WWT20: Weight of history behind semi-finals
With the ICC Women’s World T20 in just its sixth edition and with this being the first stand-alone tournament, the legacy of this tournament can be said to still be in its beginning. And yet the last three matches arrive with the weight of history behind them, thanks to the way the draws have fallen.
The semi-finals will be re-enactments of two of the most famous finals in the history of women’s cricket, both of which have come in the last two years.
In the first game on Thursday, 22 November, the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium will host the home team as they face pre-tournament favourites Australia. The Windies claimed their title by beating the same team in the final of the ICC Women’s World T20 2016.
That game could lay claim to the most ground-breaking victory ever, as it was the first time that a team outside of the axis of Australia-England-New Zealand won a global title since 1973.
In the later game, table-toppers India will take on England, a re-match of the final of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017: On that occasion the home team crowned a year of upheaval with a title in front of their fans, while India fell short of a first ICC Women’s World Cup title by an agonizing 10 runs. The match was the pinnacle of a record-breaking tournament, one that could be said to have forever changed how the world viewed women’s cricket.
In this tournament, the home side have looked mercurial yet steely; there are questions about the consistency of their batting, having posted low scores in three of their four games. But when they beat England, it was runs from lesser known players that saw them home, proof that the side is more than its top-three.
Their bowling line-up has shown the ability to defend low scores, but most electric has been their fielding.
“If you score a low total and you have the best fielding, then you have a chance at defending that total,” said Deandra Dottin ahead of the semi-finals. “We’ve been working very hard on our fielding, our basic stuff, and it certainly helps. I think it’s pretty strong at the moment.”
With the wind in the Caribbean offering some unique challenges to fielders, the home side look distinctly advantaged.
Australia come in with some questions: after having been anointed far-and-away favourites before the tournament, the loss against India in their final group game has left many pondering their vulnerability.
But they still sport formidable depth, and captain Meg Lanning believes her bowling attack has developed a resilience that wasn’t there before.
“We were staying relatively calm out there knowing that India would come hard at us and they would have the momentum at some point. I thought we were able to hold them back pretty well,” she said after that loss.
The three-time champions have the best support system, the best domestic structure, and some world-class players, but have not won a world title since 2014, and will be keen to correct that.
India seem to have shed their skin in the last six months. Doubts about their chances in this competition arose when they lost twice to Bangladesh in the Asia Cup, but since then they have found a winning habit and formula, one with a heavy dose of spin.
Under a new coach, they have now won eight T20Is in a row – their best ever run – and carry critical momentum into the game, having just beaten Australia.
“I think it’s important not just because it’s Australia, but for ourselves and our team,” said Jemimah Rodrigues, one of the young players who has been key to India’s resurgence. “I think it plays a huge impact on our team and I think we look forward to it, but are not carried away by it, and we will try to do even better in the semifinals.”
England were unchallenged and their middle-order undercooked going into their last group match, but that changed as they were beaten in a thriller by the Windies.
“To have a tight game like that and to see how we fought, how we stayed in the game, how we scrapped, that’s what the team is about,” said Knight. “And that’s all I can ask for the girls. It’s really pleasing obviously, going into the semi-final.”
They have bet heavily on their spinners in this tournament, but it has been their pace bowlers who have won them critical moments in the group games, in conducive conditions in St. Lucia. The challenge now for Heather Knight’s side will be to replicate that at a different venue, against opposition who play spin well.
Antigua’s coast might boast white sand beaches and azure blue sea, but come Thursday, the interior will be the place to be. The best cricketing talent will converge on the green grass of the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, as this tournament takes its last few steps towards legacy. (ICC)