Interview: “Women’s cricket is definitely in a great place in Ireland,” says Shauna Kavanagh

She started playing cricket as a right-hand bat and a right arm quick, but soon transitioned herself into a wicket-keeper bat, in order to strengthen her chances of playing for the Ireland national team. She is one of the rare cricketers who got the opportunity of playing with her dad at the club level. There is seldom any doubt that cricket runs in her blood.

Female Cricket got in touch with Shauna Kavanagh, Ireland’s wicket-keeper bat, to unravel her cricketing journey.

 

Female Cricket Interviews Shauna Kavanagh.
Female Cricket Interviews Shauna Kavanagh.

 

As a youngster, you played different sports like hockey, soccer, and athletics. When and how did you decide to take up cricket full time?

I played most sports when I was younger, my main sports being GAA, football, athletics, and cricket and I absolutely loved all of them. I grew up down in the cricket club and spent nearly every day in Pembroke in the summers, so I suppose it was a bit of a natural choice. It was a big family sport for us, and all my best friends were in cricket. I started to put most of my focus into cricket at about 14. Looking back, I think I stepped away from other sports too soon and if I could go back, I would have given myself more time enjoying other sports. I have recently gone back to playing football and it has been so enjoyable to have another sport outside of cricket. Athleticism is so important in cricket, and I think playing a variety of sports is so important in those early stages.

Tell us about your early days in cricket. Did you look up to anyone? Any inspiration?

I have really fond memories from my early days in cricket and I was so lucky to grow up down in Pembroke Cricket Club. Sydney parade has such a lovely family community, and I could not have asked for a better place to spend my childhood. There is an abundance of role models and people to look up to involved in cricket in Ireland and a couple of people who had a significant impact on my development were my dad, Nigel Pyne, Nicky Coffey, and Clare Shillington.

You play for Pembroke Cricket Club, where your father also plays as a wicket-keeper. How does it feel to play professional cricket alongside your father?

My dad has played a huge role in supporting my cricket career and I am so grateful that I have had the opportunity to play cricket with him for the men’s teams in Pembroke over the last couple of years.

Dad has never tried to get too involved in my cricket and my performances never mattered to him, he just wanted me to enjoy whatever I was doing. The lovely thing about having a father who has played cricket is that they completely understand the highs and lows of cricket and as a result can help you through the lows. It is also a huge bonus that dad is a wicket-keeper as I have only recently started to keep wicket on a more full-time basis. He has kept wicket for nearly 45 years and to have someone like that to help guide you is invaluable.

 

Shauna Kavanagh. PC: Oisin Keniry.
Shauna Kavanagh. PC: Oisin Keniry.

 

You started off as a quick bowler but later made the switch to wicket-keeping. Can you talk us through this transition?

Yes, I came into Irish development squads as a quick bowler when I was about 13. When I was younger, I never really thought about the mechanics of bowling, and I had quite a slingy action. When I started to play at a higher level, a couple of people had tried to change my action to make them more repeatable and I definitely struggled with that. I persisted with it for a number of years going through really successful and consistent periods as well as some very tough periods where I lost my action altogether. When I was about 19-20, I realized that I needed to really develop my batting if I wanted to keep playing for Ireland as I couldn’t continue to rely on my bowling with the inconsistencies. I bowled for Ireland in a quad series we played in South Africa in 2017 after a two-year break and really enjoyed it but that was the last time I bowled for Ireland as I started to wicket-keep a little that summer. I was a part-time wicket-keeper up until 2019/20 which is when I started to really focus on it and take it up full-time. I am enjoying it a lot at the moment and I feel like it has helped by batting hugely as well.

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Who is your role model now? 

My role model is my mum. Whilst she has never played a sport, I could not ask for a better role model in life. She has faced so much adversity over the years and has always come through it with a smile on her face.

You made your debut for Ireland in 2011 against the Netherlands. Can you tell us about your debut game? Were you nervous, excited? 

I remember my debut so well as I made it against the Netherlands with three of my best friends, Emma Flanagan, Rebecca Rolfe, and Laura Cullen. We were inseparable at the time and so to make our debuts on the same day was really special for all of us. The game itself wasn’t hugely exciting in that it was a low-scoring encounter, but we managed to come out with a win.

Over the years, you made several appearances for Ireland and your best was against Zimbabwe when you scored an unbeaten 79 under pressure. How did you feel after that innings?

It was so pleasing to make runs in that game as I had really struggled at the start of my innings. I was finding it very hard to time the ball and had been playing in quite a reserved way. We went off for a rain break and had lost quite a lot of wickets so I was determined to just get back out there and give us a total that we could bowl to. I went after it once we got back out there, and it paid off on that occasion. The most pleasing thing for me was that I had started to consistently score runs playing for Ireland over 2017 and 2018 and it was a nice realization and confidence boost that I could perform at that higher level.

In the same year, Ireland qualified for the World T20. How was the experience of playing the World Cup in the West Indies?

The World Cup was an amazing experience. We didn’t perform well but it was my first experience playing games at a World Cup in crowded stadiums at that intensity level. I was in India for the 2016 World Cup but didn’t play. The West Indies is a beautiful place to play cricket and we had a great win against Sri Lanka in one of our warmup games in Antigua.

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Shauna Kavanagh in action. PC: Getty Images
Shauna Kavanagh in action. PC: Getty Images

 

You were also a part of the first ICC Women’s Global Development Squad that played five matches against English super league sides. How did it feel to be a part of that coveted squad? What did you learn there?

Playing for the ICC Global Development Squad was really enjoyable. Myself, Gaby, and Lucy were lucky enough to be included in the inaugural series. We got to play alongside a lot of good cricketers and a lovely group of people. I think we were just so excited to get more games of cricket against good opposition. I think it is a great initiative by ICC and hope that it continues after the pandemic.

Which bowler do you find it difficult to face? Which bowler do you enjoy facing?

The bowlers that I have found most difficult to face are Shikha Pandey of India and Shabnim Ismail of South Africa. I quite like facing Jahanara Alam of Bangladesh and Nomvelo Sibanda of Zimbabwe.

Now that you have been around with the Ireland team for more than a decade, how has cricket developed in the country? Where is women’s cricket at the moment in Ireland?

Women’s cricket has come so far both globally and in Ireland specifically. When I was younger, I never thought that there would be any potential to earn a living playing cricket. That is a real possibility for some of our players now and that is hugely exciting. I also look back to when I was playing cricket as a young girl and it was generally only myself and 2 other girls who played with the boys. Now, clubs have multiple underage girl’s teams and there is a real balance of both girls and boys playing cricket. I love going to down to the cricket club and seeing groups of young girls playing stumpy in the nets. Women’s cricket is definitely in a great place in Ireland, but we still have a long way to go to ensure we can continue to compete at the international level. Full-time professionalism is essential for the continued progression of women’s cricket in Ireland and hopefully, we are not too far away from that.

What message would you like to give the girls, who are just starting out to play cricket?

My first piece of advice to anyone would be to enjoy it, particularly for young girls starting out. Cricket is a fantastic community, and you make friends for life in this sport so just relish the opportunity to play cricket with your friends. For those further along in their playing career, I would say don’t rush the process, enjoy the journey, and work hard.

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