Cricket: New spin guru has White Ferns in a whirl

White Ferns Suzie Bates and Melie Kerr with their new spin coach Craig Howard. Photo / NZ Cricket/Eddy Bramley

LockerRoom

By Merryn Anderson

The White Ferns have a new spin bowling coach heading into the T20 World Cup, who reckons their young spin attack could become world-leading. Merryn Anderson reports.

As the White Ferns play their first home games since the Cricket World Cup back in April, they’ll be led into battle by two Aussies.

Head coach Ben Sawyer took over the reins in June, guiding the White Ferns to Commonwealth Games bronze a few months later, and then recruited fellow Australian Craig Howard to join the team as their specialist spin bowling coach. He immediately made a difference.

His first tour with the White Ferns was the recent West Indies series, where they won six of their eight games, and the spin group dominated their wicket tally.

“Ben saw an opportunity in the spin area, with Melie [Kerr]and he saw a bit of promise with some of the other spin options around,” Howard explains.

“He [Sawyer] saw it as an important part of their future development and winning games in the shortest form in particular, in T20s. That if they can get their spin strategy right, it’s going to help them win some games of cricket.”

Howard has quite a record in spin. He played 16 first-class games for Victoria in the 1990s, as a legspin bowler (his best figures 5/42 against South Africa), and went on to coach at Cricket Australia, developing some of the best spinners – both male and female – in the game.

The White Ferns have a very young spin group. The eldest is Melie Kerr at 22, who despite her young age, has over 100 caps at international level and has played in leagues around the world.

Two of the newest members of the spin group are Eden Carson and Fran Jonas. Carson made her debut at the Commonwealth Games, winning bronze the day before her 21st birthday, while Jonas is still only 18, but she first played for New Zealand in 2021.

Both young spinners excelled in the West Indies. Jonas played all three ODIs and five T20s, taking 10 wickets and consistently bowling at a low economy rate.

“The pitches over there were really good for spin and it was exciting being able to bowl on them,” Jonas says.

“It was a really good experience having Howie [Howard] there as well.”

Carson played one ODI and four T20s in Antigua, taking three wickets in her ODI debut and six wickets across the T20s.

“It was a great opportunity to go over to the West Indies where the conditions suit me as a spinner as well, and also having Craig there also helped a lot,” Carson says.

Howard says the spin group were “terrific” on the Antigua tour.

“There were a couple of games in the West Indies where we bowled 15 overs of spin in T20 cricket, which I don’t think they’ve ever done before,” he says.

“One of the games was 8/63 I think, off their 15 overs, and the other was 7/59. A couple of those performances were as good as you’ll see from a spin group anywhere, so I think they’ve got the opportunity to produce a really world-leading spin attack.

“In the format we’re about to go to the World Cup in, it’s incredibly important.”

Howard’s appointment is on a tour-by-tour basis, with a home series against Bangladesh – starting on Friday at Hagley Oval in Christchurch – ahead of the T20 World Cup in South Africa in February.

“There’s a real opportunity for success with this group because they’ve got some world-class T20 players in their side,” says Howard.

“I think we’re going to be able to keep sides to pretty throwable scores and be able to defend some good totals as well, so I’m just really excited. I think about what the short-term and the long-term holds through this group, it’s a good time to be around.”

At just 18 years old, Fran Jonas already brings a lot of maturity to the White Ferns.  Photo / Photosport
At just 18 years old, Fran Jonas already brings a lot of maturity to the White Ferns. Photo / Photosport

The long-term future of the spin group certainly looks promising, with a core group all born after the turn of the century.

“Fran just plays with such maturity already. She’s so calm under pressure, even when she gets a wicket, she’s got a real ability to maintain composure,” Howard says.

“That’s going to be a real strong suit of hers and she’s already showing signs of being world class at what she’s doing, so I think that’s really exciting.

“Eden as well, when she got opportunities, she delivered too. She she’s got raw ability in there and so much upside in what she can do. She she’s a really good package as far as what she offers in the field too-a lot of energy and a lot of athleticism.”

When Howard asked Sawyer if there were any other players who could bowl some part-time spins, to ensure the team had as many spin options as possible, Sawyer suggested veteran Suzie Bates.

“It was a bit of a masterstroke cause she’s been involved in most of our meetings. And she’s been terrific – along with Melie – relaying to Sophie [captain Sophie Devine] on the ground exactly what we’re trying to achieve out there,” Howard says.

Bates took a break from bowling while recovering from a shoulder injury, but recently returned, taking five wickets across two T20s in the West Indies. Her 281 caps of international experience comes alongside 130 wickets over her 16-year career.

“Often it’s really difficult for young spinners like Eden and Fran to try and communicate what they’re trying to do to the captain,” Howard explains.

“So having Suzie out there, there was hardly a ball where she missed what we were trying to do as far as having fielders in the right spots and angles. It’s been a real godsend to have her in our group.”

Otago Sparks' Eden Carson is an essential part of the White Ferns' spin group.  Photo / Photosport
Otago Sparks’ Eden Carson is an essential part of the White Ferns’ spin group. Photo / Photosport

The White Ferns face Bangladesh in three T20s and three ODIs from tomorrow. It’s their last scheduled series before the T20 World Cup in February, so Jonas and Carson are both keen to get some playing time under their belts.

Jonas, who’s based in Auckland, has her parents coming to all of the games, making the journey across the country with no games scheduled in her home city in this series.

Her hopes for the series are simple: “Just some more experience, working on my bowling and getting some games in. We haven’t played in a wee while so it will be nice to get play on Friday.

“Unfortunately we’ve had a few washouts with Auckland [Hearts] at the start of the season, but I’m definitely excited to get back into things over the New Zealand summer.”

For Carson, these will be her first White Ferns games in New Zealand, and she also has her parents traveling to multiple games.

“Because I’m from Dunedin, hopefully I’ll get picked to play in the Dunedin game or the Queenstown game,” says Carson, who also has friends and Otago Sparks teammates heading along to matches. Sunday’s second T20 is at Dunedin’s University Oval.

Like Jonas, Carson hope to be chosen in the playing XI for game day and gain more experience.

“Definitely, I’m just trying to get out on the park and showing the coaches, the selectors and other people, my family and friends, what I can do,” she says. “For them to be able to watch me play, hopefully, in a home series would be great.”

Howard is thoroughly enjoying his time in the White Ferns environment so far, with the highest compliments paid to Sawyer and new batting coach – and former Black Cap – Dean Brownlie, as well as the Ferns spinners.

“They’re an absolute pleasure to be honest, they’re so open-minded,” Howard says.

“I’ve just found they’ve been incredibly grateful, they’ve got great work ethics, they’ve got real growth mindsets. And as a coach, when they have all that, you just want to keep investing in them. You just want the best for them.

“A really fun part of it is just how much they’ve taken it on, to the letter as far as what we’re trying to do in games. They’ve nailed it, and it’s been excellent.”

This story was originally published at Newsroom.co.nz and is republished with permission.

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