By margot butcher - republished from outright #47
When the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup plays out in New Zealand this summer, for a generation of women there will be a circuitous, reflective feeling. The memory of a life marker being placed in the mind.
Twenty-one years ago New Zealand hosted the 2000 Women’s Cricket World Cup — and won it. The first time that had happened. Aimee Mason (as she was then) was watching the Final live on TV. Oath, we all were. It was the most exhilarating finish of the year — the White Ferns defending 184 against usual suspects Australia in a nail-biting, last-over, four-run win. If you haven’t seen the scenes, look it up on YouTube.
“I was right at the end of my last year of high school,” recalls Aimee, “and I was going to Lincoln University to take up an NZC Academy scholarship in the coming year, so that World Cup Final in Lincoln was doubly of interest to me. I looked up to Debbie Hockley, Emily Drumm, Rebecca Rolls, Catherine Campbell — all those people. I knew that being in the White Ferns was where I wanted to be.”
Watkins didn’t have to wait long. After a wave of retirements, she made the team the very next season — initially selected for a tour to India that was then cancelled due to 9/11, before debuting in Adelaide at the end of the summer, alongside Nic Browne and Anna Corbin in a largely new-look team. The start of a significant career of a future New Zealand captain. She would play 141 matches, including a century of ODI caps and two Tests, and two ODI centuries among her 1189 ODI runs.
Domestically the allrounder also led the Central Hinds to a ground-breaking double in 2009/10 and today she is a life member of Central Districts Cricket Association.
“The whole story of the Hinds — I was 16 when I started, to 14 years later when I finished up — was one of massive change,” she recalls.
“When I started, we would have just the leftovers of the men’s clothes, polos that were XXL and warm-up T-shirts that were like tents, it was just ridiculous. And, the Hinds always got a hiding. I finished in my time with us being consistently in finals, and winning both titles in one season. So that was pretty cool, but the friendships you have within the team are still the most ensuring things you treasure.”
She was just 28 when she retired. “Not over the hill — but it was a pretty strong feeling of being done, of not wanting to do it anymore. It had been brewing for 18 months. I knew it was time to move on into the next part of my life which was having a family and getting my teaching career going, having done Teacher’s College and then managing to piece together two years’ worth of classroom experience whilst I was playing, in order to become fully registered. I was able to step into a full-time job which helped make the transition to life after sport easy. [Her husband] Jamie and I also had a goal of wanting to build a house, so other things just took over the space and time that cricket used to consume.”
Jamie Watkins was playing for Taranaki while Aimee was a White Fern. Today he’s the one immersed in Central Districts cricket — coaching his wife’s old team and developing women’s cricket across the whole region in a full-time role for CDCA.
“Cricket is his passion. He’d always also be down on a Saturday watching his club team, and he’ll probably still be doing that when he’s 80. Once we had kids, we just had to figure out how to juggle all that and I’ll generally pop along to Pukekura Park with the girls when he’s there with the Hinds on game day.”
They had known each other pre-cricket, then Jamie went on his cricketing OE to Scotland for some six northern summers in a row. “Once he came back full-time, he was at Taranaki Cricket, and I was coaching and doing some pieces there through the summer. We got married in 2009.”
With Aimee still playing, Jamie developed a strong appreciation for the challenges facing female cricketers — even at the international level. “He’s very passionate about it, and I’m sure that comes across in his coaching.”
Meanwhile, Aimee was ready to step away from cricket entirely. “I didn’t follow it at all. It was a complete break and, in some ways, I still feel like I’m going through that ‘detox’ — which is weird, after 10 years, but I think I was just so immersed in it during my career that now it was time for everything else. I do follow domestic cricket a bit through the Hinds now — but Jamie’s the one who’ll turn on the TV to watch the cricket or White Ferns.”
But she’s sure she will be tuning into the home World Cup, one of the box office events of the national sporting summer.
“It’s been 21 years, so it will be pretty special if the White Ferns can pull that one out of the hat. And, it will be a major event, this time. The profile is much higher. The domestic doubleheaders have been good for shining a light on the women’s game. The chit-chat in the staffroom these days is what happened in the women’s game, and then, what happened in the men’s. That just never happened 20 years ago.”
Aimee played in two ODI World Cups and two T20 World Cups — captaining the latter. In her last, the 2010 Final in Bridgetown, Australia won by just three runs.
“With World Cups, we had a pretty good run. We didn’t win during my time, but were making finals, and runners-up just about every blimmin’ tournament. It was always heart-breaking at the time, but I look back and think it was quite an achievement by a small country with a very small pool of female players. Frankly, we were very amateur then compared to England, Australia and India, so we were punching well above our weight.
“Now the landscape has changed so much — West Indies, South Africa, all the other countries have poured resources into women’s cricket and it’s obvious how much better they are now. It’s made it tougher for New Zealand.”
Several of Watkins’ contemporaries — Amy Satterthwaite, Sophie Devine, Suzie Bates, the youngster whom she used to open the batting — will at least get another shot.
“We always knew Suzie would go on to be a significant player. Even as a 16-year-old coming through from Otago, she was a standout. For her to have maintained the drive and the intensity throughout what’s become a lengthy career, I think, ‘good on her’ and I wish the White Ferns all the best.”
In the meantime, there’s plenty else to be getting on with. For the past eight years she’s been teaching at New Plymouth’s Francis Douglas College — an all-boys’ Catholic school that’s best known as the alma mater of the All Black Barrett brothers. Full-time for the last three years, now that daughters Olivia and Izzy are both in school. The family is living the dream on a lifestyle block just outside town, with chickens and sheep, lambs, cats, guinea pigs and actual pigs.
“I grew up similar and it was awesome, so it was an experience I wanted my kids to have as well. We had it good during lockdown. Always something to do. Plenty of space to run around. It’s a lot of work, but it’s good fun for us all. We worked really hard to make it happen.”