West Indies keep the chaos under control
There are times when you talk about women's cricket and you find yourself making excuses for it. There are specific words and phrases that enter your patter: "disparity", "talent pool", "poor pitches", "shorter boundaries". Those and many more can be found in the "So you've decided to have a conversation about women's cricket" booklet.
All are caveats to why it is how it is. Why it might not be as entertaining as other forms. More often than not it amounts to "stick around - this party will get better in a couple of hours."
But the truth is, a lot of women's cricket doesn't need to be shielded, it just needs to be shown. Speak to many international cricketers about some of the best matches they have played in and you'll be reaching for google. Because the answers aren't slugfests at the MCG or that series decider on Sky. It's a run-chase at Junction Oval, a memorable cameo at Warner Park or a thrilling, untelevised four-day thriller at the WACA. All that exists of them are scorecards and the words of those that were there. A picture says a thousand words but you can't reverse-engineer those words to give you the full picture.
So when West Indies brought their brand of unrefined chaos to Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium, in a semi-final of a World T20, with the cameras rolling and the crowd filtering in, you knew you were okay. You could close that book of excuses, sit back and watch their raw, utterly compelling cricket overcome a better drilled, refined New Zealand side.
The aspect of T20 cricket they have sussed is the batting. They know the best route to the boundary is straight. Before each match, their batsmen spend their time drying to drill holes in the portable nets. In the dugout, the middle order players are pushing forward, visualising on what is to come, and focusing on getting their bottom hand through the ball.
Stafanie Taylor is usually the one you have to watch out for as an opposition bowler. But she took a back seat as Britney Cooper brought up her maiden T20I fifty with some brutal strikes over cover. When Leigh Kasperek, at the time the leading wicket-taker of the tournament, came on to tie her down, she shuffled forward and whipped her hands through a straight drive to send it down the ground and over the boundary. Twice.
New Zealand's game plan when chasing this tournament had been simple: make sure it's not too many. Their most taxing was 111 against Sri Lanka in their opening match. Now they needed 144 to get to the final of a tournament that many believed they already had in the bag. And so the coasting ended.
But it's in the field that the real Caribbean chaos begins. At times, their fields look like they are concocted with the help of a magic eight ball. Twice Taylor moved her slip so that it wouldn't obscure the view of the fielder at third man. The first time it was wider and an edge went through first slip. The response? Third man was moved finer. The ball was then edged through gully for four. So third man was moved squarer and the catcher moved to a position best described as one-half slip.
For New Zealand, it was Sophie Devine who judged the pace of the pitch straight away. First when she was bowling, taking 4 for 22 and conceding just 5.50 runs an over when three others went for 10 or more. With the bat she took the lessons from her bowling to race to 22 off 13 balls.
Her 14th delivery was pushed into the off side and she set off for a single she would have made nine times out of 10. Deandra Dottin, chewing gum at point, engaged. The ball scuffed along a practice wicket but Dottin managed to pick it up with one hand and throw down the stumps at the non-striker's end to cut Devine's innings short. To show just how much a one-out-of-10 bit of fielding it was, Dottin repeated the move soon after, overshooting the stumps and the bowler for four overthrows, with the ball nutmegging an outfielder in the process.
New Zealand panicked. They were undefeated at the tournament and now they had to fight back from the brink. But they didn't know how. Taylor lobbed two grenades and Sara McGlashan and Amy Satterhwaite found Shemaine Campbelle in successive balls. Like a virus, the chaos was spreading. But only one team knew how to control it.
As the run-rate escalated, the lower order started trying to manufacture scoring shots. West Indies temporarily lost their heads. Full tosses were bowled, a few boundaries were hit. In the final over, a catch was dropped that hit the boundary marker. But even as West Indies started to turn the chaos on themselves, their path was already set. For the first time ever, they will take part in a World T20 final.
It is often said that men's Test cricket needs a strong West Indies because of what they used to do. Women's cricket as a whole will benefit from what a strong, watchable West Indies are doing right now.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport