Leigh Kasperek had played all of nine ODIs – the last one in February 2016 – until Thursday and only against three oppositions – India, Sri Lanka and Australia. She made her debut nearly two years ago, but Kasperek had suffered multiple finger fractures recently and missed almost the entire international 2016-17 season in the New Zealand summer.
Once the World Cup started, New Zealand decided to play two legspinners – Erin Bermingham and Amelia Kerr – for their first few matches. But Kasperek got her chance against West Indies on Thursday because Bermingham picked up a niggle. Kasperek was now without much match practice, against an unfamiliar team, and the captain Suzie Bates even decided to open the bowling with her, along with pace spearhead Lea Tahuhu. And what happened? Kasperek’s offspin fetched her the wickets of Stafanie Taylor, Deandra Dottin (for a golden duck) and Merissa Aguilleira.
“She knew she was going to go for little runs and take wickets,” Bates joked about Kasperek’s magical figures of 10-6-17-3. “Before the game she said she didn’t know much about the West Indies, we’ve played Australia so much and she knows the plan. She said, ‘I don’t really know too much about them’, so when players like Dottin and Taylor come out, she just bowls.”
After opting to bowl with hopes of some “juice in the wicket”, New Zealand were planning to start the match with Tahuhu and Holly Huddleston. But Bates saw a left-handed Kycia Knight, coming in the squad as an injury replacement, walk out with Hayley Matthews and the captain changed her plan to hand the second over to Kasperek.
The offspinner started with two maidens and conceded only a run in her third over with control, flight and fuller lengths. Once Tahuhu got rid of the openers from the other end, Bates brought on the medium-pacers and Kasperek returned to bowl alongside Kerr in the 17th over to dismiss Taylor and Dottin with her first two deliveries, strikes that went a long way in contributing towards New Zealand’s eight-wicket win. Aguilleira survived the hat-trick ball but was eventually stumped off Kasperek 10 overs later, trying to up the run rate.
Kasperek was quick make her mark but was happy to pass the question about bowling in the first Powerplay to Bates, saying, “you take it”, prompting a few laughs around.
It was just after Kasperek had been sidelined with her first injury of the 2016-17 season that 16-year-old Kerr made a memorable start with 3 for 16 in a T20I against Pakistan. And when Kasperek was injured again four months later, she was replaced by Kerr in the squad to play against Australia. On Thursday, the two spinners bowled in tandem – for the first time in international cricket – to stifle the West Indies middle and lower order.
“We thought it was an opportunity with Amelia Kerr still in the side to add Leigh, and it just shows that we’ve got real competition in three world-class spinners,” Bates said of the spin combination. “So it’s going to be a tough team to pick and hopefully in Derby (against England on July 12) where the wicket’s a bit slow, our spinners will come into play.”
Kasperek barely spoke at the post-match conference, only saying she was “stoked to be back playing” and felt “good to get a couple of wickets”. Bates, also her captain at Otago, teased Kasperek, quipping: “She would have liked to bat today as well, though.”