February 17, 2013

'I can take away the game in a snap'

The most powerful batsman in women's cricket opens up on her aggression, her ego, and her idol

Deandra Dottin knows she is a force of nature. You can make that out from the way she prowls the field even during a game of handball at a practice session, shoulders so thick and so broad she could be wearing epaulettes under her West Indies jersey.

The ball finds its way to her and suddenly she lets it rip - flat, inches away from several fortunate team-mates. The one for whom the throw was meant isn't so lucky, and winces and shakes her wrist in pain as the ball thuds into her palms with a loud thwack.

The most powerful batsman in women's cricket knows opposition captains are "scared of me" as "I can take away the game in, like, a snap". Evidence from the ongoing World Cup shows Dottin isn't bragging at all.

West Indies were 38 for 3 when Dottin came in against India in the opening match of the tournament. Her first ball was hit so powerfully for four, you could feel the violence in the stroke sitting in the media gallery on the second floor of the Cricket Club of India pavilion. Dottin took 15 deliveries to blaze 39 before she fell. Despite having 284 to defend, Mithali Raj admitted she had been rattled and was glad Dottin didn't make too many.

Here's more evidence of the effect Dottin, and her reputation, has had on captains. West Indies were 82 for 4 when she walked in against New Zealand. Suzie Bates' response was to take off her spinner immediately. West Indies were 59 for 5 when Dottin came in against Australia. Jodie Fields, who almost compulsively sets aggressive fields, had mid-on and mid-off up. Off her first five deliveries, Dottin lashed three fours over the fielders. Fields cracked. Dottin went on to make a tournament-altering 60 off 67 that pushed West Indies' total just beyond Australia's reach, launched them into their maiden World Cup final, and also knocked England and New Zealand out.

Dottin hit ten fours and a six in that innings, but she prefers to emphasise the way she "outsmarted" Fields by taking ones and twos. She says there were several balls that she could have easily gone after but chose to remain patient.

There is a fascinating dichotomy that comes to light as Dottin listens to questions and responds. On the one hand, she sounds so matter-of-fact about her method of batting, you'd think top gear is the only way she knows to tackle life, let alone cricket. Yes, she loves to scatter the infield with lofted boundaries. "How dare the teams put fielders close to the bat," she says with an almost eerie calm. "No way they should be trying that with me." Yes, she loves to leave fielders in the deep helpless by bashing sixes over their heads. She says she is an "egoistic" batsman, the kind who will pull a six over the fielder at deep midwicket just because the fielder has been put there.

"How dare the teams put fielders close to the bat," she says with an almost eerie calm. "No way they should be trying that with me"

On the other hand, she seems almost too cautious she might be straitjacketed as a naturally gifted hitter who does not care about getting out after hammering a few out of the park. "I really do care about my game," she says, insisting it is not all about hitting. "It all depends on the situation of the game. I can actually play both, attacking and defensive. Sometimes I do tend to be overconfident and too aggressive. And sometimes it has let me down."

Overconfidence can come about if you hold the record for the fastest hundred and fastest fifty in T20 internationals (the former across the men's and women's games). Dottin says the century record, in fact, ended up putting pressure on her to live up to an image she had helped create.

Aggression seems to define every aspect of her game. It is not in-your-face, showy bravado - "playing is not really to show emotion". It is the kind of swaggering aggression her idol Viv Richards epitomised. "You know I am Deandra Dottin and you know I will get you," she seems to say.

Richards has been a huge inspiration. "I would sit and study the way he moved and the way he hit the ball," she said once. "For me it was more than just the runs he scored. What I liked to see was the way he walked out on the pitch, how he looked out there in the middle, and the way he represented West Indies. He always looked in control of things. I have never seen anyone do it quite like him.

"I don't try to copy everything, because I know I can't bat like he did, but I looked at the way he showed his presence and tried to follow that. He had power and control."

It is not only with the bat that Dottin wants to establish a presence. She works hard on her bowling and can generate deceptive speed with a trundle of a run-up. Prowling at point, "I try to dictate where the ball goes."

One Dottin characteristic is prominent in all three disciplines of her game. The shoulders. Whether she bats, bowls or fields, the shoulders scream at you, "Don't get in our way, or you'll regret it." She won several medals in javelin, shot-put and discus throw in junior athletics, and shoulder strengthening continues to be a major part of her gym routine.

You wonder what it would be like to run into an angry Dottin in a deserted alley. But while she is aware she is a rarity in the women's game with her raw, overpowering strength, she wants you to know she is not a bully off the field. "I am not aggressive, only in cricket. I am just quiet. I like to be alone at times." On those occasions, you can be sure none of her team-mates will disturb her solitude.

"I'm on the same team as them, so they don't have to be too scared," she assures. "When we come up against each other during regional competitions, then it's a totally different story."

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo