HIS unforgettable six-hitting spectacle that sealed the West Indies’ unlikely last over conquest of England in the men’s final of the World T20 in Kolkata transformed Carlos Brathwaite into an overnight superstar.
His consecutive 6,6,6,6 demolition of England’s trusted ‘death’ bowler Ben Stokes, along with his unassuming, common sense reaction to his sudden fame, has made the strapping Bajan the subject of television interviews and newspaper columns across the globe.
Had it been someone far better known, Marlon Samuels, for instance, for his unbeaten 66-ball 85 that earned him a follow-up Player of the Match award to that in the 2012 final over Sri Lanka in Colombo, the fascination would hardly have been the same as with Brathwaite, a first-timer.
Instead, the spotlight was likely to have shone brightly on Stephanie Taylor, captain of the triumphant women’s team and Player of the Tournament. It was an achievement by her and her team in many ways even more significant than the men’s.
It was an immediate injection of confidence and interest in the women’s game that, for a variety of reasons, has taken a downward path in popularity since Rachel Heyhoe-Flint, England’s celebrated captain and player, spoke enviously of crowds of up to 6,000 watching their matches against Jamaica at Sabina Park in 1967. Both the men’s and women’s game can presently only dream of such numbers.
The 2016 World T20 champions can anticipate increased attendances, if not quite 6,000, when they next play in the Caribbean, in the regional tournament in July and against England later in the year.
They have taken the public’s imagination. They arrived in Barbados to be feted with official functions, organised motorcades and tributes from the schools they attended or, in the case of 18-year-old Player of the Final Hayley Matthew, still attend. Those who went on to their individual territories found much of the same.
The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) took over the management and development of the women’s game in 2005 from the Caribbean Women’s Cricket Federation (CWCF). That had been formed in 1973 mainly through the efforts of Monica Taylor, an indefatigable former player and business executive who had set up the CWCF’s forerunner, the Jamaica Association, in 1966. She and his colleagues were the pioneers.
Even before the World T20, the WICB awarded ten women professional contracts. The contemporary Taylor, Matthews, Deandra Dottin and Stacey-Anne King played for franchise teams in last season’s Women’s Big Bash in Australia. With no issues yet with the WICB and with Test cricket long since off their schedule, their conflicting presence back home is not mandatory for selection for international matches, as it controversially is for the men. It frees up others likely to attract the attention of the increasing number of overseas domestic T20 leagues. Taylor and Dottin have already been engaged for England’s inaugural Women’s Super League this season.
For all the obvious improvement over the increasing number of multi and bi-lateral tournaments home and overseas in recent years that elevated them to fifth of the ICC’s 10 rated teams, the women confronted the mighty Australians, seeking their fourth consecutive championship, in Kolkata. It was cricket’s Everest.
Through self-confidence and flair, allied to the support of the men who followed them four hours later, they reached the summit.
Their ascent was a welcome surprise. A repeat by Darren Sammy’s team was far less so. Eight of the eleven that overcame Sri Lanka in the 2012 final in Colombo were again involved , five with valued T20 experience in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and other domestic franchises.
The highest the women had managed in previous ICC short format tournaments was the final of the last 50-overs World Cup in India in 2013. They had beaten Australia on their way but the Australians ruthlessly crushed them by 114 runs with the peak in sight.
To go all the way, they first had to overcome the control on the women’s game of Australia, England and New Zealand where organised women’s cricket dated back to the 1920s.They contested their first Tests against each other in 1934 and 1935. The West Indies had a long way to catch up; significant competitions for women only began in Jamaica and Trinidad in the 1960s.
The big three contested the finals, not only in the four previous World T20s, but also in the first nine of the ten World Cups before the West Indies progressed to their date with Australia in Mumbai three years ago.
This T20 dominance of the triumvirate extended to individuals. They provided all the previous players of the tournament, as well as those with the most runs, most wickets and players of the final.
Now, Taylor (with a high 246 runs along with eight wickets), Dottin with the most wickets (nine equal with Kiwis Leigh Kasperek and Sophie Devine) and Matthews (66 and one wicket in the final) finally broke the mould.
Six years after her West Indies debut at 17, Taylor is ranked top all-rounder in T20s by the ICC and No.4 batter, the generic term that replaces the cumbersome ‘batswoman’. In ODIs, she is at No.5.
‘Batterer’ would be a more appropriate label for the power-packed Dottin. Her unbeaten 112 off 45 balls against South Africa in St.Kitts in 2010 is the second highest score in the five World T20s; the nine sixes are the most in an innings, the 248.88 strike rate the most devastating.
Anisa Mohammed, the crafty Trinidadian spinner, is rated second in both ODIs and T20s bowling, Taylor sixth. Not that they were the only ones to send the West Indies to the top; it was a combined effort. Britney Cooper’s 61 from 48 balls, with five fours and two sixes, set up the close semi-final win over New Zealand; spinners Afy Fletcher (7) and Shaquana Quintyne (6) were behind only Dottin as wicket-takers.
It is fitting that Taylor is from Jamaica, the birthplace of her influential namesake and the island that, more than any other, firmly established the women’s game in the Caribbean in the 1960s. The Jamaica Association’s league and limited-overs competitions as well as the teams were sponsored, a concept before its time. It initially led to matches between Jamaica and Trinidad where women’s cricket was also well established.
Monica Taylor’s next move was to set up the CWCF that instigated annual regional competitions.
The upshot was a West Indies Test team – shorter formats would take over later – for the first series, against Australia in Jamaica in 1976 when all three matches were drawn. Tours to India and England followed. There have since been several more to all points on the women’s cricket map following the amalgamation of CWCF into the WICB and the ICC’s concerted resolve to globalise the women’s game.
The West Indies women benefitted from the exposure. Kolkata’s Eden Gardens produced their eventual apogee.