Monday, October 28, 2013

Reflections on the Tri-Series

Cricinfo has scorecards of all matches here:

New Zealand
New Zealand will inevitably be disappointed by their performance in this series. Not that they were anywhere near favourites for the title, given their fourth-place finish in the World Cup earlier this year, but to only win the one match, and to lose the others by such big margins, must have been disappointing. Their highest score all series was 109, and in the one match they won they made just 101 and were saved only by a spectacular West Indian batting collapse.

I've nicknamed this the “Calypso Collapso Series”, based on the fact that four of six of the matches saw ridiculously dramatic batting collapses by one of the teams. New Zealand were the main culprit here. In the first match of the series, against West Indies, they collapsed in a heap from 70-4 to 81 all out, an embarrassingly low score. They followed this up with another, even more spectacular, collapse in the fifth match of the series against England, from 74-1 to 106 all out. Without Suzie Bates (the only Kiwi who averaged more than 16 in the series), they would have been in even more trouble.

As they proved at the World Cup, their batting depth is weak and they are certainly still lagging behind the top teams in the world at the moment. The new professional contracts, introduced by NZC back in April, should help, but may take some time to have a real impact.

West Indies
Series champions, and they won 3 out of their 4 matches this series, as well as the final. Assuming this series was at least partly about confirming that their brilliance in the World Cup back in February wasn't a one-off, you could say it's been a pretty successful one for them.

There was obviously the advantage of home conditions. But let's be honest, the difference in the sides this series amounts to four words: Deandra Dottin & Stafanie Taylor. With averages of 39.00 and 40.00 respectively, they far and away topped the series' batting averages. Together, their majestic batting (Taylor 51* in 47 balls, Dottin 46* in 35 balls) swept the West Indies to an easy 8-wicket victory in the final, with 3 overs to spare. Taylor's 51* was her 11th in T20Is and in the process she overtook her namesake Sarah Taylor to become the woman with the most half-centuries in T20Is. And the power of Dottin has to be seen to be believed; she rightfully achieved the Player of the Series award.

Their contributions with the ball should also not be overlooked: Taylor's bowling figures in the final were 4-1-8-1, helping restrict England to 115-5 (at least 15 runs below par). Frankly these two players have single(double?)handedly done more for women's cricket in the West Indies than it achieved in the 50 years before they came into the game.

Here is the problem for the Windies: these two are, in terms of ability, head and shoulders above the rest of the batsmen in their team. In the match they lost to New Zealand, which saw them collapse from 44-0 to 92-8 in their 20 overs, their lack of batting depth was miserably exposed. If as a team you are consistently relying on two of your players to have a good day, you're going to find yourself in trouble eventually. This, I imagine, will continue to niggle at the minds of the West Indian selectors as they move forward from this series.

England will be disappointed by their performance in the final, in which they suffered from a whopping 8-wicket defeat. However, they appear to have used this series at least partly as a development opportunity. With several key players missing the series – Katherine Brunt, Heather Knight, Anya Shrubsole, Laura Marsh – and with Charlotte Edwards missing the fifth match of the series against New Zealand (the first T20 since 2010 which she has missed for England), this was the time for some of the newer players to step up to the plate (am I allowed to use a baseball analogy in a cricket blog?)

What, then, can England take from this series? Two key positives stand out for me. Natalie Sciver is one of them. Having made her debut against Pakistan early in the summer, she is already establishing herself as a key middle-order anchor for England, with her 36* in 33 balls in the final ensuring England's total was at least respectable (and who can forget that glorious huge six off the last ball of the innings?) And her hat-trick in the fifth match of the series against New Zealand – the first by an Englishwoman in T20Is – was probably the highlight of the whole series for England.

Jenny Gunn is the other. Brunt and Shrubsole's absence turned her into the senior pace bowler, but she handled the pressure well and her 11 wickets at an average of 8.00 saw her finish as top wicket-taker in the series. Given that she was captaining England during the fifth match of the series against the Kiwis, her figures of 5-18 in that game are particularly impressive, and add weight to the argument that she is in contention to be Edwards' successor. Okay, so the super over in the sixth match against the West Indies didn't exactly go to plan, but let's not focus on the negatives...

It's hard, though, to ignore some of the strange decisions taken by the selectors during this series, following on from the initial selection of a squad that was, as Syd has pointed out on numerous occasions, one batsman short. This was supremely obvious during the frankly painful collapse against the West Indies, the worst Calypso Collapso of the series in my book, which saw them sink from 69-0 to 96-8. But it was also enhanced by some odd selectorial decisions throughout, in particular playing just four specialist batsman in the last two matches of the series.

It looks like the selectors were using this series as an opportunity to get a look at some of the bowling talent England have got coming through the ranks at the moment (both Beth Langston and Kate Cross made their international debuts), with the Ashes etc in mind, but what happened to the “winning is a habit” attitude?

Anyhow, presumably we'll get a further insight into just what the selectors have made of this series when the ODIs start tomorrow. Or maybe we'll just get more baffling decisions, who knows.

Women's cricket.
There were encouraging signs this series in relation to the status of the women's game in the Caribbean. The final reportedly attracted a crowd of 3500 to the Kensington Oval, supposedly the highest ever crowd at a women's cricket match in the West Indies (the historian in me is always a little sceptical about those kind of claims, but I'll go with it). The big-hitting fireworks of Dottin and Taylor is doing wonders for women's cricket out there, and long may it continue.

It's great, too, that the WICB streamed the series live for free across the world. But it's also unfortunate that for most of us, the feed was so blurry that it was difficult to work out a) what the score was, b) which over was being bowled, and c) whether you were asleep, awake, or so tired you were hallucinating yet another batting collapse. Is it really so difficult to ensure that the stream is of a reasonable quality?

And if the stream is inevitably blurry, perhaps we could actually have some decent commentary? The appallingly uninformed and sexist commentary during Saturday night's final (watch out for a more detailed piece on The Cordon about this soon) was a disgrace. WICB need to seriously rethink their promotion strategy for women's cricket if that's the kind of commentary they think is acceptable during a women's international.

Talking of which, WICB President Dave Cameron's closing gambit in his interview during the innings break on Saturday night – “I think the women are so beautiful they could be excellent ambassadors” – is enough in itself to make me question quite how far the WICB, who ignored women's cricket for so many years, are really on board with the promotion of the women's game. At least, with APPROPRIATE promotion of the women's game. (Naked calendars don't count. Sorry.)

Time will tell.

Final thought
I cannot understand not wearing batting helmets in any international cricket match. Watching Juliana Nero duck under bouncers from Nicola Browne without a helmet nearly gave me a heart attack. I've never even seen anyone bat without a helmet even at women's club level in England. Can't we make them compulsory or something?