After the 2013 ICC Women’s World Cup in India, Sanjay Manjrekar, former India cricketer-turned commentator, wrote a piece for ESPNCricinfo titled, “Look to women’s cricket for the game’s lost pleasures”. In the article, Manjrekar elaborated on how the women’s game, back then, was very ‘classical’ in every sense. Fast bowlers pitched the ball up in search of swing, spinners flighted the ball and managed to find spin on even a ‘flat track’, and batters relied on timing and placement rather than just sheer power.
Manjrekar went on to write: “Women are able to bowl full because they know very few women in the world can hit the ball out of the ground. So it does not need an especially big-hearted, courageous bowler to pitch it full or throw it up in the air as a means of deception. Even though the boundaries are shorter (around 55 metres on average), sixes are rare in women's cricket, while in men's cricket, with 70m boundaries, it is batsmen who can't hit sixes who are rare.”
In the 2013 World Cup, 8,570 runs were scored across 25 matches at a strike rate of 65.79 and a tournament run-rate of 4.27. That tally included 1,066 fours and 67 sixes — 12 of which were hit by Deandra Dottin alone.
Fast forward to the 2017 edition of the tournament in England, and Manjrekar’s comment about sixes being rare in women’s cricket is no longer valid. In 30 matches, the women scored 11,656 runs at a strike rate of 73.65. Although the tournament run-rate was only marginally higher, at 4.69, the run tally did include 1,272 fours and 111 sixes — a little over three sixes per match. Lizelle Lee and Harmanpreet Kaur accounted for 23 sixes between them.
After the success of the World Cup last year, the women’s game has grown exponentially. Fans have continued to throng to stadiums to watch the women play, genuinely excited about what they have to offer.
In an attempt to further popularise the sport and make it more ‘attractive’ for viewers, the ICC tweaked the playing conditions for the women — rules which came into effect on 1 October, 2017.
• Two new balls were introduced for the first time in ODIs.
• During non-power play overs, a maximum of four fielders (instead of five) are allowed outside the 25-yard circle in both ODIs and T20Is.
It is on the back of these changes that run rates have rocketed, boundary counts have increased, and batting teams have generally taken a more aggressive approach. Even a score of 150 in T20Is, once a rarity in the format, can no longer be considered ‘safe’.
Since October 1, 2017, six T20I centuries have been scored — twice the number that had been scored in the preceding 13 years. Danielle Wyatt of England has scored two of these — both coming in successful chases. The average strike rate among the top 10 teams (those competing in the 2018 World T20) between 2014 and 30 September, 2017 was 92.45, a number that has now risen to 108.58.
Overall, the average run rate too has increased through this period: From 5.88 runs per over to 6.89. In 85 matches played by these teams post 1 October, the 150-run mark has been crossed 41 times: 26 times by the team batting first. The team chasing this score has won eight times — something considered highly improbable only 15 months ago.
Rule changes aside, the steady rise in the fitness standards, due to professionalisation of the women’s game, have added to these improved numbers. While the progress of the batters is more visible, the bowlers are slowly finding their feet — not afraid to experiment with a wide variety of variations.
Jenny Gunn’s slower ball, named ‘The Whiff’, is extremely effective, Delissa Kimmince bowls a number of slower deliveries, Poonam Yadav and Amelia Kerr’s googlies have been hard to pick, Marizanne Kapp gives the batters nothing with her yorkers, and Megan Schutt and Anya Shrubsole swing the ball as if it is on a string. Recently, Schutt and Fahima Khatun both registered hat-tricks.
With these changes, the 2018 ICC Women’s World Twenty20, due to begin on 9 November in the West Indies, is set to be the most exciting women’s tournament so far. For the first time, the entire tournament will be telecast and the Decision Review System (DRS) using ball tracking and edge detection technology, will also be available for every match. The 10 participating teams have been divided into two groups of five, with the top two from each group qualifying for the knockout stage in Antigua.
Group A, consisting of Bangladesh, England, South Africa, Sri Lanka and West Indies, will play their matches in St Lucia, while Guyana will host Australia, India, Ireland, New Zealand and Pakistan in Group B.
For the first time since 2010, Australia do not have a World Cup in their cabinet, but they will still start as favourites this time around. Led by Meg Lanning, they boast of incredible depth within their squad, and seem to have all bases covered with both bat and ball. A powerful batting line-up with Alyssa Healy, Beth Mooney, Ashleigh Gardner and Elyse Villani at the top, is followed by the stability and flair provided by Lanning, Rachel Haynes and Ellyse Perry. Since the rule change, Australia has been leading the way with attacking play, motoring along at 8.48 runs per over, and hitting 29 sixes in 16 matches.
A major issue for Australia during their unsuccessful ODI World Cup campaign last year, was their bowling. In every match, they always seemed a bowler short — with Villani having to fill in as the sixth option — but this time, things have changed. Australia now have a problem of plenty with nine front-line bowling options in a squad of 15. As recent form and the numbers suggest, they will be the team to beat in this edition — the disappointments of the last two years spurring them on.
New Zealand are another power-packed team in Group B. Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine form the most prolific opening pair in T20Is over the last year with 655 runs in 14 innings at an average of 46.78, going at 8.79 runs per over. Bates, who scored her maiden T20I century earlier this year, is in tremendous form, and having given up the captaincy ahead of the World Cup, will likely bat with even more freedom. Amy Satterthwaite, the newly-appointed skipper, along with Maddy Green and Katie Martin, will be a vital cog in the middle order of what is an otherwise fragile line up. Kerr, the exciting leg-spinner, Leigh Kasperek, the off-spinner, Devine and Lea Tahuhu, the pacers, will be New Zealand’s main threats with the ball.
Perennial bridesmaids, who consistently find themselves falling short of the final hurdle, they will be hoping to rid themselves of that tag. In 2014, after a stupendous start, they lost to South Africa to get knocked out in the first round; and in the next edition of the tournament, they went through the league stage unbeaten, only to be toppled by the Windies in the semi-final. Most recently, in the 2017 ODI World Cup, they choked against India in their last league match and crashed out of the tournament.
India, who face New Zealand in the opening game, have gained some much needed momentum ahead of the tournament. A young side, under the tutelage of a new coach, Ramesh Powar, and playing with a fresh, attacking attitude, Harmanpreet Kaur’s team will be eager to start the tournament well. Another team that has improved its batting output over the last 12 months — currently scoring at an average of 7.52 runs per over — India will be looking to the likes of Smriti Mandhana, Mithali Raj, Kaur and Anuja Patil to lead the way. Jemimah Rodrigues, Pooja Vastrakar and Arundhati Reddy are exciting young talents singled out by the coach as future long term prospects for the country.
As usual, India’s spinners will play a key role on what are expected to be slow pitches in Guyana. Poonam, one of the best T20I bowlers in the world at the moment, will continue to play the role of chief wicket-taker, while Patil and Deepti Sharma attempt to hold up the other end.
If anything has led to India’s downfall in world tournaments, it has been their inability to hold their nerve in tough situations. Whether it be in the tightly-contested matches of the 2016 World T20 at home, or the World Cup final last year, India have had the tendency to fold like a pack of cards under pressure. Having won all three of their practice games in the Caribbean, the team will be confident of its methods. Vastrakar, who limped off the field during the practice match against the West Indies, is a slight injury concern, but with an almost like-for-like replacement in Reddy, India will be happy with where they are.
Pakistan, the fourth team in Group B and always a tricky customer in T20Is, will be hoping to spring a couple of surprises through the tournament. Having beaten Indian twice in the last three World T20s already, they will want to improve on that record. Their spinners, Sana Mir, Aman Amin, Nashra Sandhu and Nida Dar are wily bowlers who have all tasted success at international level.
Bangladesh, winners of the Asia Cup and the World T20 Qualifiers in Netherlands, are the lowest-ranked team in Group B. They have shown considerable improvement over the last year, even beating India twice in the Asia Cup. While they may not realistically be semi-final contenders, Salma Khatun’s team will be looking to create at least one upset that will help them qualify directly for the 2020 edition of the tournament.
Over in Group A, defending champions West Indies will be looking to take full advantage of their home conditions, but they will face stiff competition from England and South Africa. Carrying experience from the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia and the Women’s Super League in England, Hayley Matthews, Deandra Dottin and Stafanie Taylor will play a central role in determining their team’s fortunes. The experience of Anisa Mohammed, Merissa Aguilleira and Shakera Selman will also hold the team in good stead. Britney Cooper, who played an important role in West Indies' title triumph in 2016, returns to the team to add some more power and depth to an exciting line up.
Playing in St Lucia — one of the more high-scoring grounds in the Caribbean — will suit England’s style of play. With players like Wyatt and Tammy Beaumont at the top of the order — both whom like to go after the bowlers and hit over the top — England are constantly looking to press home the advantage in any way they can. The pair score at 8.94 runs per over, giving the middle order of Heather Knight, Amy Jones, and Natalie Sciver the perfect base from which to launch.
South Africa play a similarly dominant style of cricket. Lee, Dane van Neikerk, and Chloe Tryon are the real power hitters in their team, but it is the bowling line-up that is more impressive. Kapp, Shabnim Ismail, Masabata Klaas and Moseline Daniels form one of the more versatile pace attacks in the world. With van Niekerk adding variation with her leg-spin, the bowling is as formidable as they come.
Sri Lanka and Ireland are the other two teams in the group. Sri Lanka tend to rely excessively on Chamari Atapattu and Shashikala Siriwardene, but will be hoping that the rest of their squad — who showed so much promise against India — can pull their weight as well. Ireland, who have shown a lot of improvement in the shorter format of the game, will be hoping their relatively young squad can step up to the challenge. Kim Garth, who played a stellar role in Sydney Sixers' WBBL victory last season, Clare Shillington, Isobel Joyce and Gaby Lewis are important members in the line-up. Much like Bangladesh, they will be keen to upset one of the higher-ranked teams in order to secure direct qualification for 2020.
T20 cricket has a way of bringing teams closer together. Any team can pull off a win on their day. All 10 teams competing in the 2018 World T20 possess a number of match-winners. They are all well prepared, and have spent a fair bit of time in the West Indies trying to get used to the conditions on offer.
With more players gaining exposure to foreign T20 leagues like WBBL and WSL, the playing field has somewhat levelled. International players from all over the world get an insight into each other’s minds, and there is no longer an aura around the stars of the women’s game. They are all known entities. The world’s top players playing with and against each other in less stressful environments has allowed countries like India, South Africa and even West Indies to catch up with Australia and England.
Against the odds, in 2016, West Indies pulled off a win against Australia at the Eden Gardens. Matthews overpowered the opposition, going after the bowlers quite fearlessly. She showcased power, timing and finesse as well. Through her innings of 66, it seemed like she was able to predict every move the Australians were going to make and knew exactly how to counter it — it was the effect of the WBBL.
The 2018 Women’s World T20 promises to be the most exciting ever. The ODI World Cup caught the imagination of millions of fans and introduced new audiences to the women’s game. This tournament is an opportunity for the players to show how far they have come since then. The power, athleticism, inventiveness, intelligence and skill involved in the women’s game has increased manifold. Teams have become more professional and tactics play a major part in the game.
Previously always overshadowed by the men, this tournament — the first standalone Women’s T20 World Cup — is an opportunity for the women to show they have a sizable audience of their own. The 2017 World Cup in England allowed them to create their own brand/ identity, but the tournament in the West Indies will get the world to really #WatchThis.