West Indies Women determined to break semi-final hoodoo
Both New Zealand Women and West Indies Women know the feeling of having dominated the Women's World T20 for most parts, only to falter when it matters most. But it's a record they are desperate to shed, West Indies a bit more than their opponents after having missed a berth in the final on three previous occasions.
"Today at training I actually said in the meeting that this is the fourth time we are in the semi-finals but this time around it is not actually against Australia, so that's maybe a plus for us," Stafanie Taylor, the West Indies captain, said when reminded of their unenviable record. "We definitely want to cross this barrier. We've been here so many times to know how to approach it. Today in training, the vibes were fantastic and that's what I want to see, going into tomorrow's game. We just hope that we can put our best foot forward and go with all the heart."
Taylor and Deandra Dottin were at the forefront of West Indies' batting revival, against India, which played a big part in securing their semi-final berth. The batting has revolved around these two, even as the others haven't exactly set the stage alight. It was the same pair that was instrumental in handing West Indies a win in their only match against New Zealand at the World T20, in 2012, even though New Zealand lead the head-to-head 8-3.
Taylor wasn't too perturbed by the record, and insisted the only thing in their focus was to emulate the Under-19 boys. "We've been talking about it from the time the U-19 team won the tournament," Taylor said. "It's more like an inspiration for us. This is like more drive to go out there and actually do the job. That both the men's and the women's team are in the semi-final and playing at the same ground is actually fantastic. Everybody is just behind us a hundred percent and given us good feedback. It is going to be a mental thing tomorrow. 75 percent of the game is actually played there and I think, on that day whoever is calmer and more composed will win. If we try to do that, we definitely can pull this off."
New Zealand are in red-hot form, having bossed their way in the group stages with four wins in as many matches. In the previous World T20 in Bangladesh, they missed the semi-finals on net run rate, but this group under Suzie Bates seems to have found a successful formula based around spin, even as their batting line-up have put together tall scores on sluggish wickets. On Thursday, they could relish batting on a Wankhede deck that has been a bowler's nightmare in the competition so far.
"We've actually been pretty fortunate with the grounds we've played on," Bates, the second-highest run-getter in the competition, said. "The wickets have been great to bat on and we've shown that with some of our scores. I've heard that Mumbai is a good batting track, but we haven't played here before. So, just really excited. Hopefully, it's fast and has a bit of pace on it. Hopefully, there are some big scores out there. I haven't had any issues with the wickets we've played on. We've been able to play our shots and hit across the line. Hopefully, tomorrow will be the same as well."
A feature of this New Zealand side is their ruthlessness that has brought about a different dimension to their already robust game. With nine wins in their last 10 T20Is, they are the form side, but are well aware that while a place in the final has eluded them since 2010. Haidee Tiffin, the coach, explained why the brand of cricket, inspired by Brendon McCullum, has played a key role in their rise.
"As the coach, it's the brand of cricket we want to play. Like the men - an attractive, aggressive style," Tiffin explained. "We've got players who can do that, whether with bat, ball or on the field. It's about not only doing the basics well, but also expressing ourselves and allowing the girls to be free. As Kiwis, we're a sporting nation, we get inspired by being out and playing any sport, to be honest. We're here to do a job and I really want to girls to express themselves.
"For some players, it's not about hitting over the top. It's more about finesse and accessing areas of the ground in their style. We've got players who can put up a good total, or defend a good total. I certainly encourage the girls to express themselves. We're not looking too far ahead. We've got a job to do, and both teams are staring at zero."
Looking ahead to the clash, Bates also underlined the importance of not being sucked into the occasion, but insisted her team was on a mission to do the country proud. "This team dedicates any performance to the country. We're representing our country," she said. "There's been amazing number of people who've represented both the White Ferns and Black Caps and certainly Martin Crowe, who recently passed away.
"We've certainly drawn upon inspiration from players that have gone before. We certainly respect the past, but with regards to whom we dedicate our performance to, it's pretty easy to say that we are representing our country and we are very proud to do that."
She also revealed tips from McCullum could serve as an inspiration for her team to emulate. "Brendon is from Otago, and I'm from Otago, so he's always been, over the years, willing to talk about cricket and his leadership style," Bates said. "A number of girls, during the New Zealand cricket awards, spoke to him briefly and the way he went about his cricket at the end his career and during the World Cup campaign was an inspiration. We had drawn upon a little bit of inspiration from the way he got the guys to go out there and express themselves, and we're trying to do that in this tournament."
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo