understandable," Bates said. "She picked herself back up as a leader. The energy around the group when we started training was brilliant."
Devine's dry sense of humour may also have helped New Zealand not take themselves too seriously as they entered their third group match, even with the knowledge that anything less than a big win would guarantee them an early flight home. After New Zealand's second defeat, Devine joked that they would have to score around 8,000 runs and skittle Bangladesh and Sri Lanka out for 20 to stand a chance of qualifying for the semi-finals, but the situation is not that dire. Their 71-run win has improved their net run rate from -4.3 to -.1.5, which is still worse than Sri Lanka's -0.19 but not by all that much.
If South Africa lose to Australia and beat Bangladesh, and New Zealand beat Sri Lanka by a big enough margin, they may be able to sneak into the knockouts and back to the ground that Bates said is in her "top three" in the world - Cape Town.
"Coming here to train and just looking up at the mountains, it's absolutely stunning and gives you perspective. You sort of take a moment. And you're like, how lucky are we that we get to play in these beautiful places," she said. "We'd love to play again here but unfortunately the schedule doesn't allow."
Then she realised that it could. "Oh yeah, the semi-final, sorry! Yeah we're still in it."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket