Blessings and good wishes are very much in order for both the West Indies Women’s and men’s teams as they get all hyped for Sunday’s finals in the ICC World Twenty20 Tournament in India.
In my column on March 18, I indicated that it was time to jump on the bandwagon, wave and come alive for all cricket fans, who were desirous of following the tournament.
Whatever the number was then, there is no doubt that it has multiplied tremendously and will be bursting from as early as 4:30 a.m. (Eastern Caribbean time) on Sunday with the toss for the clash between West Indies Women, captained by world-class all-rounder Stafanie Taylor and three-time defending champions Australia Women at Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
Then five hours later, Darren Sammy’s side will have their showdown with England at the same venue. With this being the sixth Tournament, either England, the 2010 champions in the Caribbean, or West Indies who won the title in 2012 in Sri Lanka, will become the first team to lift the Trophy twice.
India were the inaugural winners in South Africa in 2007; Pakistan triumphed in England in 2009 and Sri Lanka captured the title in 2014 in Bangladesh.
Sunday, April 3, promises to be one with a difference.
If the six-run victory by the West Indies Women over the previously unbeaten New Zealand Women in the semi-finals at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai yesterday was hard-fought, then quite a number of adjectives would have to be found to describe the seven-wicket win with two balls to spare by Sammy’s men over India at the same venue hours later.
As West Indians, we all hope and pray for a double. Realistically, the gut feeling would be that the Women, who are in the final for the first time after reaching the semi-finals in the last three tournaments, will have a tough battle to lift the title. But cricket is played on the day.
Having followed part of their build-up to the tournament when they played a few practice matches in Barbados at the 3Ws Oval in February, there is a special feeling about West Indies Women booking their place in the final.
And while the attention naturally goes to the players, the tremendous hard work put in by coaches Vasbert Drakes and Ezra Moseley – both former Barbados and West Indies all-rounders – as well as the support staff, must be highly praised.
It is a pity that the women do not gain the sort of attention, which the men command but that is understandable for quite a number of reasons. In addition, the women’s game in the region from the perspective of having domestic competitions is still in a building stage and fans are also awaiting global success.
Even if you were to follow the Barbados Cricket Association’s Iris Walker Memorial 50-over and T20 Tournaments, which recently ended, again some sections of the local media pay little or no attention to it.
Yet, we should be proud that there are as many as seven Barbadians in the current West Indies Women’s team – fast bowler Shakira Selman, who was appointed vice-captain; the vastly experienced and aggressive all-rounder Deandra Dottin, who bowls fast medium; leg-spinning all-rounder Shaquana Quintyne, who is the Barbados Women’s captain; talented teenaged all-rounder Hayley Matthews, who opens the batting and bowls off-spin; fast bowler Shamelia Connell and the Knight twins, Kycia, who bats in the top order and keeps wicket, and Kyshona, an all-rounder, who bowls medium-pace.
Matthews, Dottin, Quintyne and Connell have all played in all five of the West Indies Women’s World T20 matches so far, while Kyshona Knight was given one game. And the team has blended well even though one saw a bit of nerves in the field in the closing stages of their win against New Zealand Women yesterday after West Indies Women scored 143 for six from 20 overs.
When the squad left Barbados, they toured South Africa for One-Day and T20 matches before heading to India.
As a quiet reminder, Courtney Browne, who is the West Indies selector with the Women’s team in India, had given a positive assessment of the squad when it was announced in January.
“The team has worked hard over the last year and the selection panel is very happy with the combination and the hard work that the players and management put in,” said Browne, a highly successful former Barbados first-class captain and West Indies wicket-keeper/batsman.
“We have made good progress and this squad has a lot of variety with a number of quality all-rounders that should serve the team well throughout the periods they will be travelling,” he added.
Browne also constantly reminded me that he felt the West Indies Women needed more attention from the media and the general public. But whatever the outcome of Sunday’s final, he and the rest of the selection panel can walk with their heads held high.
It would be remiss of me not to state as well that I was very touched by positive comments from the team’s operations manager, Ann Browne-John, herself a former West Indies Women’s team player and the experienced all-rounder Stacy-Ann King when they were guests of Midwicket on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation in February.
As far as the win by Sammy’s side in the semi-finals is concerned, a lot has been written and discussed about the batting power of the likes of Lendl Simmons, Andre Russell and Johnson Charles, who all rose to the occasion in that memorable chase of 192.
Simmons’ unbeaten 82 off 51 balls with seven fours and five sixes will be talked about for a very long time against the background of his dramatic return to the team for an injured Andre Fletcher after he, himself, had been forced to pull out of the original squad with a back injury.
Those who were anxious to have Charles dropped after just a couple matches have gone into hiding following his knock of 52 off 36 balls with seven fours and two sixes, and especially in the context of the early dismissals of the dangerous Chris Gayle (five) and Marlon Samuels (eight).
Cricket calls for luck and it was Simmons’ day. Twice he was recalled after being caught off no-balls at 18 and 50 and then on 68 when he was caught on the boundary, only for Ravindra Jadeja to step on the rope as he tossed the ball to Virat Kholi.
But just don’t point to Simmons as a lucky man. Ask Kohli, the India star batsman, who made 89 not out off 47 balls. He should have been run out twice off a single free-hit when only one.
India, however, must count themselves extremely lucky to have reached the semi-finals after Bangladesh “messed up” badly and lost by one-run in pursuit of a target of 147 in their penultimate Group 2 match in Bangalore on March 23.
Now it was their turn to run out of luck.
As for Simmons, he is the real story. He had returned to his native Trinidad from the West Indies camp in the United Arab Emirates before the start of the Tournament to visit a specialist in a desperate attempt to get his back in fine condition after playing for Karachi Kings in the inaugural Pakistan Super League in Dubai.
So after Fletcher sustained a hamstring injury in the last Group 1 match against Afghanistan which West Indies lost by six runs, and it was clear his tournament was over, Simmons got a call from chairman of the West Indies selection panel Clive Lloyd asking him if he was fit enough to play. He took two flights on his way to India and the rest is history.
“I was very rested for this game. I slept on both flights. I came here and I slept the night. In the morning I had practice. After that I slept from 3-10 pm. Slept again from 12 pm-4 pm. So I was very rested,” Simmons said.
It is said that familiarity breeds contempt. Translate that how you like but on a ground he knows well by playing for Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League and at a time when he was preparing to leave Port-of-Spain to prepare for that tournament, there could be no better dream story.
Now on to Sunday in Kolkata.
Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) championship for three-and-a-half decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Holder is also the host of the cricket Talk Show, Mid Wicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights. Email:Keithfholder@gmail.com.