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Why you need to keep an eye on Sophie Devine this T20 World Cup

The New Zealand captain enters the event on a streak of four 50-plus scores this month, including a 65-ball 105. At least one expert thinks she can break the record for the fastest Twenty20 hundred

At the Women’s T20 Challenge in Jaipur last May, there was this interesting moment. Smriti Mandhana, the Trailblazers captain who was batting with her usual flourish, needed help with her shoelaces.

Supernovas fielder Anuja Patil went up to her Indian teammate to help. But fellow-fielder Sophie Devine had a tongue-in-cheek suggestion for Anuja: “One way of getting her out would be to tie both the shoes together.”

These days, fielding sides may be tempted to do something like that to Devine herself when she is at the wicket. There is no guarantee, though, that that would stop her from hitting those massive sixes.

Devine has arrived in Australia for the Women’s T20 World Cup in — pardon the pun — divine form. Earlier this month, at Wellington, she smashed 105 off 65 balls, the latest of four consecutive fifty-plus scores, in New Zealand’s 69-run win over South Africa.

Before that, she had lit up the Women’s Big Bash League. Playing for Adelaide Strikers, she scored 769 runs at an average of 76.90 and a strike rate of 130.33. And she hit 29 sixes (10 more than the second player on the list).

Devine loves to say it with sixes. The only woman to average more than a six an innings in T20Is (minimum: 30 innings), she has, since 2017, been hitting it even harder, averaging 1.81 sixes per innings.

Little wonder that the expectations from Devine are huge at the T20 World Cup, which opened in Sydney on Friday. Australian cricketer-turned-commentator Melanie Jones, in fact, made a prediction a few days ago: “Deandra Dottin’s 38-ball hundred might just go at this World Cup and if it does, I think it will be Sophie Devine.”

Reema Malhotra could not have agreed more. “Devine could beat even more records,” says the former India all-rounder, who has played against her on several occasions. “I feel she is probably the cleanest, biggest hitter in women’s cricket at the moment. She gives New Zealand a fair chance at the World Cup.”

As captain, Devine will want to lead from the front and inspire her team to perform at its best. “We haven’t done as well as we should have, given the world class talents we have in the side,” the 30-year-old had told The Hindu when she was in Jaipur for the T20 Challenge. “We want to showcase those skills at the World Cup.”

With players like Suzie Bates, Lea Tahuhu, Amelia Kerr and Rachel Priest, New Zealand could go far in the tournament. In Devine, it has a player who can turn a match around all by herself. This is an aspect of cricket she relishes: it is an individual game within a team sport.

She also enjoys playing hockey, though; she has represented her country in major events such as the Champions Trophy. “I was a defender,” she says. “I have no regrets that I decided to concentrate on cricket.”

The sport should be grateful. She is one of those stars whose compelling strokeplay draws people to the game.

But as a child, her idol was no batsman. “I admired Brett Lee, and wanted to bowl like him,” she says, smiling. “I had the same long run-up and action, but not quite the pace.” She still has 71 wickets from 105 ODIs and 84 wickets from 87 T20Is. The batting figures are more impressive: 2,570 ODI runs (with five hundreds and 12 fifties); 2,252 T20I runs (one hundred and 13 fifties).

One of those fifties came off just 18 balls, against India at Bengaluru in 2015. That remains the fastest in women’s T20Is. “Everything I planned that day seemed to come out of the middle of the bat,” she recalls.

She is glad that the women’s game has come a long way in India since that tour. “Five years ago, if you had told me that I would come to play a women’s tournament similar to the IPL, I would not have believed you,” she says. “The Indian team has improved quite a lot too, especially in fielding. I respect Indian players like Jhulan Goswami, Mithali Raj, Smriti, Harmanpreet Kaur, Jemimah Rodrigues, Poonam Yadav and Mansi Joshi.”

Among India’s male cricketers, she admires Virat Kohli. “He is the ultimate when it comes to class, composure and constructing an innings,” she says. “I also like to watch Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan bat.”

But the biggest influence on her batting has been compatriot Brendon McCullum. “He is aggressive from ball one, regardless of the situation,” she says. “He has been an inspiration not just for me, but for entire New Zealand.”

Devine has also served as an inspiration for many — she has been diabetic since the age of 15. “It has been a challenge, yes,” she says. “But I want to tell people: Even when you are fighting with diseases like diabetes or asthma, you can be socially active.”

You can also be a world-beater, as she has shown.

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 5:30:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/cricket/why-you-need-to-keep-an-eye-on-sophie-devine-this-t20-world-cup/article30883715.ece

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