By Shashank Kishore in Mirpur
Defending champion has played as a cohesive unit in ICC Women’s World Twenty20 while West Indies is looking to shed its bridesmaid status
West Indies received a wake-up call on Tuesday (April 1) night, as India Women romped to a nine-wicket win in its final group fixture in Sylhet. But while the loss might have meant some soul-searching another time, Merissa Aguilleira's side was simply relieved defeat came in a dead rubber.
That the side didn't have the time to reflect on the loss is another matter altogether. A quick turnover, following the late-night game and an early morning flight to Dhaka on Wednesday forced the team to call off its scheduled practice session ahead of the semifinal against Australia Women at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur on Thursday.
Four matches in a week is as hectic as a modern-day T20 schedule can get. The effects were felt with Aguilleira, the captain, and Shaquana Quintyne, the legspinner, laid low with a stomach bug and rested for the game against India. Therefore, it’s safe to assume the loss to India wasn’t only concern West Indies had as it touched down in Bangladesh's bustling capital.
The team will need to recharge batteries and turn up fully read to play an Australia side whose journey to the final four stage has had little to do with luck or accident.
Australia bounced back from an early setback against New Zealand Women and has played like a cohesive unit. More importantly, it has shown adaptability to conditions that are a far cry from the ones it encounters at home.
Both sides would have done well to draw a few pointers from the men's matches in Mirpur. That a lot of cricket has been played on these surfaces isn’t an understatement. Sri Lanka played matches there during its tour of Bangladesh, then there was the Asia Cup and warm-up fixtures followed by the group stage matches of the men’s ICC World Twenty20. As a result, pitches have increasingly tended to favour the spinners.
In Jess Jonassen and Erin Osborne, Australia has two quality spinners who have complemented each other superbly so far. Not only do they operate with different styles, but can also bowl into the footmarks of the other. Both also have more than a decade’s worth of experience to draw on in the form of Lisa Sthalekar, the former allrounder, who joined the squad in Sylhet as the spin-bowling consultant and coaching assistant, and whose pedigree is unmatched.
Of course, the firepower and the brand of cricket both sides are known to play could well take the playing surface out of the equation. The match can be expected to be high on entertainment value as both sides are packed with batters who have the ability to clear the biggest of boundaries. If West Indies has Stafanie Taylor and Deandra Dottin, Australia can call on Meg Lanning and Elyse Villani.
Lanning, who at 21 became Australia's youngest captain, has already taken to captaincy like a fish to water. Her proactive approach and tactical changes have paid dividends at most times. So far at least, Jodie Fields, who led the side to the Women’s World T20 and the Women’s World Cup title in 2012 and 2013 respectively, hasn't been missed.
To help Australia’s cause, captaincy hasn’t affected Lanning’s batting either. She has bounced back from twin failures to lead the run charts with 194 runs at a strike rate of 167, and her 65-ball 126 against Ireland is the highest score of the tournament to date. Therefore, the plans West Indies has up its sleeve to counter the Lanning fury could set the trend very early.
The two sides last met at a global event in Mumbai last year in the World Cup. On that occasion, West Indies was overwhelmed by 114 runs. Prior to that, Australia beat West Indies by 28 runs in the semifinal of the 2012 Women’s World T20.
It's clear that Australia is keen to put behind its Ashes series disappointment and is itching to defend the crown it won in 2012. The warning bells have been sounded, and West Indies will have to do all the running if it is to prove that stage-fright is a thing of the past. Whether the side can finally shed the bridesmaid status is the question that will be answered come Thursday.
Australia Women: Meg Lanning (capt), Alex Blackwell, Alyssa Healy (wk), Nicole Bolton, Jess Cameron, Sarah Coyte, Rene Farrell, Holly Ferling, Ellyse Perry, Julie Hunter, Jess Jonassen, Beth Mooney, Delissa Kimmince.
West Indies: Merissa Aguilleira (capt, wk), Shemaine Campbelle, Deandra Dottin, Chinelle Henry, Kycia Knight, Kyshona Knight, Stafanie Taylor, Stacy-Ann King, Shanel Daley, Natasha McLean, Anisa Mohammed, Subrine Munroe, Shakera Selman, Tremayne Smartt, Shaquana Quintyne.