Much like the 2017 50-over Women’s World Cup in England, the 2018 ICC Women’s World Twenty20 captured the imagination of millions of fans around the world. Although the final between Australia and England at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium on Saturday (November 24) was a bit of an anti-climax, the first standalone Women’s World T20 proved that the women’s game has an audience of its own — loud, boisterous and passionate.
The very first day of the tournament saw 6,483 people throng the gates in Guyana for a triple-header involving India, New Zealand, Australia, Pakistan, West Indies and Bangladesh. St. Lucia — the home of Group A — also entertained a crowd of more than 5,000 for the matches between West Indies and Sri Lanka, and the hosts and South Africa. The knockouts reflected the growing popularity of the sport with as many as 8,916 people attending the semi-finals and more than 9,000 coming through the gates for the final in Antigua. In addition to this, there were millions around the world watching on television or following the match online or on social media.
There were many talking points through the tournament — the power hitting, slow bowling, five-run penalties, the retirement of Ireland’s experienced quartet. and of course, India’s somewhat controversial selection that arguably led to their exit in the semi-final.
Although the women showcased their power hitting ability through the tournament— with 75 sixes and 440 fours in 22 matches —, the 2018 edition of the World T20 was quite surprisingly not the fastest scoring one. The tournament tally of 4,556 runs came at a strike rate of 93.36 — the second slowest across six editions — and an average of 14.85 per wicket.
Swing is not dead
Despite the fact that Harmanpreet Kaur kicked off the tournament with a blistering century against New Zealand, it was the bowlers who dominated in the Caribbean, taking 270 wickets at an average of 17.75 and strike rate of 18. Both spinners and pacers were assisted by the surfaces across the three venues. St. Lucia proved to be a pacer’s delight — swinging and seaming conditions making life difficult for the batswomen. The likes of Anya Shrubsole, Natalie Sciver, Marizanne Kapp, Shabnim Ismail, Shakera Selman and Jahanara Alam made merry, using the conditions to their advantage.
They troubled the batters with the new ball — their accuracy and ability to swing the ball late meant they were a nightmare for the top order to face. Sciver and Kapp were exceptionally miserly through the tournament, going at 3.67 and 3.76 runs per over respectively. Shrubsole stepped up in the absence of Katherine Brunt, destroying the opposition top order on several occasions. Against West Indies, she showcased one of the most skilled spells of swing bowling in a World T20, dismissing Hayley Matthews and Stafanie Taylor within the space of three deliveries. She also picked up a hat-trick against South Africa, becoming only the second England woman — after Sciver — to take a T20I hat-trick.
Deandra Dottin — joint highest wicket taker alongside Megan Schutt and Ashleigh Gardner with 10 wickets — proved to be another devastating quick, picking up ten wickets, including a five-wicket haul in her very first outing of the tournament. She tailed the ball into the right-handers, targeting the stumps and forcing the batters to play at every ball. Over in Guyana, Schutt, Ellyse Perry and Lea Tahuhu bowled beautifully with the new and old ball, providing their team with crucial breakthroughs on a consistent basis.
In recent times, where players and coaches have become obsessed with speed, the success of the swing bowlers was a breath of fresh air.
The spinners continued to enjoy some success in the shortest format of the game. Six of the top 10 wicket takers in the tournament were all tweakers. Quite surprisingly, it was the off-spinners who enjoyed the most success with Gardner (10 wickets) Stafanie Taylor and Leigh Kasperek (both 8 wickets) leading the way for their teams. Kirstie Gordon, England’s debutante left-arm spinner, was also extremely impressive. While these spinners relied on change of pace, angle or delivery to pick up their wickets, Poonam Yadav and Radha Yadav of India resorted to frustrating the batswomen to taste success — bowling slow, outside off-stump and from behind the crease, taking as much pace off the ball as possible.
Reaping benefits of domestic leagues
Through the tournament, the two finalists, Australia and England, showed that they have the greatest depth in their squads. At different stages they found different players, many of whom were youngsters, to put their hand up and be counted. Their players rarely folded or panicked under pressure in front of large crowds. This, however, should not come as a surprise to the rest of the world, for they are the only two countries with women’s domestic T20 leagues — the Women’s Big Bash League and Women’s Super League.
For Australia, the spin trio of Georgia Wareham, Sophie Molineux and Gardner were excellent through the tournament. Molineux, who had come into the tournament on the back of some splendid spells against Pakistan in Malaysia, was Australia’s go-to bowler with the new ball through the tournament. Although she received some tap from India in the final league match, the left-arm spinner came back strongly in the semi-finals and finals, bowling with good control and clearer plans.
Gardner, who rarely bowled her full quota of overs through the group stages, came into her own in the final, picking up three wickets, before blasting an unbeaten 33 of 26 balls — a knock that included three towering sixes. Wareham, the 19-year-old leg-spinner who was picked ahead of Amanda-Jade Wellington, showed composure beyond her years. While the rest of her team seemed to be consumed by the nerves of a final, Wareham calmly threw down the stumps from mid-wicket to run out Amy Jones. She then proceeded to bowl three overs for 11 runs and picked up two crucial wickets to help dismiss England for 105.
England have also benefitted greatly from the Women’s Super League. In the first game of the World T20, they threw three debutantes into the mix and all three did well, showing no nerves and adapting well to international cricket. Left-arm spinners Kirstie Gordon and Linsey Smith made an immediate impact, taking four wickets between them. In fact, Gordon’s figures of 3 for 16 saw her win the player of the match award as well. Sophia Dunkley, the right-hand batter, didn’t get much of a chance to showcase her ability at the start of the team’s campaign, but in her very first international innings against West Indies, Dunkley showed why she is rated so highly. With her team in strife at 50 for 6, she stitched together an important 58-run partnership with Shrubsole. Her innings of 35 helped guide England to a respectable score of 115.
It is not only England and Australia that have benefitted from their domestic leagues, but the international stars who play in these leagues have also gained much. Smriti Mandhana and Kaur have both spoken about how much the experiences have taught them and also changed their approach to the game. Lizelle Lee, Marizanne Kapp, Dane van Niekerk, Mignon du Preez, Stafanie Taylor, Deandra Dottin, Hayley Matthews, Chamari Athapaththu, Suzie Bates, Sophie Devine, Amy Satterthwaite, Lea Tahuhu and many others have learned a great deal from playing in these tournaments. Kim Garth of Ireland has also shown significant improvement after her stint with Sydney Sixers over the last two seasons.
These tournaments not only expose the players to a high standard of cricket, but also give them the experience of playing televised games in high pressure situations, in front of big crowds.
The widening gap
The opening day of the World T20 clearly showcased the widening gap between the top ranked teams and those at the bottom. The day started with Kaur’s blistering 51-ball 103 against New Zealand — a knock the headlined India’s massive score of 194, the highest in World T20 history — and ended with Bangladesh crumbling to a 60-run loss against West Indies. Their score of 46 was the lowest in World T20 history.
While the likes of Australia and England have broken away from the rest of the pack thanks to the contracts, domestic leagues and pathway programs, the likes of India, South Africa and West Indies are fast trying to catch up. New Zealand, who still have a bit of work to do, as seen from their poor showing at the World Cup, are still one of the stronger teams on the women’s circuit.
Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have made positive strides in the last few years, but their inconsistency means they continue to stumble against the top teams. Ireland, on the other hand, are still fighting to become a professional team, so their struggles are understandable.
A common thread among the lower ranked teams has been their dismal batting performances. They have all been brilliant with the ball and in the field, even restricting the more powerful teams to sub-par totals, but they have crumbled with the bat. Bangladesh, Ireland and Sri Lanka were most disappointing through the tournament. While Sri Lanka were over-reliant on Athapaththu and Shashikala Siriwardene, Bangladesh and Ireland couldn’t find a single batswoman who was willing to step up to the challenge. Gaby Lewis showed some fight for Ireland in their last match, but it was a case of too little, too late.
After their Asia Cup victory earlier this year, Bangladesh came into the tournament with a realistic goal of not wanting to play in the qualifiers for the next World Cup, but they folded like a house of cards every time they came out to bat. Whether it was a case of stage fright, or their main batswomen being out of touch was not clear, but their struggles were painful to watch.
The difference between the top and lower ranked sides does not just come down to a case of skills but is even clearer when it comes to game awareness. Often when her side was in trouble, Rumana Ahmed chose to play sedately through the tournament. She simply dropped anchor, and couldn’t find ways to score. There was no attempt to put the bowlers off by moving around the crease, or trying to target certain areas of the field. It was a case of simply waiting for the bowler to lose her line. This, from a person who has had seven years of international experience.
Compare this with Dunkley’s approach against West Indies. England were struggling to get to a decent score when she walked in to bat. The right-hander, playing her first international innings, took the attack to the opposition. She played the fields, chose her areas to target and kept trying to move the game forward. With the field up on the off-side, Dunkley hit Afy Fletcher, the leg-spinner, through extra cover. She was proactive at the crease, moving around and forcing the bowlers to change their plans. In no way did she look like she was playing her first tournament — she clearly read the game very well.
The gap between the teams continues to widen at a rapid rate as Australia, England and now, India, motor ahead of the pack, the rest are struggling to keep up. As Melinda Farrell wrote for ESPNCrincinfo, “… this tournament has exposed the glaring gap that threatens to become a yawning chasm if other countries don’t commit to investing in domestic structures and competitions that develop and nurture female talent. It’s all well and good to have high-performance pathways and academies and a handful of central contracts, but it gives Cricket Australia - in particular - a significant advantage in having dozens of battle-hardened and semi-professional or professional players to call on. Players who can come into the squad having fought in regular league and knockout matches, with the added pressure of TV and radio broadcasts and commentators and fans ready to dissect every mistake and poor decision on the field.”
It is under these circumstances that the clamour for a Women’s IPL becomes louder and louder. After a tremendous run in the group stages, India came undone in the semi-finals of the tournament against a more clinical and tactically aware England team. While there are many positives for Kaur’s team to take forward, there are also many lessons that they would have learnt through their campaign — lessons for both the players and the administrators… The question is, is anyone listening?