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West Indies out to defy expectations once again

They face the overwhelming World Cup favourites Australia in the semi-final on Wednesday

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
West Indies have been a bit inconsistent, but they played with a lot of heart  •  Getty Images

West Indies have been a bit inconsistent, but they played with a lot of heart  •  Getty Images

Of all the things we were not expecting at this Women's World Cup - England to lose their first three games and qualify for the semi-finals, South Africa to win four matches under pressure in the final over, New Zealand to crash out at home - West Indies beating Australia must now be on top of the list. And who can blame us?
In 14 ODI meetings between the two teams, West Indies have only won one and that was nine years ago. While Australia marched into the final four unbeaten and mostly unchallenged, West Indies can consider themselves fortunate to be here after they were left to rely on other results to push them through. And of the inconsistent batting performances West Indies have put on at this World Cup, their blow-out against Australia - when they were dismissed for 131 and beaten inside 33 overs - was the worst.
But those are just numbers and if you look at the West Indies campaign it hasn't really about that. It's about heart. "The girls are still in good spirits. We always have that never say die attitude," Deandra Dottin said after their washout against South Africa, which took their fate out of their hands. "We had a good start to the tournament and it's just about taking the positives from there."
West Indies beat hosts New Zealand and defending champions England in their first two matches, in the process also notching up their first wins in New Zealand and taking the early lead. But they could not sustain their performances and went on to collapse against India, Australia and Bangladesh. "We've played good cricket but just at certain stages when it comes to the batting, we didn't put good runs on the board," Dottin said after the South Africa match.
And that's putting it lightly.
West Indies only have one player, Hayley Matthews, who has scored more than 200 runs in the tournament (the other three semi-finalists all have at least two) and four other contributions of fifty-plus in an innings. By contrast, Australia have two centuries and eight fifties among their line-up; England have one century and seven fifties and South Africa have nine fifties. Their middle-order has been particularly problematic with Shemaine Campbelle holding things together but apart from Chedean Nation's 49* against England and Stafanie Taylor's fifty against Australia there's been little else.
Based on those performances, it's not surprising that the odds were stacked against West Indies progressing to the final four, even before the weather intervened in their games against Pakistan, which they lost, and South Africa, which didn't see any play. West Indies knew they still had a chance to get through but didn't really seem to think they would. Taylor said she "went on vacation for three days," after the South Africa game.
But the team gathered together to watch South Africa play India and could not contain themselves when India lost in the final over, opening the door for them to progress. "Us waiting on those results was pretty nerve wracking," Matthews said."We knew we were in a tight spot and results had to go our way. The result was pretty nerve wracking but then it was just pure ecstasy at the end."
The only poker face in the room was Taylor, who has become a meme after she sat to one side with her arms folded while her team-mates celebrated around her. Was she more subdued because she'd realised their next opponents are the table-toppers? Or is it just the way she is? "Everyone was making a lot of noise and I am not one of those people who get all excited and jumpy-jumpy like that," Taylor said. "You have to have somebody there who turns out to be the calm one and it turned out to be me."
But Taylor admitted she was emotional in her own way. "I didn't even sleep last night," she said. "I'm just overwhelmed and in disbelief that we made it to the semi-finals."
She's not the only one. In fact, Matthews is pretty sure everyone felt that way. "No-one had us in their semi-final spots. To be able to come here and exceed expectations, even just reaching the semi-finals, has been amazing, being able to beat some of the bigger teams was massive on our list and we were able to do that. I'm just really happy that we were able to get to the semi-finals."
She later tweeted that a year ago "we were so far off something like this & completely written off." In the last year, West Indies have lost home and away series to South Africa but beaten Pakistan home and away. They did not qualify automatically for the World Cup and participated in the aborted qualifiers in Zimbabwe. Matthews is correct when she says that they were off being considered among the top four women's ODI teams going around but here they are. On the brink of something even more special if they become the only team to beat Australia at this event and advance to the final. We might not expect it, but we know what happens to expectations.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent