Monday, 3 November 2014

The Rise and Rise of the West Indies

This article first appeared in my column "Seamstress" for Wisden India.


Anisa Mohammed (R) became only the sixth player to breach the 100 ODI wickets club, while Stafanie Taylor is currently No. 1 allrounder in ODIs. © Getty Images

My first memory of a women’s cricket team from the West Indies is watching a series they played in India in 2004. My recollection of that time is a bit fuzzy (although that might have something to do with DD Sports’ picture quality) and I cannot recall much except that Asmi Jewellers was sponsoring India Women at the time, which was big news. As for the cricket, an Indian team that was peaking brushed aside the Windes women 5-0 in the One-Day Internationals. It was, for India, a good build-up to the 2005 Women’s World Cup around the corner. For West Indies, I imagine every day was a new step on a steep learning curve for a team just finding its feet.
Fast track to 2009. It’s the ICC Women’s World Cup in Australia, and India would play the West Indies again after a gap of four years. India were not about to take this team lightly, and I watched from the sidelines as our bowlers gave nothing away to shoot out West Indies Women for 84. The total was dealt with easily enough, and another West Indies challenge to one of the ‘big four’ teams was duly brushed aside.
Jump ahead to 2011: the West Indies tour India for five ODIs and three Twenty20 Internationals. I had just made a comeback into the Indian team and played in the customary warm up match. We lost, but not before stretching the visitors a bit. The Indian team was brimming with confidence, but we were in for a rude shock, as we went down in the opening game in Mumbai to a dominant and, truthfully, surprising display from the tourists.
If we thought the slow turning pitches of Baroda would give us the advantage – which they did, we beat them in the second game, only just – it was short lived as the West Indies took the leadin the third match. The fourth game at Rajkot went down to the wire despite a timely ton from Mithali Raj on a featherbed in Rajkot, but we kept the series alive.
It was down to the final match of the series, and in a tense, low-scoring game, chasing 188, West Indies couldn’t hold their nerve and collapsed for 131. The celebrations in the Indian dressing room began, but were muted, for we had just about managed to best an opponent we had never lost a duel to. For this opponent had come back with a stronger body, sharper sword and better armour.
The 2013 World Cup. India, the hosts, and West Indies would face off again, this time in the tournament opener. I danced in the stands as Poonam Raut and Thirush Kamini sent them on a leather hunt and batted them out of the game to set up a crushing win. But that was all the joy Indian supporters would get in that tournament.
As for the West Indies, in the Super Six stage, they turned the tables on Australia, another Big Four team, and usurped a place in the final, edging out holders England. Though they could not repeat their Houdini act in the final, they finished with their best ever World Cup performance. They had officially arrived, and, like their male counterparts, were not afraid to show it, with Gangnam Style celebrations telling us how much they were enjoying their cricket.
Now, West Indies have just completed a 4-0 rout of New Zealand’s White Ferns in the ODIs. Three of those four wins would qualify as crushing, and the last would be called a miracle of self-belief. Currently, they are sitting pretty atop the fledgling ICC Women’s Championship charts. They are statistically the team ranked No. 1 in the world, although the road to the 2017 World Cup is long and the journey has only just begun. But tectonic plates in women’s cricket are shifting, and West Indies, in the eyes of many, have taken India’s place in the Big Four.
Their rise, to an outside observer, has been remarkable. The West Indies Cricket Board certainly seems to take their women’s team seriously, and have appointed Sherwin Campbell, the former Test cricketer, as their coach. They appear to have a clear performance road map in place. Their selectors have on many occasions shown long-term vision. Merissa Aguilleira, the wicketkeeper-captain, has led this team for more than four years now. Out of the team that played in the 2011 series in India, ten players featured in the 2013 World Cup in India. The selectors have chosen and groomed a core of talented players, who have soaked up the experience this continuity has offered them, and have emerged as match-winners.
Anisa Mohammed, the offspinner, at just 26, recently became only the sixth player to breach the 100 ODI wickets club. Stafanie Taylor, the allrounder, is currently No. 1 in the women’s allrounder rankings (ODI). Pacers Shakira Selman and Tremayne Smartt both picked up their maiden five wicket hauls in the series against New Zealand. And everybody knew Deandra Dottin could smash the ball, but watching her bat maturely to amass 271 runs in four ODIs and three T20Is, including three half-centuries and three unbeaten knocks, will give opposition captains worldwide some sleepless nights.
Their true test lies ahead. They will carry confidence from this series when they travel Down Under, where they will need it as they face the world champions, Australia’s Southern Stars. The series, beginning on November 2 with the first of four T20Is, followed by four ODIs, will pit the two biggest-hitting sides in world cricket against each other. It promises enthralling games, and if the West Indies have their way, the Australian summer may just see more Gangnam Style celebrations.

No comments:

Post a Comment