The phrase “making history” is bandied about far too easily in cricket circles these days. But sometimes there are moments – spine-tingling moments – when you realise that what you are watching is not just another run-of-the-mill game of Twenty20 cricket, but a match that truly will go down in history.
There’s not much doubt that Stafanie Taylor’s side made some very special history today.
The first women’s cricket association in the Caribbean was established in 1966, in Jamaica. By 1970, women’s associations existed in Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, Grenada, St Vincent, Guyana and St Lucia. In 1970, an England XI toured Jamaica and a year later Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago competed in a triangular tournament, hosted by T&T, against an England side captained by Rachael Heyhoe-Flint.
Teams from Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica participated in the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1973. Neither of the Caribbean teams got anywhere near the final – which was won by England – but, given that this was the first official international cricket they had ever played, they performed impressively. Both teams beat a Young England side featuring Sue Goatman and Megan Lear, future stars of the England squad, and Jamaica came within touching distance of beating an International XI made up of players from all the competing countries.
The Caribbean Women’s Cricket Federation (CWCF) was founded in late 1973, with the aim of developing a West Indies team to compete on the international stage. They were successful…and so were West Indies. In 1976 they drew both of the Tests in their two-Test series against the second-best team in the world, Australia. Later that year India hosted West Indies in a six-Test series; the two teams won one Test each. In summer 1979 West Indies toured England for the first time, and though they lost the Test series, they somehow beat the inaugural World Champions in the third ODI.
That victory wasn’t in the script, either.
The men’s West Indies team dominated world cricket in the 1980s. Even the memory of Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and Michael Holding will be enough to strike fear into the hearts of many English cricket lovers.
West Indies Women couldn’t even afford to go on one international tour in the 1980s.
The CWCF was an organisation entirely staffed by volunteers. And the West Indies Cricket Board of Control, as it was then, refused to meet with the CWCF to discuss advancing the women’s game. Men’s cricket officials were annoyed at their continual requests for the use of first-class grounds.
Without any financial support, the CWCF could not afford either to host international sides or to send their teams abroad. After their 1979 tour of England, West Indies did not play in another bilateral international tour until 2003, against Sri Lanka.
Australia won the 1978, 1982 and 1988 women’s World Cups. West Indies could not even afford to enter a side.
The impossibly young, impossibly mature cricketer Hayley Matthews was born in March 1998. A few months before this, in December 1997, West Indies had participated in the 1997 World Cup in India.
It wasn’t their finest hour. Sri Lanka – whose women’s team had been in existence for less than 12 months – beat the Windies in their group match by six wickets. West Indies failed to even qualify for the 2000 tournament. It was humiliating.
Australia, meanwhile, trampled all opposition before them, and won the tournament – their fourth World Cup title.
Things improved for West Indies. Gradually. In 2005 the ICC took over control of women’s cricket, and the West Indies Cricket Board was suddenly forced to take responsibility for the sport. At last, some money started to flow into the women’s game. In 2010, the WICB introduced central contracts for their female players for the first time.
West Indies Women slowly, very slowly, started to overturn their status as the very minnowest of minnows. In 2009, the year after today’s heroine Stafanie Taylor made her debut, they finally won an ODI series against England. In 2012, they beat India in the same format.
Most of all, though, they embraced the newest format of the game with open arms. The first ever Twenty20 international was a women’s game, between England and New Zealand at Hove in 2004. Who was the first ever centurion in women’s Twenty20 cricket? Deandra Dottin.
It took her 38 balls. Not bad for a sport that’s supposed to lack power.
They lost in the semi-finals both times – to New Zealand in 2010, and in 2012 to – who else? – eventual tournament winners Australia. That time around, they were only chasing 116 – and they didn’t even get close.
At long last, in 2013, they reached the final of a global tournament. To get there, they beat both New Zealand and Australia for the first time ever in 50-over cricket. Taylor hit 314 runs across the tournament – more than anyone else bar Suzie Bates.
But even she could not withstand a one-legged Ellyse Perry in the final. Perry had her caught and bowled in the 12th over, took 3-19, and Australia beat West Indies by 114 runs. Frankly, they looked out of their depth.
It’s been a mixed few years since that 2013 final. There hasn’t been the inexorable rise we might have hoped would follow. 12 months later West Indies were whitewashed by New Zealand in both the 50 and 20-over formats; six months after that, their old nemesis Australia repeated the feat. They haven’t exactly set the world on fire.
But opportunities, nonetheless, have been seized. In all the glitter and glitz surrounding the inaugural Women’s Big Bash League, the participation of players from the West Indies has perhaps been the least lauded aspect. Yet Taylor, Dottin and middle-order batsman Stacy-Ann King all received invitations to participate.
As did a then little-known 17-year-old called Hayley Matthews.
We ran a poll just before the semi-finals of this tournament: Who will win the Women’s World Twenty20? England secured 44% of the vote; New Zealand, also, 44%; Australia got 13%. West Indies got 0%.
Sometimes making history is about defying expectations.
Many have tried and failed to overthrow the dominance of the green and gold. England in 2014 and 2012. New Zealand in 2010. India in 2005. None of them could do it.
The Windies did.
The Windies, who cried when they lost to England because they thought they were going home without even getting out of the group stages. The Windies, who nobody ever thought had a hope in hell of beating the Kiwis in that semi-final.
The Windies, who today broke through and finally became the only nation outside of Australia, New Zealand and England ever to win a world title.
Whatever happens from here…it will always have been the Windies.