In the West Indies’ first game of the tournament in ICC Women’s World T20, the Player-of the-Match was a Pakistani. It was that kind of game. That is how they started.
They needed to defend 12 off the last over to avoid an embarrassing opening loss. They called upon Deandra Dottin. She delivered.
They found momentum in their second game against Bangladesh but did not win by the margin they would have liked to, to improve their net run rate.
They almost made net run rate inconsequential by beating table-toppers England in their third game. Again Dottin was called upon to bowl the last over. She got a wicket, yet failed. Only just. Tears were shed in the West Indies dugout that day. One more loss might have sent them home.
In a virtual quarter-final against India, against the hosts, against the vociferous Mohali crowd, Dottin succeeded where she had failed against England. She picked up two wickets in the last over and sealed the game, and a fourth semi-final berth for her team.
In the semis, again she was called upon to bowl the last over, with 19 to defend. They won that game by six runs.
But her most valuable last over would be in the final. This time, bowling first, she had no target to defend. The brief was simple. Give away as few runs as you can.
She almost bowled a wicket maiden, until the Australian batters scampered one off the last ball.
Australia might have thought that that over wouldn’t hurt them too much. They had put a mammoth 148 on the board.
As it was, they were wrong.
In the 2014 World Twenty20 final, where Australia beat England for a ‘3-peat’ of World T20 titles, one glaring statistic stood out like a tall poppy. England had failed to hit a single six in the entire competition. Australia had hit 18. 18! Four of which came in the final. The Southern Stars had smashed, smoked, muscled and mauled their way to their third WT20 title.
The number 18 would be a talking point in this final as well.
Coming into the 2016 final, Australia had hit just one six. No, their power hitting had not suddenly disappeared. It was a reflection of the slow pitches, more than anything else. Ellyse Perry tried to correct the balance by hitting two more on the big day.
Hayley Matthews was 17 when the tournament began and 18 when it ended. She had been given the new ball by her captain in the field, where the West Indies were a shadow of the team they can be. It was a difficult decision to understand as she would prove by her many full tosses. But she got a wicket. It may have given her the belief she needed. Or maybe she just had the confidence all along.
With the bat in hand, the latter looked more accurate. She was unafraid to step out and hit Perry over her head. She didn’t even bother stepping out to hit Megan Schutt, Australia’s highest wicket-taker. Her body language seemed to say, “Anything you can do, I can do better. And faster. And while still younger.”
Australia hit three sixes in the tournament. The West Indies hit six. Matthews hit three in the final itself, part of a match winning 66 off 45 balls.
She is only 18. And the West Indies had smashed, smoked, muscled and mauled their way to their first WT20 title.
Earlier this year, Dottin was not in the West Indies. She was in Australia. On international duty of another kind. She was one of four West Indies players who played in the inaugural Women’s Big Bash League. While Dottin didn’t fulfill her potential with the bat, she excelled with the ball.
Hayley Matthews looked comfortable against the Australian opening bowlers. Like she had faced them before.
She had. She opened the batting for the Hobart Hurricanes, and faced them all Australian summer.
The Sydney Thunder won the WBBL 01. Stafanie Taylor opened the batting for them, and often the bowling. She had never won a global tournament with the West Indies. Three months later, she had led the West Indies to a seminal and historic win. Over Australia.
Connect the dots yourself.
The West Indies have taught the world some valuable lessons.
First: You don’t need to have the best board in the world behind you to win a world championship, or two. The issues the men have faced with the board have been well documented. The WICB is far from the winner-producing machine that is Cricket Australia, or the mass producer of precocity, the BCCI. It is just another cricket board; cash strapped, power hungry and often downright indifferent to what the fans want
Thankfully, with the women’s team, they have done what needs to be done though: consistent selection, promotion of young talent, and capable leaders. Former Test cricketer Vasbert Drakes is their coach, and has built on much of the work done by his predecessor, Sherwin Campbell.
Second: Participation in international T20 leagues will raise your ability to perform for your nation. Just look at the men’s side. They are a collection of individuals, so called mercenaries, who are highly sought after in worldwide T20 leagues, and have honed their skills in high pressure games. It is similarly impossible to overlook the contribution of the WBBL in the women’s team’s win. It serves like a student exchange; you are likely to see the world, and yourself, differently forever after.
Third: There is no substitute for belief. Most of the West Indies players, male and female, were sporting white armbands with the words, “Moving in Faith” on their wrists. The faith they are talking about seems to be more than faith in the Almighty; it seems to be a faith in their own and each other’s abilities. Abilities, which in turn, have been honed by hours and hours in the nets and gym.
The next ICC Women’s World T20 will be a standalone event. It will move out of the shadow of the men’s game, and test its self-sufficiency in the year 2018. There is much reason to be optimistic.
By making the final itself, the West Indies made history. Before this, no other team besides the usual culprits England, Australia and New Zealand had featured in the women’s WT20 final. It could have been enough for the West Indies. It wasn’t.
They had never beaten Australia in a T20I. Their head to head record stood at 8-0. They would have been forgiven had they been overawed by the occasion. Indeed, with the ball in hand, it looked like that was precisely what happened. The Windies bowlers were feeding the Aussie batters long hops and full tosses, sumptuous invitations to score in their favourite square of the wicket areas. But after Dottin’s almost miraculous last over, they seemed to have had enough.
They batted like they had nothing to lose. That’s the beauty of being underdogs. In the end they won by eight wickets. After the first three overs, Australia were never in control. West Indies smashed, smoked, muscled and mauled their way to a historic WT20 title. You could almost say it was a very Australian innings. Except for the dancing towards the end.
With a handful of runs left to get, the player in the dugout stood shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm. It was like a serpentine football wall. Except the wall was jiggling. It was like watching a warm up routine in a dance class, except half the students had batting pads on. The pads didn’t come off as they sprinted onto the pitch to celebrate, joined by the men’s team soon after.
Leave aside the impact in their own region; the West Indies gave women’s cricket a much needed boost on Sunday. By breaking Australia’s record of winning every world event final they have played in since 2000, they moved the game into unfamiliar yet exciting territory. They set the stage for the standalone edition of 2018, sure to be a success since the new defending champions will be hosting it. The only regret is that we are unlikely to see both men and women jiggling to a common tune as we did this time. But that is a small sacrifice at the altar of the growth of the game.