North Otago Cricket is breaking new ground in the female game. Kayla Hodge explores the rise in female participation.
Female cricketers in North Otago are knocking everyone for six.
The sport’s popularity among young women has grown rapidly in recent years, and for the first time in North Otago Cricket’s 122-year history, the first full-female club cricket match was held recently.
It was a big day for Valley Silver and Valley White, two intermediate grade teams, and it brought the cricketing community together.
Former Otago Volts player Neil Rushton coached one team, Valley’s adult women’s team was on the sideline watching, and Otago Sparks cricketer Molly Loe returned to her roots to umpire.
After Silver batted and made 106 runs in its 20 overs, White scored 110 runs to win by four runs.
But the match was about more than just the score — it proved there was a pathway for female cricketers in North Otago.
Valley White manager Di Wardle said her daughter, Isla (12), previously played in a mixed team, and but wanted to create a full girls side. Valley started with the minimum eight girls needed for intermediate side, and by the end of the season there were 12 players. This year, they decided to have a ‘‘crack’’ at two teams.
‘‘It’s really exciting to see so many girls interested in playing cricket and having the older girls come and play with some of our younger girls to just encourage their development is really awesome,’’ Wardle said.
‘‘I’ve noticed with our girls they’re more likely to give it a go in an all-girls team.’’
Alongside the three female club teams, the North Otago under-19 girls team was producing good results, and many players were being selected for higher honours.
Loe, of Weston, received her first full Sparks contract this season, and also played for New Zealand under-19, and development sides.
Alongside Loe, Emma Meikle, Alice Petrie and Katelyn Walton all attended Otago Cricket’s inaugural Suzie Bates Leadership course last month. Walton also made the Otago under-19 girls wider squad, coached by former North Otago development officer Sam Bastin.
Isabella Martin joined North Otago cricket as a development officer this year, taking over from former Otago Sparks cricketer Ella Brown, showing there was depth and job opportunities in the sport too.
Otago Cricket women and girls lead Jess Davidson said great progress had been made for female cricket in North Otago.
Despite it being the ‘‘smallest district’’ in Otago, North Otago produced excellent young talent and leaders.
Thorough her involvement in North Otago Cricket’s female working group, Davidson said there was a core group of passionate volunteers and staff committed to future-proofing the game.
‘‘There is a great sense of community with everyone doing their bit to ensure females have several opportunities to grow, develop and enjoy that game,’’ Davidson said.
‘‘This has created a genuine girls-only participation pathway in the rural Otago town.’’
The Girls Smash programme, a softball-modified game for primary school girls, took place in Palmerston, Kurow and Oamaru in North Otago, and had attracted more girls to cricket.
Loe said she was pleased the programme took off as it provided an ‘‘abundance of opportunities’’ to develop a skill-set.
As a youngster, Loe starred in the Weston School team that represented Otago-Southland at the New Zealand primary schoolgirls final in 2016, and felt lucky to be part of the Girls Smash ‘‘starting group’’ at Weston.
She acknowledged sometimes girls felt ‘‘a bit out of our depth’’ in boys teams.
‘‘However, looking at the opportunities now, it is so pleasing to see so many girls keen to give it a go and have the support of the cricket associations,’’ Loe said.
‘‘I benefited from having the experiences of club and representative cricket from a young age. If I didn’t have the support from the people around me . . .I wouldn’t be where I am today.’’
North Otago will next month host the year 7 and 8 girls cricket festival for the first time, attracting teams from throughout Otago, as well as Mid and South Canterbury.