Thursday, May 19, 2022

Farm worker with a mean off spin

Otago cricketer, farm worker and veterinary nurse student Eden Carson is making a few waves. Neal Wallace meets the sports enthused.
Otago dairy farm worker and cricketer Eden Carson. Photo: Jan MacKenzie.

It’s a long way from a Central Otago dairy farm to a cricket wicket in the United States city of Houston.

But that is the contrast experienced by Otago cricketer Eden Carson earlier this year, when the part-time farm worker and veterinary nurse student at Otago Polytechnic spread the gospel of cricket in the US.

When not studying or playing cricket, Carson is helping out on a 900-cow dairy farm at Patearoa in Maniototo.

But in April she hung up her apron, put away her gumboots and books to join fellow SBS Bank Otago Spark Kate Ebrahim to play in a cricket tournament at Houston, Texas.

They were invited to play in the Houston Open 2022, a cricket tournament organised by the International Cricketers Association designed to grow the game of cricket internationally.

The quality of cricket was lower than she is used to in New Zealand, but Carson describes the experience as memorable.

They were the first two NZ women to play in the tournament, joining the Samp Army side in the two-day competition, alongside local players and others from all over world to play three Twenty20 fixtures.

She said the tournament attracted players from America, including the national women’s and women’s Under 19 sides, as well as expats from cricketing nations and invited players from all over the world.

Her teammates were a mix of club players, current and former internationals and enthusiasts.

The enjoyment was enhanced when Carson’s team beat the Houston Women’s Cricket Club in the final.

This success followed an impressive 2021-22 season for Carson and her Otago Sparks team, which won the Hallyburton Johnstone Shield, the premier women’s domestic one-day competition.

The victory was in no small measure due to a dominant display by Carson in February’s final played in Queenstown, when her off spin proved unplayable for the Wellington Blaze.

Having found her line, length and variable pace, the 20-year-old took a career best five for 17 to lead the Otago side to an upset 138-run win over the heavily fancied Wellington side.

“Beating Wellington was great. They are a tough team and it was brilliant to get one up over them,” Carson said.

The result and Carson’s form is even more remarkable when the side had lost 23 successive games leading up to last season.

She attributed the turn around to the maturing of a young side, having a clear, understandable team tactic and playing to their strengths.

“We stuck to what we knew we could do,” she said.

It was the same for her dominance with the ball. She found a wicket-taking, run-restricting rhythm and stuck to it.

Raised on a Maniototo sheep and beef farm, she said her parents encouraged her to play sport from the age of five.

It saw her involved in cricket, rugby and hockey, even though she was the only girl in her local club’s cricket team.

“The boys were quite nice to me because they were scared they didn’t want to hurt my feelings,” she said.

“They don’t hold back now.”

As a boarder at Dunedin’s St Hilda’s Collegiate, she was fortunate to have in Neil Rosenberg a teacher who was especially passionate about cricket.

Between them they helped St Hilda’s win two national secondary school titles.

She was in Year 12 when she earned selection to the Otago Sparks in 2018-19.

Her first game for Otago was against Wellington and made memorable when she took a diving catch at mid-wicket to dismiss former White Fern Rachel Priest.

Carson started out as a medium-pace bowler, but realised her lack of height limited the pace she could generate so switched to off-spin.

In 2020 she took 5-18 against the Central Hinds in a Twenty20 match and also that year received one of eight Nz Cricket development contracts.

But there have less memorable games, such as conceding 20 runs off one over against Northern Districts.

Cricket is a commitment.

While she plays hockey in winter, cricket training starts in mid-winter and they play virtually every weekend over summer.

“It’s difficult being 20 and all your friends are going out to socialise and I can’t because I’m off playing cricket,” she said.

The camaraderie and socialising with her team-mates is some compensation for the commitment, as is her constant striving to improve.

“It is the main reason I have stuck around,” she said.

Otago coach and former Black Cap Craig Cummings has been especially influential in fine-tuning her skills and creating a team environment in which the Otago Sparks went from cellar dwellers to champions.

She said the quality of the NZ women’s game is improving as more young women play the game and learn from the older hands.

This year Carson says she intends focusing on improving her batting skills to heighten her chances of further advancement.

She is now in her last year of study at Otago Polytechnic and said farm managers, Gerard Eketone and partner Megan Linton have been accommodating of her studies and cricket commitments.

Once she graduates, she intends working in a rural vet practice, naturally in a centre with a cricket club close by.

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