In every country in a certain sport, there are names synonymous with the advancement that has seen it all. As i pass the main pavilion of the P.Sara Oval, incidentally a milestone in Sri Lanka Cricket’s growth having staged the first test match, touring New Zealanders are taking on Sri Lanka women.
White Ferns are here as part of the preparation for the ICC World T20 and as the clock ticks one in the afternoon, they manage to scamper through against the spirited hosts.
Nicola Browne is a veteran of the White Ferns having worn the kiwi colours first in 2001 and as the players relax i catch up with her being the reason I’m here for. She has retained her charming smile through a world cup heartbreak in 2010. She’s an all-rounder and soon i get to know that it is not only in Cricket.
She’s a graphic designer by trade and she manages to involve Cricket and Netball to her schedule too. Her sporting idol Bernice Mene is foreign to my mind. As i ask her for the name again, maybe she has read my mind. No need for spellings. We are on the same page about the benefits of google.
Having entered cricket primarily as a fast bowler, Browne reached a pedestal that can be classified as a lifetime achievement for hard work when she won the Player of the tournament award in ICC World T20 2010.
Having reached her peak, it took the world by surprise when she announced her retirement in August 2011 prematurely. But Browne, 28, had to wait only six months to realize what she was missing in her daily routine. She made her comeback in March and being at the receiving end of consecutive defeats in the past two ICC World T20 finals, she is itching to right the ship this time around.
In the twenty minute time period she talks at length about women’s cricket, New Zealand’s sporting renaissance, her unforgettable moments and many more.
Extremely friendly and forward looking, she’ll be back here in September for the big event and a third final at R.Premadasa is something she aspires to be at, the passion in her eye assures me that.
Here are excerpts:
Q-What’s purpose of this short visit to Sri Lanka? Is this part of the preparation for the ICC World T20?
A-Yes, this is a preparational tour. It’s fantastic because we never had an opportunity like this before. The whole mindset of coming overseas, and to know that you don’t have to have all your game plans, instead do some great research around and find out what kind of work suits for you and the team. So this is a very fortunate opportunity.
We are ten days here in Sri Lanka and then we are back home. Back to the cold. In fact we have never been here before. I have been to India twice. But this is the first time; everyone in our group hasn’t been to Sri Lanka before. So it’s a great opportunity to understand the conditions, pitches, feel the heat, the food and everything else. Hopefully we can go home feeling confident about what we need to do in the next five weeks and we’ll be in good shape when we come back here for the World Cup. Mentally prepared.
Q-Let’s go back to the start of your career. You had to make a tough choice early in your career. Netball or Cricket?
A-Yes, In New Zealand people love sports. I played a lot and eventually it came down to Netball and Cricket. I choose cricket because they were going on a tour to Australia. A tour to Australia sounded much better at that time than a trip to Christchurch. And it kind of went from there. I continued playing my netball though. Even In 2007, i was on double duty with National Level netball and International cricket. But that became too much so i dropped Netball and focused solely on Cricket. Ever since it went really well for me.
Q-Looking back at the choice you made. Are you satisfied with it?
A-No regrets. I think the lifestyle of a cricketer, it’s wonderful. You get to be outside the country, get to experience different cultures and i have really enjoyed the people that are involved with Cricket.
Q-You have been playing cricket since 2001. That is more than ten years of experience in a nutshell. Having being part of the evolution Women’s Cricket has undertaken in the past few years, how do you see the development of the game in terms of women?
A-The thing that i love the most about the development is the athleticism. When you have more athletic people it can create much more excitement and dynamism because they can do things that thrill the crowd. Bigger hits. I think that, starting to attract that athletic trait is probably to me the most exciting development of the game.
Q-Earlier, Women’s Cricket used to be dominated by England, New Zealand and Australia. We are seeing signs of bridging of the gap more now. Do you agree with it?
A-Yes and it’s fantastic for the game. If you see this match (the practice match on Wednesday between New Zealand and Sri Lanka) Sri Lanka gave us a real scare. There are some really talented people in the Sri Lankan side. I think T20 game has played a significant part in this regard. People have contrasting emotions about T20. But i firmly believe it has added a missing element to the game in terms of attracting lot more people to the sport. Especially in the women’s game. I think it will overflow into the 50 over game as well. Because of the fun T20 brings, it drives a women’s cricketer and you as a player just want more. T20 has certainly lifted women’s cricket.
Q-I heard that you are a graphic designer by trade. You are part of Netball and Cricket as well. How do you manage all these?
A-I could say good time management. But i don’t always say that. My personality is someone like the ‘cold in the fire.’ I like lot of things going on. I like to be busy. That is part of my personality and that is what i love. That energizes me, having lot of different projects. Yeah, that’s how i do it, which is part of who I am.
Q-Back to the reason you are here. The World Cup is coming in September. I know the last World Cup was held in West Indies where the wickets were bit similar to here. But this is a different challenge all together. It is not only for New Zealand but all teams. And there’s some unfinished business as well since you finished runner-up twice in a row. Excited?
A-For me it’s all part of the diverse challenges Cricket throws at us. To be able to come to a different country, get accustomed to things, it’s just exciting. As an athlete you thrive on that challenge and learning new things. At the end of the day all that training you do, the strategies you device, you don’t always need to use it all. It’s about picking the elements for the conditions and act accordingly. For someone who’s been in the game for over ten years and having gone through the training drills, it is a challenge rather than about skill. So as you can see, I’m very excited.
There’s unfinished business but still we made two World Cup finals. I guess the biggest thing out of that is we got to feel what it was like. Playing in front of a packed crowd, it gives a sense of pride. Expecting huge crowds for the matches here.
Q-The final of the 2010 tournament. Australia makes 106 and then New Zealand gets restricted 36/5. You and Sophie Devine construct a partnership to revive hopes. At the end you finish three runs short. How much of a heart breaker was that?
A-It is quite interesting. At that moment i was gutted. Setting my personal achievement aside, (Browne was the player of the tournament of ICC World T20 2010) you go there with one intention. And perhaps obviously with my retirement last year and the ability to get away from the game, get a fresh perspective of everything. I’m not burning inside reminding myself of that day, no hard feelings. It’s part of cricket, really.
Q-How much the ICC player of the tournament award meant to you?
A-It hit me when i got home, around my family and friends that i have seen all the time to be adjudged as the player of a world tournament, to get pictures with it. Small thing it maybe but that was nice. It was a goal i had been working on for a while. At the end of the day it was just one tournament but for me, maybe more than that. It’s not about one event i was striving for consistent performances so it was a nice recognition.
Q-You have achieved a lot in your career. There must be some unforgettable moments. What is your greatest achievement and some unforgettable moments that you remember fondly?
A-Definitely the player of the tournament probably meant a lot in that regard. Because i was picked as a bowler in 2001 and through that middle period i won lot of batting awards. Didn’t get my bowling right so i was eager to figure it out. To overcome those and get rewarded, it has to be one of my highlights.
Apart from that, the fifty i scored in 2002 during my second tournament (a tour to India) comes to mind. I had a terrible tour. And on the last match, last session i managed to reach my first half century. That moment sticks out. The other is the first ever five wicket haul. It was during the domestic season but what keeps it within me is that it took me fifteen years to achieve that. Worth the wait it was.
Q-Who is your sporting idol?
A-My sporting idol, you may not know her, is a lady named Bernice Mene. She used to play gold defence for Silver Ferns. She had significant moments that more often than not won games which is what i liked to do myself. She could turn a match around at any time and she did it with lot of grace and dignity.
Q-I asked this question from one of your Australian counterparts, Alyssa Healy as well. If given the opportunity which cricketer would you like to see come out of retirement.
A-For me when i was younger and got into cricket, Chris Cairns struck me a lot. The way he hit the ball, so hard, clean and straight, i loved that. He was clean hard hitter of the ball and he did all that with an uncomplicated stance. He may not have got lot of wickets but he had a knack of grabbing wickets at the right time.
Q-After a long time New Zealand won the rugby world cup last year. What was the atmosphere like and how importance is this victory to New Zealand sport?
A-Along with the All Blacks and the Silver Ferns (Netball team, who won the title at the Commonwealth games 2010) the success has inspired a generation of sportsmen and women. Personally for me, last three years has seen a remarkable shift in New Zealand sports. Rugby for men and Netball for women are our main sports. The fact that they are starting to achieve consistently in the world stage has indeed made this a defining time period. About the All Blacks victory, we all loved it. The nation was full of party atmosphere.
If i look into the future, because All Blacks and Silver Ferns has discovered something that has been missing for so long, there will be a huge difference in the way we compete in world tournaments from here on in. I know we have been there and thereabouts but i think we are going to be major forces in the next decade, that’s my prediction.
Q-What are your thoughts about the progression and the current status of New Zealand Cricket?
A-Sports players are entertainers. If we are going to move closer to the professional era as everyone would like to, we do have to entertain. And if we can continue to attract and maintain athletic players with great cricketing skills that will undoubtedly make the game more marketable. As with the old cycle, if you have exciting talents people want to watch, the young ones coming in has heroes to look forward to.
Q-What advice can you give to a player who aspires of being a women’s cricketer?
A-I believe anyone can be or do whatever they dream to do. Dream big and then go out and get it. As long as you love what you are doing and you are prepared to work hard you can reach anywhere you want.
Q-Final question. How much has cricket helped you into being the person you are and how do you see Life with Cricket?
A-It’s been an avenue for me to open up lot of opportunities. The amazing amount of people i have met from different walks of life and cultures that have to be the biggest plus in my Cricketing life. Whichever way you look at it, Life is about people. When you leave cricket, the people and the challenges that you overcame those are the ones you can cherish the most. The opportunity, people and challenges.
The Island Links-
I Cherish the opportunities, people and challenges-Nicola Browne (Part 1)
Player of the Tournament award in West Indies meant a lot-Nicola Browne (Part 2)