January 7, 2012

Victorious on and off the field

Between marquee events in 2011, the women's sides, West Indies in particular, competed hard to show they well and truly belong on the international circuit

In recent years the world's female cricketers faced their biggest test: to show they were good enough to keep sharing the World Twenty20 stage with the men. With the job done - and vital exposure ensured - was 2011 time for the players to unstrap their pads, kick off their spikes and reflect on their triumphs? Far from it.

World rankings and World Cup places were up for grabs. The top four teams - England, Australia, New Zealand and India - faced off in two limited-overs tournaments, while the second tier - West Indies, Bangladesh, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Netherlands, Japan, Ireland and USA - jostled for places at the 2013 World Cup and to retain their ODI status.

The year's yardstick for the world's top four was the ODI and Twenty20 Quadrangular tournaments, and hosts England had everyone else's measure, defeating Australia in the T20 and one-day finals and underlining their world No. 1 ranking in ODIs, although they remain equal fifth in T20s after their disaster at the previous year's World Twenty20.

England didn't have everything their way in 2011, opening the year with an ODI series loss in Australia, and in case you blinked, they also ceded the Ashes in the one-off Test, after six years in possession. They did win the bilateral Twenty20 series comfortably, however.

To underline that they are the other team to beat, Australia took yet another Rose Bowl from New Zealand once the series resumed four months after the Christchurch earthquakes had dramatically halted the tour. Off the field, Australia - ranked second in ODIs and No. 1 in T20 - also quietly celebrated two small victories in terms of recognition. Belinda Clark became only the second woman in the ICC Hall of Fame, following Rachael Heyhoe-Flint's induction, while the domestic final was televised by Fox, with New South Wales beating Victoria in an eye-catching final.

New Zealand capitulated in the ODI quadrangular, losing out in the third-place playoff to India, who had failed to win a group match. India did, however, beat West Indies twice on home soil in bilateral one-day and T20 series.

These days West Indies could easily be grouped with the top teams in the world, and a world pentagular ought to be considered in future; they are even ranked above England in T20s. For now, though, they won comfortably the "best of the rest" ODI competition - the World Cup qualifiers in Dhaka - remaining unbeaten throughout the tournament.

Pakistan lost the qualifiers final but secured their place at the 2013 World Cup in India, along with South Africa and Sri Lanka. Pakistan also had cause to celebrate historic player contracts for the women, but captain Sana Mir landed in hot water for giving an interview without permission from the PCB.

Bangladesh took a leap forward of their own, securing one-day status for the first time, after the World Cup qualifiers, which left them ranked ninth in the world. Netherlands, though, lost their ODI status after dropping out of the world's top ten following a playoff loss to Ireland.

High point
West Indies' Stafanie Taylor won the ICC Women's Cricketer of the Year Award, the first time the title has been won by a player from a team outside the top four. The 20-year-old Taylor averaged 76.25 with the bat during the voting period and took 15 ODI wickets with her offspin, but the award also reflected West Indies' emergence on the world scene. The incumbent - Australia's Shelley Nitschke - bowed out at the top, while New Zealand captain Aimee Watkins also retired.

Low point
It was a shame there was only one Test, particularly when the match was such a corker. Having a sole Test sits awkwardly in the schedules, but commercial and timing realities must be respected.

New kid on the block
Australia's Meg Lanning announced her international arrival with an unbeaten century against England in her debut ODI series, at the age of 18. Lanning also starred for Victoria with 74 in their Twenty20 Cup final win over New South Wales. Classy and confident at the crease, and with occasional medium pace to boot, Lanning is one to watch.

What 2012 holds
The headline event of the year is the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, where the semis and final in Colombo will once again be double-headers with the men's games. The tournament will feature Australia, England, India, New Zealand, West Indies, Pakistan, South Africa and hosts Sri Lanka, and while the women can breathe a little easier than they did in their first two tournaments, where they were fighting for their future, they will be aware of the constant pressure to keep up their skills and showmanship.

With the 2013 World Cup also on the horizon, teams will continue to prepare for the ultimate tournament in the women's game.

Jenny Roesler is a former assistant editor at Cricinfo