When Karen Gunn walked off London’s famous cricket ground, Lord’s, in 1993 the New Zealand women’s team she was part of had just lost a world cup final to England.
And she thought she would never take the field again.
“It was probably the best team that New Zealand put out. We should have won that game – really should have won that final, but that’s the way it goes,” she said.
“I retired after that.”
Gunn played 54 internationals from the mid-1980s while representing Canterbury. She did not take the field for close to 30 years after that final.
That was until recently, when, now living in Dannevirke, in the Lower North Island’s Tararua District, the 60-year-old decided to watch her neighbour and friend Sarah Graham play for the newly formed women’s team in the town.
“I thought I might come down and watch them. It was a twenty20 game. I thought, ‘I wouldn’t mind having a wee crack at this’.”
So, she came out of retirement to play for Dannevirke and act as their coach.
“This is my second season and I’m enjoying it. [Twenty20] would have been my game, but it wasn’t around when I was playing.
“I love it.”
The team played in a revived Manawatū women’s club competition that did not happen for 20 years – in that time women had either played in men’s teams or women’s teams played in men’s competition.
It was a similar story around the country, but New Zealand Cricket had moved fast since a damning 2016 report found women’s cricket was withering away.
New Zealand Cricket’s latest annual report mentioned a 54 percent increase in adult women playing “modified cricket”, although it did not give numbers.
Sarah Graham, 41, like a few in the team, also had not played cricket for years.
“This is my third season, apart from a little stint in my third or fourth form…
“I really enjoy sport. I just heard [the team] was going, so I went up for a practice one day and never looked back.”
Graham was an all-rounder, “more of a bowler”, and a wicket-keeper sometimes too.
Some on the team said they would not have played if they had to slot into men’s teams or line up against them.
Although that was not something that would faze Dannevirke batter Julie McDougall, a 53-year-old who loved to whack the ball.
“I started last season. My children have all left home and I was looking for something to do,” she said.
“The first few balls that came flying down, I was a bit scared, but I’ve got over that now. I just go out there and face it head on. I do enjoy it. It’s lovely.”
And so far, McDougall was yet to make a duck – getting out without scoring.
“I like to pull it back and just whack it. I’m a bit of a basher. I’m there for a good time, not a long time.”
Captain Jacqui Boustead, who took up the sport two years ago, aged 46, said the team contained all sorts of characters.
“We’ve got real camaraderie within our team, so all of us joke around, not being too serious.
“But we’re all quite competitive when it comes down to it…. We’re all good friends, even though there’s a range of ages.”
That range extended from Gunn, to teens such as Holly Hendricksen and Ashlee Filer, who were part of Manawatū cricket’s schoolgirl development programme.
These days Gunn batted last and acted as wicket-keeper, and despite still looking a class act said she was not recognised by other teams.
“They won’t know who I am,” she said.
“We’re going back a long time. I’m long in the tooth now. I don’t tell them. I look a bit different to when I played back then.”
Gunn said she would probably play another couple of seasons then hand over to the younger players coming through.
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz