Guest reporter Ben Gardner was there at the Ageas Bowl for yesterday’s KSL match to witness an important moment for Suzie Bates.
After 14 balls, Katie George’s Kia Super League campaign is going about as well as she could have dreamed. She has conceded just 3 runs, and all that is missing is a wicket or two. She looks every inch as if she belongs at this highest level.
Her 15th ball is driven square by Nat Sciver for 4. It is the shot of the day so far, and there is no shame in conceding a boundary against a player of Sciver’s quality and explosiveness. But it is possible that just for a second the doubts creep in, or that she channels the frustration into trying just that bit too hard.
Her next ball is the worst ball she will bowl, by a long way. It is also the closest she will come to getting a wicket. A high full toss is lobbed to vacant square leg, but the fielders converging fail to call, or to listen. Both women, and the ball, end up on the ground.
We have seen such accidents end in serious injuries. There is a long delay. The Vipers fielders stand around doing not much, sipping drinks. The two players walk away from the incident, eventually, but one of them walks off the pitch. She is Charlotte Edwards, captain, star player, and probably the player Vipers least wanted to lose.
When such potentially horrific accidents occur, the match at hand gets pushed away from the front of a player’s mind. And when your team is on top, it can stay that way even when play resumes. It is in some ways understandable, but in a T20, when the course of a match can change in the space of one over, this can be fatal.
Whatever is going through George’s head, and it could be nothing, as she has done so little wrong, she manages to finish the over adequately, conceding just a couple from the last two balls. Still the over has cost 10.
The next over is bowled by Fi Morris. There is a deserved wicket, but also a half chance attacked not as vigorously as it would have been 15 minutes ago. An attempted boundary save goes awry, and Sciver is still there.
19 runs have come from the last two overs, over a third of Surrey Stars’ runs up to that point. Southern Vipers are still on top, but slightly less than they were. They were coasting, but now they are just starting to drift.
In Edwards’ absence, even in this team of stars, Suzie Bates is the obvious choice to take the reins. She is Wisden’s Leading Female Cricketer in the World, and the captain of New Zealand.
Bates senses that something needs to be done. The previous two overs feel perhaps like the kind that, with hindsight, we could end up crediting as a turning point. But Bates knows that there is no crisis, yet, and to act as if there is would be the surest way of creating one. No harsh words or rousing speeches are needed.
Instead she brings herself into the attack, and gets Sciver off strike with her first ball. Bates waves her arms about, manoeuvring the field, reengaging players’ minds and bodies. Her bowling is only tight, no more, but the focus and energy she displays transfers itself to the rest of the team, and the intensity is on show for the rest of the innings.
Bates reintroduces George for the 18th over. George has bowled well enough to fully justify the decision, but it is still a brave call. Her last over went for 10 and injured the captain, and George is only 17. But Bates’ decision is completely vindicated. George is superb. The over also costs 3.
Bates bowls the 19th herself, and gives up only 6. Surrey Stars make just 83.
It would be a mistake to say Bates seized the game by the scruff of the neck; she didn’t, and any attempt to do so would have been foolhardy. She merely rested a hand on the tiller and gently ushered her team back to the course it had been on. All she did was shuffle her bowlers and fielders, and maintain her standards with the ball in hand, but it was enough.
Bates will continue to lead with the bat, but again, not in the way we would usually think. Instead of trying to smash the way to the target herself, which she might well have been able to, she plays the role of old pro to Georgia Adams’ dashing youngster. Adams top scores with 41 off 43, while Bates makes 25, content with rotating the strike and offering words.
After the game, Adams says: “Suzie guided me through that innings… kept me calm, kept me level out there.”
This was the biggest day so far of so many of these players’ careers, and we could have looked back on Edwards walking off and called this added pressure a contributory factor in a reversal of fortunes. But Bates kept them calm, kept them level. She will surely have more explosive and eye catching performances this season. But in its own way, this might end up being the equal of any of them.