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The evolution of women's cricket at the World T20

Forget selection dilemmas, bad sportsmanship and sledging - cricket should be about joy. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)
Expert
12th April, 2016
9

The Women’s World T20 finished with an endearing West Indies beating an established Australia. But as the cricket world changes, the preceding competition is worth a detailed look.

As batting collectives, Australia and New Zealand adapted best to the slower pitches. There was an efficiency to their work, backed up by a reassurance that their sensibilities – calculated risks, pushing for twos – suited these decks when it came to setting the pace.

Ironically, the West Indies’ hell-for-leather approach won them their first world title but so nearly saw them knocked out at the group stage. They batted as though every pitch was a belter, attempting to hit through the line, which left them grimly defending 114 against India to make the semis.

From there, on the best decks of the tournament, they set 143 against New Zealand before chasing 149 in the final.

That final included five of the tournament’s 43 sixes, a drop from the 2014 edition in which 57 were struck. Boundaries were one reason: while they were brought in for women’s matches, most still pushed 65 metres.

Certainly, some of the players and coaches weren’t enamoured with how far out the sponge was set, but more relevant was what one television pundit described off-air as “wank turners”. With slow pitches begetting even slower bowling, fielders at the square-leg boundary were often found.

Few sixes came by brute force. Most went over long-on, through a batsman’s natural arc. The required timing, both down the pitch and into the ball, was perfected by a select few – Tammy Beaumont, Ellyse Perry, Susie Bates, Dane van Niekerk and heroine of the final Hayley Matthews. These women forgot about clearing ropes and cleared fences.

If anything, it was a tournament where the six returned to its classical place – the culmination of getting everything right.

It was never going to be a tournament for the fast bowlers, even if Shamilia Connell’s preliminary leap and dead-eye stare showed there was pace outside the established cartel. Katherine Brunt, one of the quickest on the circuit, put all her might into a bouncer that was descending as it reached Smitri Mandhana.

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Instead, slower balls and cutters did the job. When they didn’t, out came the grenades.

Slow bowling in the women’s game is very much a chicken-and-egg situation. If you give players the fag-end of a square to play on – turgid, soft and unkempt – they will use bowlers who exploit it. That tossed-up bowling returns dividends and those bowlers push on.

Even commentators struggled to hide the tedium of an over of uber-flighted deliveries, but if they make players lose concentration and shape, why should they stop being bowled? As we saw in the opening game, Bangladesh packed away the moon balls as soon as India’s Harmanpreet Kaur and Veda Krishnamurthy started to send them into orbit.

That’s not to say there wasn’t a lot of skill on show. When Leigh Kasperek bowls in New Zealand, she comes right over the ball and through the crease. Even when she flights it, she knows she’ll get something off the pitch to skid on and beat charging batsmen or disrupt their rhythm. Without the harder surface, she kept things wicket-to-wicket, pulling her length back against compulsive sweepers.

Pakistan’s Anam Amin was smart enough to serve up some flatter, round-arm orthodox spin when the pitches ragged. Sune Luus of South Africa was able to bang out length and let the natural variations of leg-spin do the rest.

Even Kaur, who often bustles in with medium pace, bowled a bit of everything – leggies and googlies – and got in the face of her opponents to elicit mistakes.

Jenny Gunn, for the purposes of this tournament, was classified by England as a spinner. She came off her full run to deliver full, half-paced cutters that went for 4.52 an over.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this World T20 was seeing the personalities of each side. A point often made of Associates – or any team at a developmental disadvantage – is that they have to do things by the book. Like learning a language, it’s only when you become fluent that you are able to add the flourishes of slang.

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Australia, New Zealand, India and England are all settled in the women’s game as orators who joust in high speech. The West Indies came in with unwavering belligerence and broke up the party.

Pakistan, with much to learn, picked up an infectious strut that showed the world they were comfortable in their own skin. South Africa’s young core will be better for the experience of tough matches against Australia and New Zealand.

Whether this is a tournament that won new fans remains to be seen. Some of the most exciting group games weren’t televised. Then again, some thrilling endings were brought about by weak passages of cricket that would have drawn their own ire.

What is clear is that women’s cricket feels like it’s on the cusp of an evolutionary jolt. The teams below the established four are improving, getting smarter and are more willing to take risks. The best teams realise that they are ceding ground and need to find new ways to reassert their authority.

The game is growing as we watch. That’s good for everyone.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport