A REVOLUTIONARY PARTNERSHIP
Lea and Amy heralded a new era in cricket when they decided to make their relationship public. © Cricbuzz
“Sport is always more than just a game,” is the cricketing philosophy of Amy Satterthwaite and Lea Tahuhu. “It is the impact you can have on people, the way you can inspire them.”
Lea is an extremely competitive individual, who grew up inspired by the bowling of Shane Bond and Brett Lee. It is, thus, no surprise that she took to the game as a pacer and went on to become one of the fastest bowlers in women’s cricket. “The ability to set the tone of a game – if you can hurry a few people up, it helps gets the rest of the team up,” she says of what gets her excited about fast bowling.
Amy, on the other hand, in her words, has been playing “for as long as I could walk”. Daughter of Michael Satterthwaite – a former Canterbury cricketer – the game was a part of her life right from the beginning. “Watching him play every week was where the love for the game started. I used to play backyard cricket with my family and then started playing in a boys’ team when I was about 7,” she says of her early days in the game.
But theirs is not just a story of two cricket careers, much in agreement with how define sport as being ‘more than just a game.’ And cricket, like every other sport, throws up stories that have far-reaching effects. Lea and Amy became protagonists of one such story when they decided to make their relationship public.
As Dana Jonassen writes in stuff.co.nz, “This is not a “coming out” story — after all, the pair have been married for more than a year and together for eight. In the White Ferns environment there is acceptance, almost to the point of indifference, of Satterthwaite and Tahuhu’s relationship. Most of their teammates have only ever known them as a couple.”
Women’s cricket isn’t short of stories of same sex couples being open about their relationships. And while, Lea and Amy’s partnership may not be rare, it is as significant in the light that it is still considered a taboo in most parts of the world, especially in some of the top cricket-playing Asian countries. Thus, even as the social reactions around them might have been supportive of their choices, they do realize the influence they can have on the society at large, and despite being private individuals they are willing to share their story.
“We decided to share our story as we believe that if we could have a positive impact on even one person to be comfortable with who they are then that was a great thing for us to do.”
It’s a relationship that has lasted for more than eight years. As international cricketers, in a way, they have been lucky to have each other around – on long tours that several players complain are lonely, in testing times when things aren’t going right and in moments of anxiety when pressure of performing at the highest level can wear you out.
“We’re lucky in many ways as we both understand the pressure that comes with playing international sport. When the game takes you away from home for long periods of time, we are fortunate to have one another there.”
They are both quite different as individuals. Amy describes Lea as being someone who is “an extremely competitive and passionate person, very loyal and has a heart of gold”, while the pacer says her partner is “very driven, committed, patient and a caring person”. But among all the dissimilarities, they say, it is the common set of core values that helps them bond strongly. “Our differences in personalities balance each other out but at the same time we have very similar values which is why I believe we work so well together”
Their approach to the game is also slightly different, and varying levels of their personalities come into their game. For Lea, while the game has allowed her to express her natural style, she believes her competitive nature takes a backseat in her personal life as compared to its display on the field. “Parts of your personality come out when playing but I do think I’m a far more serious person when on the field as opposed to off it,” she says. “I wouldn’t say the game has moulded me a certain way, but I think it has allowed me to express myself in what I do and has made me a more resilient person riding the highs and lows of professional sport.”
For Amy, however, there isn’t much of a difference in how her personality changes on and off the field. “More of my competitive side comes out on the field than off it. Otherwise, I’d like to think I’m fairly similar on and off the field,” she explains. “I’ve been playing the game for over a decade and its certainly taught me a lot.”
With Amy being in a leadership role in the last few years has also opened a whole new set of dynamics for the duo. In fact, a year and a half into their marriage, Amy was made the captain of the ODI and T20I sides. Being partners in a team environment can pose challenges – professionally as well as personally – as the two roles can spill over at times. However, they claim to understand and segregate their roles well. “Throughout our careers we’ve always tried to keep things separate. When we’re at cricket we’re at work and when you’re at home we don’t bring work home. We’ve kept a healthy balance throughout our careers and have maintained this is very important.”
While today both are integral members of the national team, their evolution as cricketers thus far has been slightly different.
Both played for the same club – St Albans Club – but by the time Lea made her international debut, Amy had already seen her most disappointing phase as a cricketer. “Making the finals of both the 50 over World Cup and the T20 World Cup and not being able to win them (was disappointing). To get so close was pretty heartbreaking especially with the way we had played in the T20 WC in the West Indies in 2010,” Amy says.
But by then Amy had also done enough to win New Zealand games against dominant teams – England and Australia – with stellar performances with both bat and ball. The highest point of her career, however, came in 2016-17 when she became the first woman player to register four consecutive ODI centuries.
One of the more interesting decisions Amy had taken in her cricket career was to turn down a central contract offered by New Zealand cricket in 2013. It was a massive decision, given how game-changing it proved for women’s cricket that desperately needed one to move a step forward.
“At the time. it was a great initiative from NZC,” Amy says reflecting at the decision. “However, I was working full time and at that point it wasn’t the right time for me to be able to solely rely on cricket.”
A lot of things changed for Amy and women’s cricket since then. Contracts with Tasmania Roar, Hobart Hurricanes and Lancashire Thunder initially allowed her to reduce her working hours before taking up the game full time. In 2015, she eventually signed a contract with White Ferns.
She may have signed the contract at the same time as Lea but their journeys till then weren’t as similarly successful. Lea, who had made her debut in 2011, had played only 43 games for New Zealand with limited impact to that point.
In the last couple of years, when Amy has taken her game to a higher level of consistency, Lea too has made a stronger impact. In 2017, she was named in the ICC T20I team of the year and since then, has featured regularly for New Zealand.
However, despite having reasonably long careers, they haven’t been fortunate enough to play Test cricket. For as much as they would have liked to play the longest version, they have come to accept the reality of the situation. “Playing a Test match is something we would have loved to have done throughout our careers but we have seen women’s cricket go in a different direction over the last few years with the T20 format. You therefore come to accept that a Test match is something you will probably never play.”
Nonetheless, neither of them want to leave the game as a mere profession they took to, and as cricketers, want to leave their mark.
“I (want to be remembered as) a tough competitor in all teams I played for,” Lea says of the legacy she wants to leave behind as a player. “Off the field I’d love to be known for having a positive impact in the environments I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of.”
Amy agrees and adds. “You always want to leave the game in a better place than when you started.”
In a world where politics thrives on hate and divide, sport remains its strongest counter. In the garb of competition, it often breeds love and inclusiveness in a society of differences.