Suzie Bates: Cricketer nearing 10,000 international runs had unhealthy exercise addiction for decade

Suzie Bates celebrates after reaching half a century against England in 2022
Former New Zealand captain Suzie Bates used to punish herself after a defeat by hitting the treadmill - Phil Noble/Reuters

Suzie Bates was in her mid-twenties when the demands of being a dual international nudged her across an unhealthy line. Back then, with professional women’s cricket in its infancy, Bates was also representing New Zealand at basketball.

“I was getting sent fitness programmes for both,” Bates tells Telegraph Sport. “Instead of communicating [with them both], I was trying to do both programmes. If the basketball programme said, ‘You’ve got a running session’ and the cricket programme said that too, I’d run twice a day. I’d try to do all of it. I was studying for exams at the time. I just went too far.”

It led to her “having a bit of a meltdown” and an “exhausted” Bates turned to her father for help. She describes herself as “addicted to the endorphins of exercise” but knows there comes a tipping point at which compulsion is prevalent and then the harm far outweighs the good.

Here I should note that this was not a topic I had intended to cover in detail with Bates. She is among the best women’s cricketers and I wanted to explore her career – which we will do later – but, having struggled with the same addiction, this issue struck a personal note.

Bates is candid when explaining that, during her seven years skippering the White Ferns, she used exercise as a “coping mechanism”. After a defeat, Bates frequently turned to the treadmill. At the time, she believed her motivation was to find comfort but in hindsight she understands it was in part to “punish myself”.

She adds: “When the team didn’t go well, I took it personally and ended up feeling like exercise was the answer to de-stress. It was the only way I felt I could get clarity. There was a time during that captaincy where it was not the right thing to be doing, but mentally it was my only answer.”

‘One comment was taken the wrong way’

Bates is in a much happier place now. The 36-year-old heads into the upcoming England series requiring only 96 runs to pass 10,000 in women’s international cricket – only Charlotte Edwards and Mithali Raj have reached the milestone previously.

She can also identify where her exercise addiction stemmed from. She thinks it was a simple misinterpretation at an age-group basketball trial. “The coach told me that I was skilful enough but not fit enough for international basketball.”

Her mind hooked onto that and exercise became “a pretty unhealthy habit for five to 10 years. I felt like I was never fit enough to be an international athlete from one comment that was just taken the wrong way”.

Addictive behaviours are so frequently about control – or, more accurately, the feeling that it is lacking. Among life’s cascade of variables, the ability to dictate just the one element becomes a fixation.

“In unpacking it all later, I realised that, for my mental health, being active and exercising every day is good for me, but [it is about] getting the balance right, not overdoing it, doing it for the right reasons and giving myself a rest when that’s needed. It’s been a bit of a journey!”

New Zealand's Suzie Bates plays a shot during the women's Twenty20 Cricket bronze medal match between New Zealand and England on day ten of the Commonwealth Games at Edgbaston in Birmingham

How does Bates manage it now? “I feel like I know my body. Mentally I also have that understanding of ‘why am I doing this?’ – usually it’s the right answer.”

She is also aware of societal pressures placed on younger members of the squad and aims to ensure “they’ve got a healthy relationship with exercise. When you’re a young female athlete and you see all the body types that are promoted and with all the media around, I think you do battle with it”.

Bates is warm company over morning coffee. She smiles almost as frequently as she blinks. Her words are thoughtful. And she takes little notice of records and accolades despite getting plenty of them across two decades in the game.

Bates debuted for Otago Sparks as a 15-year-old. She turned up spike-less and had to borrow the captain’s shoes to bowl her 10 overs – “slightly embarrassing,” she laughs.

As professional women’s cricket was barely even a dream back then, there was much plate-spinning and, at times, financial strain, but Bates could continue playing other sports.

At one point she was on the cusp of heading to college in the US to play basketball, but her White Ferns debut in March 2006 put that idea “on the back burner”.

A tactical selection by then-New Zealand coach Steve Jenkin? Another Bates grin appears. “He probably caught wind [of the US idea] and was trying to rope me into committing to cricket. A smart decision because once I played for the White Ferns, I never looked back.”

Jenkin did, though, afford Bates an 18-month sabbatical to pursue her Olympic dream. “I think he realised that I really loved basketball and that if he’d told me I couldn’t play, I might have said ‘stuff you’ to cricket!”

So Bates headed to Beijing 2008 with the Tall Ferns. Despite just one victory, memories of that trip are among her most cherished. Her team-mates struck up friendships with the US men’s team’s security and they all joined the Dream Team’s gold medal celebrations.

“We were with LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, Chris Bosh – for a basketball fan it was an unbelievable experience. Now I say it out loud, I have to pinch myself.

“I was kind of star-struck and overwhelmed. I remember some of the other girls telling them I played cricket – they had no idea what cricket was. I was like, ‘I’m a basketballer, be quiet!’

“One of them said, ‘Oh, so you play a game for five days and don’t get a result?’ I was like, ‘We don’t actually play Tests, but yeah, that is cricket’.”

One of them? “Dwyane Wade!”

Olympic dream lives on

Since then, women’s cricket has evolved rapidly. She is, in equal measure, grateful to have participated in the amateur era and glad for the more recent professionalisation.

“At the 2017 World Cup in England, I was thinking, ‘This isn’t sustainable’. I was at an age – 27 or 28 – where most people that I’d played with had had to retire. Either they could no longer pay the mortgage, or they had to think about another career.”

So while Bates is no fan of franchise drafts – “you’re a commodity putting your name out there. The personal aspect gets lost” – she appreciates that the development was perfectly timed for her career.

Yet another beaming grin appears as she says: “I’m doing exactly the same thing I did when I was 18 – it’s just that now I get paid a lot more money for it!

“In any other job you have to move your way up the ladder and upskill, whereas I feel like I’ve been doing the same thing, just everything around me has changed.”

Does she fancy another dart at the Olympics in Los Angeles 2028, where cricket will feature? “It’s day-by-day at the moment,” Bates says. But her eyes are dancing and she adds: “It would be quite cool, though, 20 years later, to go to the Olympics for a different sport.”