The day started with Deandra Dottin going 4-0-4-0-0-4 in the first over with the bat. And it finished with Deandra Dottin going 1-W-1-W-W with the ball. A sensational century by Hayley Matthews and a gritty one by Sophie Devine was bookended by fours, dots and Dottin.
To sum up the opening match of the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2022 at Bay Oval in Tauranga, we borrow a line from the social media post from Cricket West Indies: “What in the Cricket World Cup just happened?!!”
The result, for the record, is that West Indies won by three runs against Devine’s White Ferns.
But the feeling, that probably is a bit more difficult to capture in words, is: welcome back ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup. While the match itself was a great spectacle, one cannot help but feel it was a bit more significant than just the result.
It’s been 1,685 days since the epic final at Lord’s between Heather Knight’s England and Mithali Raj’s India. A tournament that changed the landscape for the game. That was followed by a standalone T20 World Cup in the Caribbean in 2018 and then a magnificent T20 World Cup in Australia in 2020 that culminated with a record 86,000-plus in attendance at MCG. A head of steam was built up... the World Cup in New Zealand was imminent at that time. But the pandemic happened. And by most accounts, women’s sport was hit harder than men’s. And cricket felt it too. When things started to recover, time and again – barring a few notable exceptions – we saw the men’s game given priority while the women’s game followed as an afterthought. When they played, they gave us great contests but you couldn’t help but wonder if the momentum was lost for no real fault of the athletes.
In that sense, when the World Cup finally did begin in New Zealand, there already was excitement in the air. Everyone involved with the game have waited patiently for this day, none more so than cricketers who want that one last shot at glory before calling time on their careers. Challenges have been overcome and the show was ready to go on.
And the show that Stafanie Taylor’s West Indies and Sophie Devine’s New Zealand put on for us was worthy of the wait.
By their own admission, West Indies had been flying under the radar before the tournament began while all eyes were on New Zealand and their quest to repeat the feat in 2000 by Emily Drumm, Debbie Hockley and Co. While West Indies were part of the qualifying event not so long back that had to be called off, New Zealand came from a superb domestic season and a home series against India. The preparations, the build-up, the expectations were all studies in contrast. And that contest gave us a thriller that went one way, then the other, and then back another way, before finally settling in West Indies’ favour.
And involved in giving us this memorable opening fare were, fittingly, three openers.
Dottin set the tone. She started off with a flurry of boundaries. It didn’t last long, but it was like a much-needed shot of caffeine in the early morning. Then Matthews took over. She wasn’t even meant to be opening, but here she was – not a stranger to the role but asked to don it once again, and at late notice from her coach because of a concussion to her teammate. She admitted later to being not sure about it but perhaps just as we did while watching her bat, a couple of back-foot punches were enough to say, yes this feels right. Her innings of 119 (128) was full of shots that made your jaw drop while also dealing with issues to her leg. She wasn’t done, she had a role to do with the ball as well and produced breakthroughs at the start of her spells.
Has she had a better all round day on a cricket pitch before today, given the occasion?
“Yeah, I mean, probably not,” Matthews said. “I think when you talk about playing on the biggest stage, you talk about World Cups. First game, obviously really, really big for us against the home team and yeah, to be able to put in a really good -our own performance obviously means a lot to me and even more to the team.”
The second big contribution came from Devine. Unlike Matthews’ day, where she couldn’t put a foot wrong, Devine was having one where she could get away with pretty much most mistakes. She played and missed a lot, she gave catches that were not taken at points where the match could have been done and dusted. She was nearly run out a couple of times. But through it all, she persevered and she kept her side in the game. That is what great players do. And as long as she was there, New Zealand were favourites. Then came a special moment from Chinelle Henry to end her special innings.
But NZ were not done yet. They fought back, showing off the depth in their batting lineup that could be an object of envy for most teams in world cricket. And with two fours to finish the 49th over, making the equation 6 off 6 balls, the finish line was in sight.
Up stepped another opener... keen to play the role of finisher. Dottin took it upon herself. “Selman was supposed to bowl the last over,” Taylor said later. “But [Dottin] was like ‘Skip, I want the ball... give me the ball’ and I was like OK, you and coach will discuss this after. I’ll give you the ball, do your thing.”
It could have gone wrong the very first ball, mind you. On a night when dropped catches could have proven costly for WI, Henry (after that stunner to remove Devine) produced a superb fielding effort at mid-off to prevent a four. Dottin needed a warm-up delivery and Henry made sure it didn’t end the match.
From there, the West Indies allrounder got the areas perfect, starting with a brilliant full ball to dismiss the well-set Katey Martin. Another miscued shot from Jess Kerr and a run-out of her own hands later, West Indies were celebrating.
“We were like – why you haven’t bowled international cricket in about a year now. Literally haven’t bowled to anyone in the nets since we’ve been here. And yeah, she just came and said give me the ball. And I think – a player like Deandra – when she says to give her the ball. You just give her the ball - doesn’t matter.”— Matthews on Dottin bowling the final over
One match doesn’t determine the quality of the tournament, but if the excitement and entertainment on offer in the sensational opening act put on by three openers is anything to go by, we are in for quite a ride. As a curtain-raiser after a long wait, fans and stakeholders could not have asked for more.
Watch highlights here.