History-makers: How this women’s cricket team is paving the way forward

(Back): Kelly Habraken, Brittany Jenkins, Olivia Malone, Miah Smith, Sabine Atrill, Tessa Hickson, Wendy Lee (Front): Freya Lord, Tash Wakelin (C) Sadie Stewart, Elle Archer, Aimee Unwin, Amelia Harvey. Photo / Supplied

A group of mostly young players are paving the way forward for women’s representative cricket in the Bay of Plenty.

History was made last month when the first-ever senior women’s Bay of Plenty team representing the region traveled to Napier for a T20 invitational.

Finishing third, the team played matches against Wellington’s North City, Havelock North, Upper Hutt United and Parnell cricket clubs.

Rotorua-based off-spinner Kelly Habraken was the lead wicket-taker with six from 16 overs for a net rate of 3.06 runs per over. Opening bat Aimee Unwin came away with 65 runs from four innings, including one 50.

It was the first time team skipper and Year 12 Aquinas College student Tash Wakelin played in a Bay of Plenty women’s representative team.

Aimee Unwin sends a delivery down the legside.  Photo / Supplied
Aimee Unwin sends a delivery down the legside. Photo / Supplied

“[The tournament was a] really nice and good environment to learn and grow as cricketers, as well as grow women’s cricket a little bit more.”

The Hawke’s Bay T20 Women’s Invitational was the result of years of development in the female space resulting in a surge of age group cricket locally.

The 13-strong team had their traveling and fees paid for by the Bay of Plenty Cricket Association.

For Habraken, who picked up the pads last year after a 10-year break, it was “a pleasure” to be part of the team.

She started playing at Westbrook Primary, continuing at John Paul College and through the Northern Districts development squads before making the senior women’s team.

When she was in high school, there were no specific female teams and she played in the men’s grade.

Over the years, local numbers had dwindled, but she has recently been elected onto the Rotorua Cricket Board to promote the female game.

“We’re trying to get more opportunities for our young girls.

“When I started playing, we played on mixed teams, and that’s where things started picking up because there were more females coming through.

Amelia Harvey in action.  Photo / Supplied
Amelia Harvey in action. Photo / Supplied

“That’s what we need to do – get out and play mixed cricket at a young age. If you’re playing against boys, that’s okay. They might teach you a thing or two, but resilience as well.”

Tauranga’s Wendy Horneman, a former Auckland and Northern Districts representative, said it was an “enjoyable weekend”.

“That was mainly due to how well-organized things were behind the scenes and the great skills and attitude that the team had,” she said.

“You could see with each game the girls improve in different areas, and their confidence growing when things they tried came off successfully.”

In the seven years she has lived in Tauranga, Horneman had not come across any officially organized senior women’s cricket competition, but understood the junior cricket numbers were good.

“There certainly needs to be more opportunities for local girls to play regular cricket at a decent standard in order to improve the quality of cricket overall, and playing in such tournaments is one way of doing so if a local competition isn’t yet an option .”

BOPCA chairwoman Emma Talbot said there were “really big numbers” coming through intermediate and secondary school, and now was the time to take advantage of that.

In the past, female-only teams traveled to the odd ad hoc tournament, but now “feels like the right time to put some funding into it”.

“There are actually tournaments we can play in now. It’s a commitment from the board toward the ongoing sustainability of a premier women’s team.

“We’ve got the player base that can support that now and we have got a motivated board that will look for funding, to fund coaches and trips.”

She said age groups and secondary school women’s tournaments have always been around, but female-only premier-level cricket had been missing recently.

“We’ve got good competition for the first time, and we’re looking to strengthen that by giving them more game time.

“We were able to cover the cost of the Napier trip and all their fees, which was great this time. It has always been at the cost of the player, but [we] never expect that from our men.

Aimee Unwin and Tess Hickson celebrate their 100-run opening partnership against Havelock North.  Photo / Supplied
Aimee Unwin and Tess Hickson celebrate their 100-run opening partnership against Havelock North. Photo / Supplied

“Once you reach premier, it should be equitable opportunities. There’s a commitment from the board to have equitable opportunities for women in the Bay.

“There is a team for everybody and every age group. There is a team for any female to play cricket in the Bay; there is a team for you.”

Kingsley Smith, whose daughter Miah was in the team, coached, and said he was motivated to create a pathway for women beyond school.

Born and bred in the Bay of Plenty, Smith had played first-class cricket in New Zealand, and played in England, too.

“Having experience at a reasonable level, I thought I’d help, and it became greatly obvious that there’s no real pathway, in terms of synergy, with the men’s game.

“For a young teenage boy there’s a pathway, but for a girl, there’s not, really. Once you hit 19, you’ve got to play with the boys or give up.”

Smith said the Napier tournament was “a great catalyst” for women’s cricket in the region and “was a pleasure” to be a part of.

“There’s been nothing like this in the past, and right now, we need to shake the tree and see what players are there, and also bring new people to the game and grow that space.

“At the moment, we’re in that zone of saying to the women out there, there’s a pathway – make contact and we’ll make damn sure there’s a place for you. We will find an opportunity for you; not an issue.”

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