Australia Women thumped their Indian counterparts by a whopping 85 runs, out-batting, out-bowling and out-fielding them, to win their fifth Women's T20I World Cup title on Sunday. Putting up a massive 184 on the board, Australia exposed the chinks in India's one-dimensional bowling attack and then went about embarrassing them by bowling them out for 99 in front of a packed Melbourne crowd.
While it's easy to point fingers at India's lackadaisical performance in the field, with the ball and later as they looked to gun down an imperious target, it must be remembered that they were up against seasoned Aussie cricketers who have long been on a higher rung than their contemporaries in the women's game.
Australia's exceptional win and their domination of the women's game is a testimony to the kind of talent at their disposal and the supreme skill levels of their players. This wasn't grown overnight and while several reasons could be pointed at for this, the most evident ones are:
Fearlessness and aggression from the word go
The first delivery of the final perhaps signifies the difference in mindset between the two teams quite blatantly. Deepti Sharma strolled in and bowled a delicate full toss outside Alyssa Healy's off-stump. The wicket-keeper batswoman stepped out languidly and nervelessly whacked the ball through wide long-on to kickstart the innings.
Fearlessness is a very Australian quality. Over the years, their men's, under-19 and women's teams have played in front of large crowds, embraced the occasion and come out on top. Here, yet again, Healy underlined Australia's attitude towards big matches. In a lean run of form before the tournament, Healy rose to the occasion and her blistering knock at the top all but sealed the fate of the finals.
Even with their biggest player, Ellyse Perry, ruled out of the World Cup, the Aussie women were bullish about their chances. Rather than pondering over the group stage loss to India, they prepared diligently against the slower bowlers and did not indulge in much over-thinking.
"We’ve done our research on what happened in that last game," Meg Lanning's casual remark before the big game sums up Australia's uber-cool approach to a massive occasion. That attitude was evident in the field too as they oozed confidence and went about their business with aggression.
The confidence and faith instilled by Cricket Australia
Cricket Australia (CA) has played an integral part in Australia Women's development. From granting Mitchell Starc permission to watch his wife, Alyssa Healy by skipping an ODI, to vehemently promoting the women's game, Cricket Australia has set an example for other boards to follow.
Last year, CA announced a parental leave policy where their female cricketers were granted 12 months’ paid parental leave and an assured contract extension for the following year. The pregnant players could also fulfill noon-playing roles if they chose to during their pregnancy tenure.
"The policy is a game-changer for players planning for the future while providing job security,” a content Alyssa Healy was quoted as stating then.
Steps have also been taken to ensure equal pay for men and women cricketers. The prize money for the title win from ICC - which is in itself a 320% increase from the 2018 Women's T20 World Cup - will be topped up by Cricket Australia to ensure it's on par with the men's winnings.
The kind of backing and confidence CA instills in their women cricketers is incredible. It is reflected in the on and off-field demeanor of their players. A happy bunch of players automatically put in more effort and reap better benefits and some of their confidence, bullishness one might say, could be down to the unflinching support from their board.
The streamline of players coming through and the WBBL
Exactly five years before, on International women's day in 2015, Cricket Australia CEO, James Sutherland, said: "Cricket has deserved the suggestion that it was predominantly "pale, male and stale".
Cricket Australia went about changing this narrative and it's reflected in the kind of talent available to the now five-time title winners. Much of this is down to the inception and successful running of the Women's Big Bash League that began in 2015-16.
In 2018, ESPNCricinfo termed the inaugural season as "the tournament that kick-started a renaissance".
Australia are still reaping rewards of the structure they put in place to get a consistent streamline of talent. When Tayla Vlaemnick was ruled out and even Perry was out, Australia had ready replacements waiting.
Molly Strano, who replaced Vlaemnick, played the first game despite being a late entry to the squad. Eighteen-year-old Annabel Sutherland, a rookie in Australian terms, stepped up in the tri-series before the World Cup, in her debut game it must be emphasised, to tie a match against England out of nowhere.
Australia's women cricketers are battle-weary players who have gone through the hard grind and know exactly what to expect, or when not, adapt seamlessly. They are true professionals who have embraced the sport and play in front of large crowds week after week. The no-pressure aura was glaringly evident in the experienced Australian players' approach in the finals.
Alyssa Healy, in her post-match comment, stated, "It's the nature of how I play, just needed a little bit of luck. Just went out there and enjoyed my time. Mooney got off strike and let me do my thing. We are having a lot of fun together."
That Australia could play with no pressure and "enjoy" could be put down to them being habituated to such scenarios in the WBBL over the years.
Strength, conditioning and coaching
Women's cricket in Australia was always well-polished and professional. "You must admire the athleticism' they say. That's the thing that bugs me. Women's cricket today is a great sport, but don't say it's better," Cathryn Fitzpatrick, the spearhead of the Australia bowling attack for nearly one-and-a half-decade, stated recently.
Fitzpatrick went into a coaching role in 2012 and coached the national side for three years, overseeing the development of the cream of the current Australian setup - the likes of Meg Lanning, Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy.
Crucial to her tenure and in the ones that followed was a focus on strength and conditioning too. Deemed primarily a men's sport, fitness and strength weren't often taken seriously in the women's game. Other than the technical stuff in training sessions and in the nets, the Aussie women players focus on building strength.
They had a physical performance coach in Dave Bailey for seven years from 2012-2019. He staunchly believes that strong athletes have an edge over the others irrespective of the nature of the sport.
This difference was evidently reflected on Sunday on the field in the finals. Alyssa Healy cleared the shorter ropes for women's games with ease, recording an 83 meter six and consistently clearing the boundary with power.
She and Beth Mooney, like Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodriques and Harmanpreet Kaur, miscued a lot of shots early in their innings. The difference was that the Aussie openers often cleared the infield comfortably while their Indian counterparts struggled to do the same. Mandhana, Jemimah and Veda Krishnamurthy were out to shots where they couldn't clear the fielders in the inner circle.
India have started taking strength and conditioning seriously as some of the players revealed before the World Cup. Consistent efforts over time have helped Australia maintain an edge and India might want to take a cue from this as they go back wondering what hit them on International Women's Day at the MCG.
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