Windies cricket has struggled for a while now. Stafanie Taylor, the women’s captain, had said last month that the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 in England was an opportunity for the girls to do something special and make the fans happy, especially on the back of the men’s team failing to qualify for the Champions Trophy.
Things, though, haven’t so far gone as planned. After losing the warm-up games, the batting failed to click against Australia and India in the opening two matches. Two of their key players got injured, and then South Africa dismissed the side for just 48. New Zealand too schooled it in all three departments. The 50-over team is in transition, but even so, no one really expected the defending ICC World Twenty20 champion to be completely off colour.
After Merissa Aguilleira’s unbeaten 46 from No. 6 took the Windies to 229 for 9 against Sri Lanka in Derby on Sunday, the onus was on the bowlers to break the eight-match losing streak. Though the spinners reduced Sri Lanka to 23 for 2 in 5.4 overs, everyone watching the game knew that Chamari Athapaththu’s wicket held the key.
Confident in her ability to make up for early dot-balls with a few big hits, Athapaththu started slowly. She got good support from Shashikala Siriwardene as the chase chugged along. Taylor introduced Anisa Mohammed, the lead spinner, in the 15th over, and she started from over the wicket. With the ball turning in to Siriwardene and coming to the body of Athapaththu, the duo collected 21 runs, including two fours, off Anisa’s first five overs.
The partnership was worth 61 before the start of the 25th over when Taylor and Anisa decided to attack Athapaththu from around the wicket. With deep extra-cover and deep mid-wicket protecting the square boundaries, Anisa changed her line and bowled outside off-stump, at a slightly slower pace. Having got used to the ball being bowled at her, Athapaththu got drawn into playing a cross-batted shot, lost balance and was stumped. Anisa then had Dilani Manodara, who had batted beautifully against India, leg before wicket with the second ball of the over. She missed out on a hat-trick, but sealed the game in her next over when Siriwardene was deceived by the slowness of the delivery to be bowled while going for a big heave over mid-wicket. The former Sri Lankan captain became the first batter in ODIs to be dismissed for a fifth time by Anisa.
With three wickets in the space of nine balls, Anisa had set Windies on track for a 47-run win and her first Player of the Match award in international cricket since October 2015. It was also her first three-wicket haul in ODIs since September 2014.
“Anisa did bowl well today,” Taylor said. “That over when she got Athapaththu out, I ran up to her and said, ‘We got to try to do something.’ She said to me, ‘Do you think I should try from around the wicket?’ I didn’t want to tell her to try from around the wicket. I was hoping she would have said it, which she did. That’s what I was actually thinking about. And, the first ball she got a wicket.
“We were thinking about angles. (Athapaththu) was getting free runs in the midwicket area. Bowling straight to her would have forced her to go down the ground or even play across the line. That was the intention,” she added. “We knew that once we got Athapaththu out or tried to contain her, we would be in the game for a while (and) eventually get that breakthrough. We did well in containing her because she did not get off to the flyer that she is used to.”
Athapaththu credited Anisa, and admitted that her shot selection was not right. “Anisa was difficult to play today; the ball was coming a bit late,” she said. “I tried to play a cross-batted shot and it did not work. Last game (against India) was also the same. The shot selection was very bad.”
Naturally for a left-hand batter, it is not easy to adjust when an off-spinner, who takes the ball away from her, changes the angle. “For the first few overs, Anisa was trying to bowl to me across my body, so I was targeting mid-wicket,” Athapaththu added. “When she changed angles, I changed my guard and stance. I covered my off-stump to try and hit over mid-wicket, but the ball on the off-stump came slow.”
Having conceded two fours in her first five overs, Anisa’s last three overs fetched returns of 3 for 10. It gave the West Indies their first ODI win since October 2016, and first away from home since February last year, when it had beaten South Africa in two of the three ICC Women’s Championship matches. That result had helped it a great deal in qualifying directly for the World Cup. South Africa, runner-up in the Qualifier, is now one win away from a semi-final berth.
“It is pleasing. We had not won for that long, we wanted to win so badly,” said Taylor. “Today meant a lot to us. It was a brilliant all-round performance.
“We just need to play more ODIs. We are still struggling there. It is good we have the Championship, but even with that, we need to be playing more ODIs,” she added. “Teams that went into the Qualifiers would have played a lot more games coming into this World Cup. The results are showing. South Africa had a quadrangular series, while we just came here (17 days) earlier and got practice games. Having had games and series coming into this World Cup would have helped. But we see and learn, hopefully moving forward we get that.”