There was always the risk, for opponents at least, that this was going to happen. Australia would click, dust off any rust from the pool stages, and bring their professional aspect to bear at the serious end of Women’s World T20.
It felt almost inevitable: this was the side that had won the last three titles in a row. With a lot of the same players that won them. The side that always found a way. The juggernaut. The black-clad Hawks of the competition, in Mighty Ducks terms.
That inevitability arrived through Australia’s innings: an imposing 148 for five across their 20 overs, even more so in a tournament where all sides have struggled to chase at much more than six an over on pitches without tremendous pace. The captain, Meg Lanning, made another untroubled half-century, as did the more bolshie Elyse Villani.
There was far less risk, for opponents at least, that something else would happen. That the West Indies would show up with their A-game, and sweep a fancied opponent aside. They are the kind of team that do this occasionally, and when they pulled out the trick in their semi-final against a previously unbeaten New Zealand, you felt they had used up their coupon. The West Indies had not let on that it was a two-for-one deal.
It was a stinking hot day in Kolkata, the kind where the surrounding atmosphere clings to you like an overly affectionate bear. You could feel its sweat and smell its breath. Overly heavy overhead conditions kept in the heat. Nothing moved, except the swish of bat after ball. It was not a day for bowlers.
Less so after Hayley Matthews and Stafanie Taylor were done. A partnership of 120 was what they put together, from 94 deliveries. In Australia’s semi-final, England choked on their way to a manageable target. By the time Matthews and Taylor were separated, there was barely any chance to choke. The former was player of the match, the latter player of the tournament.
The two could not be more different. Matthews is a fortnight past her 18th birthday, a new player in the set-up with a big reputation preceding her. Taylor is not yet 25 but is the West Indies captain and a veteran of 164 international matches, with one of the best batting records in women’s cricket across T20s and one-day internationals.
Australians saw some of what Matthews was capable of during the recent Women’s Big Bash, when she thrashed 77 from 51 balls for Hobart Hurricanes to beat Lanning’s Melbourne Stars. Matthews did not back up an innings that big, but one shot from a smaller score stays in my mind: a flick off the pads, as easy as you like, that landed 10 rows back in the Bellerive Oval stands. The kid has talent.
What better place for that to manifest than in a world tournament final? She faced down the massive chase with remarkable composure, as she and Taylor took only two runs from the first over against Jess Jonassen’s left-arm spin, then a single from Ellyse Perry’s accurate follow-up.
Taylor’s lift over mid-on from Megan Schutt got things moving, then Matthews targeted the usually frugal Rene Farrell with two bashes to the leg side, one in front of square and one behind, aided by a lost Erin Osborne running the wrong way with the dusty Kolkata sun in her eyes.
Seeming to give a nod of satisfaction that all was in working order, Matthews calmly came down the wicket and lofted Schutt over long-on for six. The first ball of Perry’s next over got the same treatment, this one over the high security fence and into the Eden Gardens stands.
Angry, Perry bounced Taylor, who managed to fend one four before belting another inches wide of Villani at mid-on. The score was at 45 after six overs, and with frequent singles and a couple of boundaries it was raised to 76 for no loss after 10. Australia had been 76-1.
Jonassen and Osborne slowed the scoring, with Schutt holding back from a dive at deep square leg that could just have netted Taylor. But when Jonassen came back for an over too many, Matthews timed her out of the ground over wide long-on before a beautiful square drive raised her 50 from 35 balls.
Mistakes began to mount. Taylor smashed a return catch at Perry it hit her near the collarbone and went down. Perry’s retribution bouncer to Matthews was hooked for four. The normally dangerous Schutt went for 14. West Indies needed 32 from 30, so when Matthews mistimed Kristen Beams’ leg-spin to Blackwell at midwicket, no tremors went through the lineup. She had made 66 from 45 balls.
Deandra Dottin, whose reputation as a big hitter is looking outdated, did not try too much, while Taylor batted without helmet or cap against both spinners and seamers because it was too hot and she just did not care any more.
With 14 needed from the last two overs, Dottin found her range with two clouts down the ground, and when Taylor drove to point, bowing her head in disappointment at not seeing out the chase, it did not matter. Australia were rattled, Farrell missed a tough caught-and-bowled, and Schutt’s chance to apply pressure in the last over with a simple run-out turned into an overthrow to concede the win.
It just had not gone as they had expected. After Australia’s batting performance, it was supposed to be cruisy from there.
Alyssa Healy had failed again, completing a miserable tournament for the wicketkeeper-opener of 54 runs in six innings, but Villani bashed 52 from 37 balls in far more fluent fashion than her half-century against Sri Lanka and Lanning matched her score from 49 balls, while Perry struck two beautiful sixes down the ground in a finishing 28.
In the end, considering how breezily West Indies scored, Australia would be left thinking that perhaps Lanning could have lifted her rate earlier, and would rue a poor final over in which only one run was scored from Dottin, after her previous three had gone for 32.
After a low-scoring tournament, expectations had been confounded. For West Indies, though, there was only delight, the inevitable dance circle breaking out to the inescapable tune of Champion, as West Indies men’s players ran on to the ground to join the melee. Their attempt to match the feat would come next.