The 2018 ICC Women’s T20 World Cup – Healy blasts Australia to an unlikely fourth title

In the lead up to the 2020 edition of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup on Friday the 21st of February, it’s time to refresh ourselves with what happened in the last edition of the tournament.

The West Indies have struggled for a long time to climb back up the rankings to emulate past glory. The men’s cricket team have given bursts of Calypso cricket that suggested the return of fiery fast bowling and flashy attacking batting. Think of their historic 2016 T20 World Cup win over England, where Carlos Braithwaite’s stunning 34 not out off 10 balls dragged them over the line and reinstilled hope in the island nations. Picture Shai Hope’s ground-breaking 118 not out in that infamous Leeds test match in 2017, where the West Indies’ flair saw them chase down 322 on English soil.

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Shai Hope raising his bat to acknowledge his magnificent century in Leeds, 2017 (AFP Photo/ Lindsey Parnaby)

However, the Windies haven’t quite been able to achieve continued success since the 1980s to mid 1990s. Frequently forgotten due to the men’s unlikely triumph in the same year, the women’s 2016 T20 World Cup demolition job over Australia in the final gave the West Indies women’s team potential to make that climb to world prominence. Led by half centuries from captain Stefanie Taylor and opener Hayley Matthews, the Windies’ eight-wicket win over an Aussie team that contained superstars in Ellyse Perry and Meg Lanning in full flight shocked the cricketing world. For so long, the West Indies had been yearning for success – little did they know it may come from their female outfit.

Two years later and the West Indies went into their home edition of the tournament with mountains of expectation on their shoulders. With the men’s team having fallen down to prior pitfalls, the women were at the forefront of many minds throughout the islands of Trinidad and Tobago and co.

Their main challengers lay in the likes of the usual suspects. Australia weren’t too rapt with having their three-peat of World T20 titles ended, while England longed to clinch a second World Cup to cement their spot as world powerhouses. Sneaking up on the competition was a talented Indian team, looking to capture their first ICC World T20 tournament and signal their intentions to be mentioned in the same breath as Australia, England and the West Indies. Tangled in with this fight for the prize was the underdog that was Sri Lanka, always looming as an XI that could sweep past all-comers if they found their searing touch. Perennial bridesmaids in New Zealand rounded out the main contenders for the Cup, with the likes of star Suzie Bates looking to take the Kiwis to the promised land.

Entering the tournament with a huge amount of pressure on them, the Windies breezed through the group stages, finishing first in their conference and booking a spot in the semi-finals. Premier bowler Deandra Dottin was at her scorching best, taking an equal tournament high 10 wickets, including a landmark hattrick in the opening match against Bangladesh. After rolling the minnows for just 46, the Windies continued on to easily account for South Africa (captain Stefanie Taylor being the chief destroyer in taking 4/ 12 as they bowled the Proteas out for 76), before outclassing Sri Lanka thanks to some Hayley Matthews batting magic. Their last group match was their tightest, sliding past a defiant English team courtesy of Deandra Dottin’s 46 from 52 balls, solidifying her spot as one of the leading all-rounders in world cricket.

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Deandra Dottin celebrating her hattrick en route to figures of 5/5 (ICC)

Despite falling short to the host nation, England still managed to squeeze into second spot, thus gifting them a semi-final position. Their group stage matches included a rain-impacted win over Bangladesh and a wild victory against South Africa where Anya Shrubsole took the tournament’s second hattrick and Nat Sciver snared 3/ 4 off her four overs to snatch player of the match honours. A rained out first match against Sri Lanka meant the English only just found themselves in the next stage, where they feared a potential match-up against heavyweights Australia. Little did they know, a shock was about to hit Group B.

Australia looked set to sweep the group, having comfortably accounted for Pakistan in their opening match of the conference after a sparkling knock of 48 off 29 balls from Alyssa Healy. Setting the tone for the weeks to come, Healy would go on to claim three more player of the match awards for the tournament, which ultimately ended in her clubbing the most runs with 225 at an average of 56.25. Comfortably sliding past Ireland, who only just slid their way past qualifying, Healy continued to lift the bar after her 56 not out off 31 balls included the fastest half-century at a women’s World T20 tournament (coming off only 21 balls). A further win over the Kiwis only gave Healy the opportunity to peel off another half-century, while Megan Schutt and Ellyse Perry continued to take wickets regularly.

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Alyssa Healy smacking another boundary during a landmark tournament for the Aussie wicketkeeper (ICC Media Zone)

The big shock came when Australia and India faced off for the top spot in group B. Most pundits had their money on the Aussies to win a crucial match-up and play England in the semi-final. Smriti Mandhana had other ideas.

Bludgeoning 83 off only 55 balls, the left-handed Indian lifted her nation to a total of 8/167, a score way too high for the Aussies to chase down. In a manner similar to her recent efforts in the tri-series between Australia, India and England to warm up for the 2020 tournament, Mandhana’s drives and aggressive lofted straight shots proved too much for the Aussies. The tournament had been shaken up. India now had a real chance at winning the tournament, with Australia having to take down the hosts in the semi-final to regain their status as world champions.

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Smriti Mandhana hits out in breathtaking knock against the Aussies (@WorldT20 photo)

Losing the toss and being sent in, Australia had to work hard to negate the red-hot West Indians and their vocal supporters. Luckily, their major attacking weapon in Healy continued to experience a career-best tournament, smashing 46 off 38 balls at the top of the order. With the tone well and truly set, Lanning’s 31 and Rachael Hayne’s 25 not out off 15 balls to finish the innings gave Australia a chance. Looking to defend 142, their bowlers had to step up to the plate. Fortunately, Australia possessed the best player in the world on their side.

Ellyse Perry only bowled two overs in the innings, but those 12 balls were more than enough to seal the Windies’ fate. Her 2/ 2 ripped the heart out of the host team, as captain Taylor’s 16 was the highest score for her defeated side. In a stunning effort, the Aussies blasted through the tournament favourites to bowl them out for a mere 71, sealing their spot in the final.

In the second semi-final, India had a golden opportunity. Seeing Australia breeze through to the final gave them the utmost confidence – they had only beaten the Aussies just five days ago. Mandhana continued her strong form, blasting 34 off 23 balls. But after Mandhana, superstar Harmanpreet Kaur couldn’t get going, and the Indians fell away badly against a solid English bowling attack. Only needing to chase 113 to meet Australia in the big dance, Amy Jones’ 53 not out steered England home for another shock victory.

With both second-placed teams finding themselves in the final, the cup lay well and truly up for grabs. In a low-scoring encounter, it was one all-rounder least-expected to seize control who dominated to give her side the World Cup. Batting first, Danielle Wyatt’s 43 gave the English the perfect start. A seasoned professional, Wyatt’s calm knock didn’t catch on as expected. Resorting to spin, captain Meg Lanning found her best performer was not the wily Georgia Wareham, but instead Ash Gardner. Her 3/ 22 tore through the middle order, and met feeble resistance. Bowled out for 105, England knew they had one way of snatching the cup; get Healy out early, and put the pressure on the middle order.

The plan looked set to fall through when Healy raced to 22. Then, in a manner not seen in the tournament yet, English bowler Sophie Ecclestone ripped right through the leading run scorer. The door swung slightly ajar.

Healy’s opening partner in Beth Mooney was removed not long after. Butterflies began to flutter in Australian stomachs. Gardner and Lanning had to fight hard to get the game back on their terms. Both not out at the end, it was Gardner’s 33 not out that got the Aussies over the line. In a wild tournament, Australia had come good when it mattered most, powering past the Windies and then England in remarkable fashion.

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Ash Gardner celebrating a wicket with Georgia Wareham during her player of the match performance in the World Cup final

Now hosting the tournament, the 2020 World Cup is massive for Australia. The team has since gone on to clinch another Ashes series and produce a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in Perry. They are the premier XI in women’s world cricket. However, some shaky form in the lead-up threatens to disastrously derail a campaign that is set to be a celebration of their prowess. But if 2018 is anything to go by, this team will find a way to win when it matters most. It’ll just be nail-biting to see how it plays out.

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