04 December 2015
Bangladesh, Ireland Women dream big, do better
The World T20 qualifiers are delighted with the success of their young teams, but have their sights set on more growth
Ireland was less exuberant in its celebration after its emphatic nine-wicket win over Scotland. “We can celebrate on Saturday, there's still the final to go,” was the common refrain.
More importantly, both booked their spot to the ICC Women's World T20 2016 in India.
“We're very happy. There's too much excitement!” said Jahanara Alam, the Bangladesh captain, in the middle of congratulatory phone calls from back home and loud celebrations from her team and their enthusiastic group of supporters. The team, she felt, had proved a point and lived up to its billing as the No. 9 ranked team. “This is the first time we've qualified to play [the Women's World T20]. Last time, without qualifying we played [as the host nation], this time we needed to qualify.”
The team's opponents in India would do well to notice how it turned the screws on Zimbabwe in the semi-final. “From the beginning we were under pressure,” acknowledged Alam, referring to the 10 for 3 it found itself in by the fifth over. “The wicket was a little slow and wet.” But a good 51-run partnership between Sharmin Akhter, the opener, and Fargana Hoque (known as Pinky among her team-mates) put the side back on track. The final total of 89 for 5 might have seemed less than daunting, but Bangladesh's bowlers have been clinical, and came up with another display in precision.
“We had confidence that if we scored 80-plus, we have a strong bowling side and fielding side (to ensure a win). We again proved that we have a good side,” said Alam.
Ireland, while as delighted with its emphatic nine-wicket win over Scotland in the second semi-final of the day, was less exuberant in its celebration. “We can celebrate on Saturday, there's still the final to go,” was the common refrain.
To the girls in the dugout watching Cecilia Joyce chip away at the target of 78 with Clare Shillington first and then Kim Garth, the scoreboard seemed to be crawling, even when the scoring rate was doing anything but. On a slow outfield, the batters found the boundary with ease, entertaining the spectators with nine fours and two sixes.
Ireland and Bangladesh have both remained unbeaten through the competition, improving in every game and promising a splash in India.
According to Janak Gamage, the Bangladesh coach, the team's ambitions were high. “Our first focus is here, qualifying for the World T20. Then my target is to qualify for ODIs,” he said. The top eight women's One-Day International teams participate in the ICC Women's Championship, which assures them tours and at least three ODIs against each of the seven other teams over a period of three years. Gamage wants Bangladesh to be part of that competition, benefiting from more games against bigger opposition.
Under Alam, who was appointed full-time T20 captain in time for the Zimbabwe series that preceded the world event, the team has shown great spirit. “She's doing really well,” says the coach of his captain. “She's cooperating well with the players, and in terms of bowling changes, fielding changes, she's improving day by day.”
In its climb up the ranks, Gamage believes spin will be the team's strength. “Our spin is strong. Turning the ball is no problem. The spinners also have a few variations. And we have different (spin) bowling options in our side.”
While the bowlers – allrounder Rumana Ahmed leading the way with good support from the spin of Fahima Khatun, Khadija Tul Kubra and the pace of Alam herself – have scripted Bangladesh's biggest wins in the competition, batting has been a concern. Both coach and captain have stressed on the need to build partnerships, and while Ayasha Rahman, Sharmin and Hoque have cobbled together runs when needed, the batting is yet to fire in tandem.
Ireland, on the other hand, has thrived thanks to its attacking batters at the top. Cecilia averages 40 from her four innings until the final and has a strike-rate of 107.14. Her opening partner, Shillington, has hit as many fours (13) and is not too far behind with a strike-rate of 104.44. “They know they have the licence to play shots,” said Isobel. Throw in the potential of Kim Garth and the power of Isobel and it makes for a line-up that will punish any loose ball, and find the middle of the bat with a few good ones too.
At the same time, the team, as Isobel put it, is “looking pretty good in the spinner stakes”. “We've got a great legspinner in Ciara Metcalf, she's come back into the team in the last six months. I'm bowling some left-arm offspin, so another three months I feel I'll be bowling well at that stage (at ICC Women's World T20 2016). We've got a very tall left-arm spinner in Robyn Lewis as well. She's come on leaps and bounds. She only took it up last year. We have another legspinner, Elena Tice, who's unable to play now because she's in her final year in school, which is a pity.”
An important keg in the bowling has been 16-year-old Lucy O'Reilly. Ireland's “No. 1 fielder” and a medium-pacer, her offcutters were especially effective against Scotland. She has been able to put the brakes on the scoring rate – “I mightn't take that many wickets, but I definitely try to lower the economy rate a bit,” she said – and can clean up the lower order. “She's our go-to bowler when we need to tie things up and finish off the innings,” her captain added.
For both teams, their participation in the contest is a huge boost for the women's game in their country. Going to India will only amplify that. As Isobel put it: “We just need to keep performing at the top level, so the young girls [coming into the sport] have something to aim for. That's really important.”