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Making her mark

Kayley Knight creating a stir with bat and ball.

Kayley Knight loves cricket.

The 17-year-old pace bowler's Northern Spirit dream came true last Saturday, with her debut in the Hallyburton Johnstone Shield.

Kayley made her first-class debut in Game 1 of last weekend's 50-over double-header against the Wellington Blaze at the Basin Reserve.

First-up, she shared the new ball with Lauren Heaps in a two-wicket win, and in Game 2 took the new cherry with Lucy Boucher in an eight-wicket win to the Spirit. She bowled six good overs for 25 runs, with two maidens, on debut and five overs for 28 runs in Game 2. She has yet to pick up a first-class wicket but has her captain, White Fern Felicity Leydon-Davis, enthused.

“Kayley's an exciting young seam bowler with good pace, and has an outstanding bouncer,” the Spirit skipper said.

“She's had some great performances pre-season and really impressed; her determination and work ethic are assets and she's an amazing young cricketer with a very bright future ahead of her.”

Knight missed the first call she got from Spirit head coach Jo Broadbent the previous Sunday night (her cellphone had been on “silent” at the time) but family having gathered for the news, she took a second call at 8.37pm.

Five minutes later she was able to tell her brother Jarred, 15, dad Alan, and mum and former Spirit off-spinner Mel that she'd been selected for the Round 1 and Round 2 50-over matches.

Such was ND's dominance at the Basin (they beat the Blaze by two wickets with 44 balls remaining in Game 1, chased down the home team's 214-9 with 69 balls to spare in Game 2) that Knight — at No.11 — didn't get a hit.

But Kayley Knight can bat.

She put up her highest ever score of 87 not out last year, having carried her bat from No.1 for Gisborne Girls' High School in a 52-run win against the High School Old Boys Pups.

A Northern Districts under-15 representative who attended her first secondary schools' tournament with Poverty Bay while a Year 7 student at Campion College in 2015, two years later she was a member of the Gisborne Girls' High first 11 that made the ND regional final of the Venus Cup in her Year 9. In 2019, she was Most Valuable Player of the Maddie Ashworth-led Bay team which won the secondary schools' title.

Kayley is not just the fifth Poverty Bay cricketer to have made the Spirit after Kerry-Anne Tomlinson, Jordy Hardacre, Mel Knight and Tayla Hollis. She's won local age-group doubles titles in badminton with longtime cricket teammate ND u15, u19 and ND A representative Rubi Perano.

And Kayley — like her goalkeeping mum and dad — turns out for the Gisborne United football club on the wing or in midfield. She is a former Gisborne and Central Federation age-group player and qualified Level 1 football referee who controls youth football and women's football, in addition to acting as an assistant referee during men's local club games.

Former Australian test cricketer Jo Broadbent is, like Leydon-Davis, a fan of Kayley as a bowler.

“Kayley doesn't just hit the deck hard around off-stump, she's very consistent, resilient, coachable and mature around the group,” said Broadbent.

“She's got some talent with the bat — she'll work her way up the order — and she's versatile in the field, has safe catching hands and a good throwing arm.”

Kayley is one of the hardest-working cricketers on the local scene, training for six to seven hours a week and playing three times a week. She has just received a two-year sponsorship deal with Loft Cricket.

Kayley's passion for the game has been inherited from her parents.

“My hero's always been my mum. She's a great coach and the biggest reason I'm where I am today,” Kayley said.

“When she played for the Spirit, I aspired to be like her — I'd steal her kit and wear it myself.

“Dad's always supported and encouraged me and former Poverty Bay community cricket co-ordinator Dave McDonald, in the early days, helped me greatly with the technical side of my game.”

I like the tactical side of things as much as the game itself — thinking ahead, of what an opponent might do next.

Cricket gives a great reward when all goes well, nothing beats the feeling of bowling a great ball to take the top of off-stump after you've executed everything perfectly, bowling a tight over to assist your team to a win, taking a screamer of a catch, as a fieldsman throwing yourself around on the boundary or hitting the winning runs in a nail-biter.

I love everything about cricket — when I finish school at the end of next year, I want to take a break, save money and then hopefully go overseas for cricket during our winter (Covid-19 pending) or stay in NZ, continue to play at domestic level and develop ideas for a future career.

“At this stage, I don't intend to go to university: I'm not 100 percent sure of what I'll do next but I do know that — whatever it is — cricket will be involved.”

Today Kayley will turn out alongside Mum for Horouta against Ngatapa in Senior B club cricket — the 30-over Hope Cup — and tomorrow she'll turn out for the Sonic against the Power and the Galaxy in two Northern Premier League T20 games at Fergusson Park in Tauranga.

Broadbent wants the young opening bowler to use variations such as slower balls, mixed in with her accuracy and wicked bumper, in those NPL games.

The Spirit's second double-header is against the Canterbury Magicians at Whangarei's International ground, Cobham Oval, next weekend.

A DREAM COME TRUE: Kayley Knight realised a dream when she played for the Northern Spirit. Picture by Paul Rickard