BY MARGOT BUTCHER REPUBLISHED FROM OUTRIGHT #53
If you think you’re a busy person, you haven’t met Saachi Shahri.
At 25, the Auckland Hearts opening batter isn’t just holding down a cricket career — she’s a Mechatronics Engineering graduate who works full-time, year-round for Air New Zealand as an Engineering Planning Analyst.
Mecha-what? Yeah, we had to Google that too. Google says it’s like mechanical engineering and electronics combined, focusing on the design, intelligence, control and programming of smart devices, robots, and intelligent systems. It’s a four-year professional degree at Auckland Uni, and
Shahri joins Mitch Santner, Bharat Popli, Mark Chapman and Anurag Verma as cricketers who are also qualified engineers.
A mechatronics degree is not very specific to aviation, she explains, but as part of the engineering degree, she needed to do summer internships to get work experience — a requisite to graduate.
“I had always thought planes are quite fascinating — but I’m not a geek, a plane-spotter, or a nerd! I thought it would be cool to work at Air New Zealand. I managed to get a three-month placement with them in my third year, and really enjoyed it. So then I applied for their graduate programme at the end of my degree, got in — and that was the step into my full-time role now.”
Shahri works with a small team of about 11 people on Air New Zealand’s Auckland airport campus to make sure Air New Zealand’s extensive jet fleet is maintained, always compliant and that maintenance requirements are optimally planned and scheduled — often looking five years in advance.
“My team is Engineering Forward Planning, so we’re about making sure there is a time slot and enough time for a plane to be on the ground so that we can do required work on them. Making sure the plane is legal and safe to fly, by understanding and meeting all the regulations and requirements. It’s a lot of problem-solving, with busy flight schedules, but it does make for a very interesting day job.”
Shahri enjoys her work just as much as she enjoys her cricket, and that means being super-good at time management and planning ahead to balance two demanding occupations. Motorway traffic is the biggest curve ball: getting into Eden Park from Māngere for 5pm trainings is a tall order (sometimes an hour in rush-hour traffic), but Auckland Cricket — whose youngish Hearts are mainly students, or working part-time — actively accommodate her need to bowl in a bit later.
“I leave home at 7am and I often don’t get home until 8.30pm, so it’s very long days. But I actually think combining Uni was harder physically and mentally, because with work, I go to work, but I switch off in the evenings or I can go train and manage my own time. With Uni, you’ve got lectures, but you’ve also got tests coming up, you’ve got study… so how I managed it was always on my mind.”
Mumbai born and Auckland-raised since she was a three-year-old, Shahri is a Community Cricket success story in that her first forays into the game came as a result of a have-a-go flyer that she brought home from primary school.
“The very first sport I played was badminton when I was in primary school and I really enjoyed that, but I’ve got asthma so I really struggled to run around continuously, without any breaks.
“We never had cricket at PE at my school, we weren’t exposed to the game there, but my Dad’s Indian and has always been passionate about cricket so we would always watch it at home. So when this flyer came out, I brought it home to my parents, and was keen to give it a go. I went along to the day at Lloyd Elsmore Park — home of Howick-Pakuranga which is my home club in Auckland. I’ve played ever since and Dad was a huge part of it too, helping me with time in the nets when I was getting started and making sure I got into some good habits early, technique-wise.”
The keen girl from Botany Downs has now played 51 one-dayers and 43 T20s since her Auckland Hearts since her 2016/17 debut, and has an important role to play for a team that’s lost a suite of senior players — Anna Peterson, Katie Perkins and Holly Huddleston to retirement, and Arlene Kelly to Ireland where she is now based full-time — over the last two years.
“We’re quite a young, fresh-look squad all of a sudden. Having been around the Hearts for five or six years, I’m now considered as a kind of senior member which is kind of scary! But the Hearts are a really cool group, there’s good energy and we’re fortunate in that we are so localised. All my memories of summer, it’s that group of people because you see them so often. You enjoy it. Some days, days at work are not so good, but I’ve got cricket or training with my teammates to go and take my mind off things. And sometimes cricket is not so great, so I’ve got my work to take my mind off it!”
Summertimes are busy times which means she doesn’t get to see as much of her partner as she does in winter. “I know every player is different, but personally I don’t like training much in winter. I like taking that time off, and I normally take three to four months where I don’t even touch a cricket bat. I just focus on just keeping fit and my gym work.
“I’m usually an evening gym person. My partner also gyms, so we go together and that’s quite a good way for us to spend some time together. It’s about helping me switch off mentally from my job as much as anything, and I find it means when I come back into summer, I’m not tired out or fatigued, and fully ready to go again.”
But it’s not all work-work-work — working for an airline has some pretty cool perks, too.
“I’m trying to make the most of the travel benefits when I can, so I’ve just come back from a few weeks off in Japan — my first time in a long time travelling like that, so that was really cool. I’ve got another trip planned to New York in July, while things are a little bit quieter! Even with cricket domestically, I really enjoy the travelling around side of things.
“Playing cricket is something I’ve always kept up because I genuinely enjoy it, and work is like that as well. Air New Zealand as a company and an employer, is a great place to work. I love the people, I love the context of the work we’re doing, and fortunately, I like staying busy — so although it doesn’t come without its sacrifices, having both my job and my cricket gives me fulfilment in my life right now. I feel like I’m in a really good place, and very grateful to be able to do all the things I love!”