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Feature

Amelia Kerr: 'Your mind is a muscle, and you have to look after it'

The NZ allrounder talks about her break from cricket, her return, and how the team is shaping up under a new leadership

S Sudarshanan
19-Sep-2022
New Zealand allrounder Amelia Kerr describes the past year as "massive" for her "personal growth", having come through a roller-coaster 2021.
Before New Zealand's tour of England in August 2021, she opted for a break to focus on mental health and then skipped the Women's Big Bash League. She returned to competitive cricket in November 2021 in the Hallyburton Johnstone Shield (50 overs) competition and the Super Smash (20 overs) before staging a comeback in New Zealand colours for the series against India this year ahead of the Women's World Cup.
"I am so glad I took the break I did," Kerr tells ESPNcricinfo from Antigua, where New Zealand prepare to take on West Indies in a three-match ODI series that is part of the Women's Championship. "It was not necessarily a break from cricket as I was still training. But in terms of not going to England and getting the help I needed, I think it was so important to do. Your mind is a muscle, and you have to look after it like you look after physical injuries. I hope, moving forward, people know you can talk about mental health more openly. I hope people know that there is help out there and there is hope as well when you are going through these tough times."
While Kerr played the Women's T20 World Cup in West Indies in 2018, this is the first time she is in the Caribbean for a bilateral series, starting with the postponed first ODI on Monday. But having trained a bit in the lead-up to the series, she is aware that the pitch at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in North Sound could help her bowling and also aid spin.
"It feels like we have been here for a while without much training and playing as we would have thought," Kerr says. "But we have come here on the back of a lot of cricket, so we are prepared well. These conditions should suit my bowling and I see that as an advantage.
"Fortunately we have had a few training sessions where we were able to use the wicket in the middle and then in the nets. The reality is that [the conditions] are not going to be as quick and then might get a bit more turn and be a bit lower and slower as the tour goes on."
"The thing about being an allrounder is that if I am bowling, I can think about what I'd be thinking as a batter and what shots would be harder to play and what shots would be easier and then vice versa. I have had some really good chats with [head coach] Ben Sawyer, [spin bowling coach] Craig Howard, [batting coach] Sara McGlashan during training on what works and what doesn't."
It will be Sawyer's first bilateral series as the head coach of New Zealand, having been brought in ahead of their bronze-medal finish at the Commonwealth Games.
"Ben's an incredible coach and we have been very fortunate to have him on board," Kerr says. "He's come from a winning environment with Australia [as the former assistant coach]. He is just a quiet encourager and there won't be any pages left unturned in our preparations. He brings the best out of all of us and gets us to play to our strengths. It's only going to help us be successful."
With teenagers Isabella Gaze, Georgia Plimmer and Fran Jonas, and youngsters like Eden Carson and Molly Penfold, New Zealand have a plethora of youngsters in their squad. Kerr, 21, has been around the national side for close to six years now and is aware of her elevation to their leadership group, especially with Amy Satterthwaite retiring earlier this year.
"The young girls have taken their opportunities," Kerr says, "and the way they train and turn up and compete, they just want to get better, which has been awesome to see. Fran Jonas and Eden Carson have taken up more responsibility. We have got a young spin attack.
"For us to learn as much as possible and bowl together as much as possible and use the coaches around and set some goals as a collective as well. I have been so impressed with the young girls that have just come in and wanted to compete and train hard. They are going to have long and successful careers.
"It's not something I think about too much," she says unfazed about being tagged as one of the 'seniors'. "I enjoy seeing the younger faces around that come through the programme. Now with more new faces, it's about taking the leadership role, having been with the team for a while.
"When I first got into the team, I just followed around Suzie [Bates], Amy and all of those and just wanted to learn as much possible. For me, it is about helping everyone around when they need but also I think they can help me out the way they go about with their stuff. I love competing and being competitive. It's nice to bowl alongside Fran and Eden knowing that we are all competitive and want the best, which helps getting the best out of each other."
"The thing about being an allrounder is that if I am bowling, I can think about what I'd be thinking as a batter and what shots would be harder to play and what shots would be easier"
Kerr is coming on the back of a successful, maiden stint at women's Hundred, where she had the most wickets for London Spirit and second-most runs for them behind Beth Mooney, her former Brisbane Heat team-mate. Although Spirit finished seventh among eight teams, Kerr's experience was an enriching one.
"I think that I really enjoyed the format. It's just doing everything a little bit quicker - be it with the bat and then with the ball your plan is a bit shorter because you have just five balls to set up a batter," Kerr says. "Dots are so valuable in the format especially when there's ten balls in a row and if you can keep certain batters off strike that is what I learnt a lot."
"To get to play with [Mooney] again at London Spirit was awesome. She is obviously a world-class player. But I think her cricket knowledge and brain is changing with her. The way she constructs her innings I learnt a lot. It's low risk and she does it on a consistent basis. She is a world-class player and is someone you want in your team."
Kerr has been among the top scorers in ODIs in 2022 and heads into the West Indies series as the leading ODI wicket-taker for New Zealand this year. Having seen off a tough year and come out on the bright side of it with form behind her, it can only translate to good things on the field.

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo