Western winter sets up Devine's stunning season
A remarkable Big Bash season for New Zealand star Sophie Devine may just have had its roots in an unusual Western Australian preseason
3 December 2019, 08:33 AM AEST
"What’s the secret to your current form?"
There is no question Adelaide Strikers allrounder Sophie Devine has been asked more this Rebel WBBL season than the one above.
And after she was named WBBL|05 Player of the Tournament this morning, the New Zealand star will almost certainly find herself answering it a few times more before the end of the upcoming Finals Weekend.
The powerful opening batter has struggled to put her finger on it, often falling back on the self-deprecating line: "If I knew, I’d bottle it and sell it."
As it happens, the answer to that oft-repeated question could lie on Australia’s west coast, far from her Wellington home.
WBBL Finals: Allan Border Field
First semi-final: Strikers v Scorchers, Saturday 10.10am (11.10am AEDT)
Second semi-final: Heat v Renegades, Saturday 1.50pm (2.50pm AEDT)
Final: SF1 v SF2, Sunday 1.40pm (2.40pm AEDT)
Tune in to the WBBL finals on the Seven Network, Fox Cricket, Kayo, the CA Live app or listen on ABC radio
But first, a look at the (somewhat staggering) numbers.
With the bat, Devine has hit 699 runs at 77.66, including eight half-centuries and a strike rate of 130.16.
Only Ellyse Perry has scored more runs in a single WBBL campaign, and with potentially two innings remaining, Devine – and Brisbane Heat opener Beth Mooney, who is breathing down her neck with 672 runs of her own – could well pass that WBBL|04 mark of 777.
Devine came into the tournament having already struck more sixes than anyone else in Big Bash history, a reputation she has only enhanced by clearing the rope 28 times in the 14-game regular season.
The next closest is South Africa’s Lizelle Lee, who has struck 19 maximums.
With the ball, Devine’s pace has reaped 16 wickets at 20.25, just two wickets shy of a new personal best in a Big Bash season.
"I’m riding the wave at the moment, but I know these things won’t last forever and it’s about making the most of the opportunities I get at the top of the order," Devine told cricket.com.au.
"Everyone’s who’s played this game knows how fickle this game can be and how form can change, not just between games, but within a game it feels sometimes."
So, what’s changed for the 30-year-old, who has been playing international cricket for 13 years?
This year, New Zealand had an extended break from international engagements. Their last series was against Australia in March and their next, against South Africa, isn't until January.
It’s difficult to argue that’s the ideal situation for a group of players who want to play more international matches, but for a player like Devine – who has juggled White Ferns commitments with her own domestic cricket, Big Bash and English domestic cricket, not to mention the odd IPL exhibition game, for the past five years – a reduced calendar may just have been a blessing in disguise.
This year, Devine opted against taking part in England’s T20 Super League, instead accepting a Women’s National Cricket League contract with Western Australia.
It was a mutually beneficial agreement, with the Fury gaining Devine for two rounds of WNCL, while she had a chance to train in a semi-professional domestic set-up – something that, as it stands, does not yet exist in her home country.
She devoted three months to preseason training with the Western Fury squad in Perth through winter, leaving her primed for the 2019-20 summer.
"I reckon it’s the first preseason I’ve had in four or five years, at least," Devine said.
"I was really nervous, actually, going into that first weekend of games having not played cricket (for a while).
"I’ve always gone from playing cricket over in England during the winter or on international tours, so it was different but it’s really pleasing for me to know I can come in off not playing much cricket and hit my straps.
"I was really fortunate to be offered a contract with WA and to be part of that group was awesome.
"To be able to train day in and day with a great group of girls made it easy for me, rather than being stuck at home in New Zealand training by myself."
Devine’s recent form has not escaped the attention of many who follow the women’s game, least of all Australia coach Matthew Mott.
Given his team are in the same group as New Zealand – and talent-laden India – for the T20 World Cup to be played on home soil next February and March, devising new plans to stop Devine is quickly moving to the top of his to-do list.
"She’s had an amazing tournament," Mott told cricket.com.au.
"Her power has been incredible, really.
"She’s always been a great player, but I think she’s taken her game to another level … she looks dangerous."
Devine has signed on to play with Birmingham in the Hundred next year, while New Zealand are due to play Australia in October, matches all leading into the 50-over World Cup New Zealand will host in early 2021.
It means another such preseason is unlikely for Devine.
"I don’t think I’ll get much more opportunity to get a break like I have for the last six months so certainly I enjoyed the time to focus back to basics really," she said.
"Sometimes as professional cricketers these days you don’t get those windows of opportunities to go back to basics and do throwdowns on bowling machine for hours on end.
"I really enjoyed the opportunity to go back to the start and work on those basics that always need to be revisited."
Before Devine worries about a return to White Ferns colours, her attention will be firmly on the Strikers’ WBBL finals campaign.
They have never made a WBBL final, but after finishing second on the table have a prime chance to do so against the Perth Scorchers in a semi-final to be played at Allan Border Field on Saturday morning.