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Suzie Bates: 'We've never had to deal with it as overseas players in the past'

Stand-in Oval Invincibles captain discusses selection pressure in her team's title defence

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Suzie Bates runs out of the tunnel  •  ECB/Getty Images

Suzie Bates runs out of the tunnel  •  ECB/Getty Images

Last Sunday, Oval Invincibles dropped Dane van Niekerk. It was a seismic decision: she was not only the Hundred's MVP in its first season, but had captained Invincibles to the title and led them to a nine-wicket win in the 2022 curtain-raiser, too.
The tournament's regulations had changed to allow an extra overseas player in each squad, but still only three in the playing XI. Invincibles had supplemented their three South Africans - van Niekerk, Marizanne Kapp and Shabnim Ismail - with New Zealand's Suzie Bates, with Kapp forced out of their first game with illness.
Her return to health meant that Jonathan Batty, their head coach, had a tough call to make - one which might have seemed familiar in the men's IPL, but was almost unprecedented in women's domestic cricket. One of his four world-class overseas players would have to make way; he took the call that van Niekerk would be on the bench against Southern Brave.
"It's very new for women's cricket," Bates told ESPNcricinfo. "Being on the sidelines as an overseas player is very foreign. You want all four to play, because those three are world-class players, but there's only room for three of us. It has been an interesting time: we've never had to deal with that as overseas players in the past."
Bates had arrived from the Commonwealth Games expecting to start the season on the bench, after she was the final pick in June's overseas wildcard draft, but has found herself captaining the side since van Niekerk's omission. She has started the Hundred with scores of 46, 15 and 41, and has formed a formidable opening partnership with Lauren Winfield-Hill.
"I was training before the second game and the coach said we want you in the XI," Bates recalled. "He asked if I'd like to captain and at first I was a little bit hesitant - with the rules of the Hundred, it all happens very quickly. But knowing I had Lauren Winfield-Hill for support, knowing I was one of the oldest and had captained in a lot of situations, I thought I'd give it a crack.
"It's just one game at a time at the moment: I'm waiting to be told what the team needs from me. The first game captaining against the Brave, they had a lot of left-right combinations which was a bit of a challenge, but I realised it was just going back to my instincts. It has been a bit overwhelming at times but I've loved every minute of it.
"When you're an overseas player, you're here to contribute and it's always a nice feeling when you can do that early in a tournament but it'd be nice to kick on a bit more. I'm feeling really comfortable in the middle and opening up with Lauren seems to be working nicely."
In particular, Bates has been enthused by the crowds that women's cricket has attracted in the UK this summer: first in the Commonwealth Games at Edgbaston, now in the Hundred where all eight venues have reported record attendances for a women's fixture this season.
"I've got used to playing in front of sold-out crowds," she said. "During my career, that's not been the norm. We were really excited to be part of the Commonwealth Games experience, being part of the wider New Zealand team. That really motivated us, and to win that last game [the bronze-medal match] against an England side we've struggled against recently was very cool. It's one of my highlights with the White Ferns, standing on that podium."
In the Hundred, Invincibles played in front of a crowd of around 16,000 at The Oval against Northern Superchargers in the opening game of the women's competition, with the women's game taking the primetime, evening slot in a double-header with the men's fixture.
During the men's game, Bates sat on the balcony alongside two young team-mates, Ryana Macdonald-Gay and Sophia Smale. "I thought 'how cool is this?' They're both 17 and this is what they're going to experience as cricketers," she said. "It's taken me until my 30s to experience crowds like that.
"Coming from Birmingham and the crowds there and then playing in a domestic competition where the crowds are now sold-out, it feels like this is now the norm and this is what women's cricket attracts. It was a cool moment for me to be there with kids half my age, experiencing that and being just as excited as they were."
On Tuesday afternoon, Invincibles will look to keep their title defence alive against Birmingham Phoenix, who are hoping to extend their 100% record this season. There will be familiar faces in the opposition camp for Bates, with New Zealand's coach and captain, Ben Sawyer and Sophie Devine, filling the same roles at Phoenix.
"I know they'll be very well-prepared," Bates said, "and you know any team with Ellyse Perry in it is going to compete. We've got three games left, and three good teams to play against. The nature of this competition is that you can't lose too many and we'll have to play well to beat Phoenix, but we're at our home ground for the last time this season. It's going to be a goodie."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98