World’s the word
Any global event worth its gleaming trophy should trigger at least some cartographical or anthropological curiosity in an interested observer. Thailand and Papua New Guinea provided the ‘oh, they too play cricket’ pleasant surprise this year, crossing bats with the more conventional names in a top-flight cricket calendar.
With the best associates in regional competitions competing with full-member nations, the tournament ticked the inclusivity and diversity boxes. And with every team assured of at least four games, they weren’t here just to make up the numbers.
Did this make for exciting cricket and close matches?
Not particularly – there wasn’t even a sniff of an upset and only one game went to the last over before the final. The gulf in standards is too wide; the confidence chasm deep. The six teams that had One-Day International status retained it, the four that were expected to qualify for the World Cup did.
Does this mean the format of the competition should change? It would be a pity if it did. Women’s cricket gives some associates a greater vehicle to promote the game back home, given the greater chances of high-profile games and big-tournament success in a less cluttered field. With the World Cup making room for just eight teams, this was the World Cup for the ones that would miss out and an important test of where they stand.
As Dane van Niekerk, South Africa’s captain, put it, “It’s always nice to see where teams are at. So many teams have got better with time. That shows where women’s cricket is going. Everyone is competing and that’s a good sign.”
The Bangladesh-Ireland limbo
So four teams made it to the World Cup, four knew after the first round that they wouldn’t, and stuck in the middle were Ireland and Bangladesh. The two teams are the only ones who have ODI status but aren’t included in the eight-team Women’s Championship. Which means they’re better than those behind them, but not yet experienced enough to steal a spot of someone above them and be eligible for the next championship cycle.
It means fewer matches for them, but with fewer matches, they can’t quite get better, especially in the 50-over format.
“We haven’t performed as well as they (the International Cricket Council) would want or we would want, but I am not sure that we will until we get more of a chance to practise those skills that we want,” said Ireland’s Isobel Joyce. “I find my brain going into T20 mode after I face ten balls because that’s what I am used to. So, if I go out there with 40 overs to bat, you have to switch between and we haven’t quite figured out how to do that.
“We have played so few 50-over games in the last couple of cycles. That’s partly to do with the fact that it’s a ten-team T20 World Cup so that’s been our focus. More 50-over cricket is really important, but if we don’t perform at 50-over level, then we are less likely to get more 50-over cricket, so we are kind of in a Catch-22 situation.”
Their place in women’s cricket has also resulted in a strange situation where the best players get their opportunities as ‘rookies’ in leagues such as Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League through a special ICC and Cricket Australia programme. “I think they (Ireland rookies) would have more experience than some of the girls playing in the Big Bash all the time. Especially Kim (Garth) was in the ICC World XII (last year), so it’s kind of strange that she would be considered a rookie, and she probably showed that she has got the experience when she did come into the team,” Joyce said.
“I would love it if they brought in a rule that if you’re in the top eight, you don’t count as an international maybe. Some kind of way for us to get more of a chance to get into the programme, but at the same time, they’ve got to promote their own girls, so I understand that as well. Hopefully when they can add a few teams, there’d be more of a chance.”
Cricket in a parallel universe
Australia Women, England Women, New Zealand Women and West Indies Women – the four teams that made it to the World Cup directly – have made a difference in the standard of women’s cricket through their power game over the last few years. Other teams have found that difficult to replicate, with a wait-and-watch game more evident in Colombo. Inability to rotate the strike and stick to one channel of attack while bowling means that teams have lost advantage quickly.
By not being able to score runs in the Power Play overs at a fair pace, batting teams allowed the opposition to stay on top of the game before dot ball pressure eventually led to a collapse. It leads to questions about the adaptability of the women, and there is no answer to it till the teams actually make a conscious effort to address them categorically, either by grooming talent for specific purposes at the grassroots or by redefining their strategy. The better they do that, the more fight in each contest.
South Africa did it wonderfully in the final, as they hit 51 runs in the first ten overs and then built on that base to make 244, their highest total against India. The template is encouraging, especially from their perspective as they did it in the subcontinent, and other teams can draw lessons out of it.
The new faces
(India), Laura Wolvaardt (South Africa), Kirstie Gordon (Scotland), Nashra Sandhu (Pakistan) and Nipuni Hansika (Sri Lanka) were some of the new faces who impressed during the tournament. Sandhu, the left-arm spinner, ended as the tournament’s best bowler with 17 wickets against her name.
Wolvaardt finished as the tournament’s third-highest run-getter with an aggregate of 231 in eight matches. Her efforts earned her praise from Dane van Niekerk, South Africa’s captain. “It was Wolvaardt’s first tour in the subcontinent and she realised just how tough it is. She knows what she has to go work on her own – it’s not like at home, where you stand and just hit the ball.”
Sri Lanka to England – a different ball game
None of the four teams in Colombo who made it to the World Cup is under any illusion that the situation will be completely different in England. While spinners had a big role to play on slower and helpful tracks in Colombo, teams have to base their attack around seamers on green pitches.
Mithali Raj, though, felt that conditions could be designed to promote the sport.
“The conditions in England won’t be similar, but ICC wants to promote women’s cricket,” said Mithali. “So they definitely want to have more runs on the board and not low-scoring games because that is not viable to pull crowds to watch the game. They might be preparing batting friendly wickets.”