Happy Hour With A White Fern

Published in ICC World T20 2012 previewOIn 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQ-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?

5504966A-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.

Nicola+Browne+New+Zealand+v+Australia+Game+ftDoLh2f6n0lQ-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?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA-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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQ-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.

BROWN_Nicola200xvarQ-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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQ-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)

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Like Uncle Like Niece (Ian Healy and Alyssa Healy)

Published before ICC World T20 2012
Playing with boys at school pushed me to do things I never thought I would-Australia Wicket Keeper Alyssa Healy

Alyssa Healy’s cricket career so far hasn’t been devoid of memorable moments. The Australian national women’s side wicket keeper has been the focal point from the day she started cricket, and the first of those was lighted when she became the first girl to be selected to play alongside the male counterparts in 2006.

She,22, is part of a cricket-rich family being the daughter of Greg Healy and former Australian wicket keeper Ian Healy, her uncle. This interview was conducted as part of the ICC World Twenty20 Sri Lanka 2012 preparations and here she speaks about how her cricket developed by playing among the boys, how she saw Ian Healy when she was young, who she would like to bring back from retirement if she was given a chance, Australia’s chances during the ICC World T20 and many more.

Here are the excerpts.

Q-Your introduction to Cricket is a unique story. Let’s hear it from you. What was the reason that convinced you to start playing Cricket? Was it a long time goal of yours or you woke up one day and it hit you that you should be a professional cricketer?

A-Obviously there was a lot of cricket in my family before I was born so I sometimes joke that I was always going to end up playing cricket because it was in my blood, however I didn’t start playing cricket until I was at school and a friend of mine at the time actually asked if I wanted to go along to a Kanga Cricket session down at the local park. So I ended up first picking up a bat when I was 7. I apparently was always quite distracted by the sandpit at the local park and often had to be encouraged back into the session by my dad! I think once I got into playing cricket and noticed that I had some talent is when I saw that I could possibly go all the way and play for Australia.

Q-At the age of 16, Baker’s College First XI introduces their wicket keeper; a female by the name of Alyssa Healy is picked to play among the boys in the school cricket tournament. Can you go back in time and ring a bell to those memories? It wasn’t without adversity either. How fondly do you remember them, looking back?

A-That was quite a funny situation to be in! Barker was always really supportive and actually offered for me to try out in the first place, and I agreed that if I wasn’t good enough to play First XI then that was fine I would be happy. So I was quite excited to be selected. I and I don’t think any of the boys actually saw an issue with it until the media caught up with a letter that was written by an Old Barker Boy who wasn’t happy with my selection. It was quite a day when I had channel 9 knocking down my door at 6am wanting my opinion to me being on the front page of the newspaper! I really enjoyed the experience of playing with the boys at school, obviously at that stage the boys are starting to get bigger and stronger so it was quite I challenge for me but I loved every minute of it. The boys and the school were really supportive the whole way through, and whilst I didn’t have the best season performance wise, I really enjoyed it.

Q-Did playing with the boys enhance your career and skills? What kind of an impact did it have on your overall development as a cricketer and who you are today?

A-Definitely, playing with the boys I feel was great for me. I had played boys cricket growing up however stopped at U/15s and came across to play women’s cricket. So to be playing alongside and against 17-18 year old boys who were a lot bigger and stronger than me was a real challenge and I feel my game definitely came along way over that period of time. Not only that, I felt like I learnt a lot about myself and my game and how I could push myself and do things I never thought I could.

Q-Let’s talk about your illustrious uncle; the indomitable Aussie legend, Ian Healy. You must have started watching cricket parallel to the time your uncle reached the zenith of wicket keeping in world cricket and established himself as one of the greats to have donned the gloves. Can you recall that memory from your perspective? What lessons did you carry forward?
A-I think when I was younger I never really understood what he was doing and what it all really meant. I think once I started getting involved in cricket I started to understand what he had achieved and how incredible he was as a cricketer. I remember being a bit younger and gong to watch a test at the SCG and me and my friends stood at the fence yelling at him to come and say hello, meanwhile he was in the middle of warm up!! We had no idea what any of it meant at that time, however I look back now I feel slightly embarrassed about the situation and actually appreciate him coming and saying hello afterwards! I feel privileged to have him as an uncle, he is always very supportive of what I do (even though I play for NSW!) and always willing to help out if I need with anything. I’m pretty lucky that if I have a problem with my game that I am just a phone call away from one of the best wicketkeepers in the world. He always pushes e to do more with my cricket and challenges me to work harder every time I see him.
Q-Women’s cricket has undergone massive changes in the past decade. It has risen to a status that is universally accepted now. How do you acknowledge its journey to where it is today? And what does the future hold for women’s cricket in your point-of-view?
A-Women’s cricket has definitely grown over the last 10 years and it’s pretty exciting to be a part of. The introduction of T20 has enabled not only Cricket Australia but Countries around the world to promote cricket to a female audience and a big part of that is by promoting us as a female playing group. It’s always exciting to play at some of the best grounds in the world in front of decent sized crowds and on tv. The ability for us to play before or after men’s international games has given people a chance to see us play cricket and people are always quite impressed. Obviously we aren’t as big as the boys and won’t be hitting 6s every ball however the way we can accumulate similar big scores to the boys by playing our style is still just as impressive.
Just to see the massive leaps that have been made in the last few years makes it really exciting for the future. The only thing we need to focus on is keeping more females playing the game, and for the ones already playing, keeping them in longer. Cricket Australia have been really good at helping this cause and the future of cricket within Australia is looking really bright with some fantastic young players coming through and beginning to make names for themselves.

Q-Who is your idol in Cricket? If you could bring any professional cricketer back in the game, who would it be?

A-I still love watching Ricky Ponting bat; he is an incredible player and has been for so long which is so impressive. He should be an inspiration to most young players coming through simply by just looking at his records. As a cricket tragic I would love to bring back the Australian bowling attack from the 90s and early 00s just for one more game, preferably against the current England team! To be able to see Glen McGrath and Shane Warne still bowling sides out with ease would be great!

Q-You have achieved so much. Be it playing cricket with the boys, rising through the age groups, being awarded the ‘Rising Star Award’ for New South Wales to the position you are in now. It has happened in a very short span of time which means you must have had some unforgettable moments. What are the top 5 defining moments in your cricketing career?

A-Everything has been such a blur to date; I have enjoyed every moment of playing cricket not only for my country but for my state and club as well. Some of my most memorable moments would have to be:
1. Winning the T20 World Cup in West indies 2010
2. Reclaiming the Ashes from England in 2011 and making my test debut
3. Being a part of 5 WNCL titles with NSW
4. My first tour with the Shooting Stars (AUS U23) to NZ in 2005
5. Playing first XI for Barker College
There are so many more moments however these really stand out in my mind as the most memorable!

Q- Communication between a coach and player is important. What are your thoughts on this and how have you maximized on the training you’ve received?

A-Obviously this is a really crucial part of any sport. Being able to communicate with your coach is essential. I have had a fantastic wicket-keeping coach in Christina Matthews who took me on as a 12 year old and got me to the stage where I could represent my country. It is great to have someone that you can just generally chat about your worries and fears, your strengths and weaknesses and of course just be able to be pushed to your limits by to help you improve not only physically but mentally also, which is an important part of cricket.

Q-We noticed you are a frequent tweeter and is quite active on social media. How important is this new medium of communication to you as a sports woman? Do you think it plays a role today in a sportsman or a woman career? How does it impact you?

A-Yes I do love my twitter! I always said I would never join but then I tried it one day and have been hooked ever since. It’s a great tool to be able to promote yourself and your team to a wide audience. You can be followed by people all across the world. Obviously this can be quite dangerous if not handled properly however I think it’s a good platform to show some of your personality to those that don’t see you every day. I love the fact that I feel like I’m friends with superstars around the world because I know how they are thinking or feeling about an upcoming tournament or gig!

Q- Being a wicket keeper, is there a different method that you adopt with the gloves when keeping wickets for spinners compared to the fast bowlers? How does the concentration factor come in? Does it differ when it comes to the two disciplines of bowling, if any? This question is based on the fact that ICC World Twenty20 will be played in Sri Lanka. Traditionally, it is a country that has tended to provide assistance to the spinners.
A-At the end of the day being a wicketkeeper is all about catching the ball every tie it comes at you, so the most important thing would be to watch the ball! However there are subtle differences in keeping up to the stumps than back to the faster bowlers. You have a lot more to contend with, obviously the ball turning, the bat right in your face distracting you and the worry about having the awareness of having to take the bails off if the batter even moves slightly out of their crease for a split second! It is a lot the think about so concentration is definitely a key. To be able to concentrate the whole game is impossible so it is about learning how to switch your concentration on and off between balls to be able to spread it out throughout the game. Sri Lanka has a reputation of being quite spin friendly so if given a chance to wear the gloves in the upcoming world cup, I will have to be on my game every ball to make sure I take every dismissal that comes my way.
Q-Are you excited about the upcoming ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka? How are you preparing for the tournament? What are your expectations and challenges?
A-I’m so excited for the upcoming ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka. I have never been to Sri Lanka before so I’m excited to not only play cricket but see a country I have not yet experienced. I’m training really hard at both aspects of my game at the moment to give myself the best opportunity to win games for Australia if selected. I’m expecting all the games to be incredibly tough and tight fought as most T20 games are. As an Australian squad we are in really good form heading into the tournament so hopefully we can win all our games including the final!
Q-We know Australia has fielded strong women cricketers for many years. You have maintained the standards and performed well in the past ICC tournaments. How do you rate your chances this time around?
A-I think that the competition is going to be really tough. Every team has been performing really well of late and are all looking good heading into the tournament. We have really been working hard and feel like the team is in a really good place to go in and defend our title!

Q-Final question, who are your biggest influences in life and cricket? How do you define ‘Life with cricket’?

A-My parents have been massive influences in my life. They have given me the opportunity to play the game I love for as long as I have and have supported every decision I have made. It is great to have an incredible support system like that behind you, it gives you the confidence to go out and push yourself to constantly improve and be the best you can be. Cricket is a massive part of my life and most of my decisions seem to revolve around cricket! However I have enjoyed every minute and hopefully have many more years left travelling the globe paying and promoting the game I love!The Island Link-Like Uncle Like Niece

Moeen reveals test motives

Originally published 13 April, 2014 in DeepExtraCover

23Moeen-Ali-1

For Moeen Ali, 26, this has been a winter of pre-eminence. Walking into his native soil of New Road after playing in front of vociferous crowds in Bangladesh must have felt like bit under-whelming but there are no signs of a new found swagger. He is still the same down to earth man who pleased the cultured spectators at New Road with his wristy cuts and powerful pulls.

“I enjoyed it a lot. It would have been nice had we gone further. But we performed well. Overall, I really enjoyed it” recollects Moeen about the ICC World T20 where he featured in every game.  A tournament which started in champagne fashion, but departed with a congested fade for him. Those pulls over midwicket off Tim Southee and Corey Anderson meant he would quickly get into oppositions’ counter plans.

In simple terms, he was in touch. Did he feel despondent having not made the most of it? “Definitely. You always feel you want to do better. Even if I did well, I would still feel I want to do better. Last few games I couldn’t score many runs but things like that happen in Cricket.”

The greenery of Worcestershire has been Moeen’s home since 2007. With loyalty ingrained, it’s no wonder folks at New Road believe he’s the closest thing they have ever come to Graeme Hick. His words justify the closeness. “I feel very comfortable and at home playing here. The surroundings, the people, the surface, all those ingredients make it a special place. I haven’t set any targets for the season. Trying to take one game at a time, score big guns and hopefully get into the test team.”

Test team. England whites. Any county cricketer’s dream. But unlike many, Moeen’s dream could become plausible this summer. He did that no harm in Sri Lanka with the English Lions. That was his first taste of England seniors, one which he savoured. “I have been to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka before. It was nice to be among the boys. I played well in the first game.”

His tweaks were hard to get away too. In that domain, does he regret being called up for the senior side for the shorter formats, when further roman candles could have ended in a maiden test? “No, I don’t think so. I showed the coaches in Sri Lanka that I’m good enough at that level. I was delighted to see myself being picked for England at that time.”

12509267_988226291223268_4028156469190229193_nHis role in a team can vary according to a situation. His all-round ability means he’s an asset to have. England is still searching for that elusive spinner who could at least partially cover the loss that Graeme Swann has left behind. To Moeen it doesn’t matter what void he is required to fill in. “I think it would be as a batsman who can bowl occasionally. Having said that, if they pick me I don’t care which role I’m playing. I just want to get in.”

Planting the foot back to the recent occurrences in ICC World T20, it’s conspicuous, the regret in his voice. “It was a shame. Against New Zealand we batted well. We were convinced we would have won that game, had it lasted the duration. Against South Africa, we lost by three runs. Disappointing really to lose by such a small margin but it’s the small mistakes that can cost a game. We can learn from them and hopefully next time we can go further.”

But what about the only game England won? “I was gutted when I got out as it put us in a precarious position. But that Alex Hales innings, I would take that any day of the week even though personally I failed. It’s about winning the game for the country. “

Moeen names Ravi Bopara and Chris Jordan as his best mates in the Three Lions environment and reveals he made lot of friends during the tournament. “Michael Lumb, Hales, Jos Buttler, there were many really good blokes to hang around with. I got on well with everybody.”

He has a special mention for Hashim Amla from the International teams. If he could be half as good as the prolific South Africa right-hander, it goes without saying that England’s top order is in safe hands for the foreseeable future.