Hayley Matthews-led Barbados show they're not just in Birmingham to make up numbers

On international debut at Commonwealth Games, Barbados draw on West Indies experience to beat Pakistan

Paul Muchmore
Hayley Matthews and Kycia Knight celebrate a wicket  •  Getty Images

Hayley Matthews and Kycia Knight celebrate a wicket  •  Getty Images

Barbados may have been making their debut on the international stage tonight at the Commonwealth Games, but throughout their encounter with Pakistan, they showed they aren't just in Birmingham to make up the numbers.
With seven players capped previously by West Indies, six of them part of the squad that lifted the T20 World Cup trophy in 2016, perhaps it should be no surprise that they've beaten a full-member nation at their first attempt.
The island nation leant heavily on that experience - all five players who batted have represented West Indies, and five of the six bowlers used were already international players. The other, Shanika Bruce, who bowled a solitary over, was the leading wicket-taker in the latest season of the T20 Blaze.
Leading from the front in all departments was captain Hayley Matthews, the 24-year-old allrounder who anchored the Barbados innings with a 50-ball 51, bowled four tight overs, claiming 1 for 13, and effected two run-outs as Pakistan's top order stumbled, with only Nida Dar threatening to take Pakistan close to Barbados' total of 144 for 4.
Matthews will take over the West Indies captaincy from Stafanie Taylor in their next series later this year, but the Commonwealth Games has given her an opportunity to make her international debut as skipper with a group of players she has led at domestic level since 2019. While she admitted there were nerves, she was delighted to put them behind her and get a first win under her belt.
"It was electric, man," she said, "I'm always really well supported by the Barbados team. We have a special bond within the group but I really can't say much more, it was special, that's for sure."
You could forgive Matthews for feeling the pressure a bit more when Deandra Dottin fell to Diana Baig on the fifth ball of the match, caught trying to clear the infield after flying out of the blocks in true Dottin style.
While Matthews' half-century - her first in T20 internationals since May 2019 - may have been the slowest of her career, she explained it was a conscious decision to try and bat deep with Kycia Knight, with whom she built a 107-run partnership off 98 balls. The pair drew on their time at the crease together in the West Indies domestic season in June, where they were the top two run-scorers in the Super50 Cup.
"I think when we were out playing our domestic season, what we tried to focus on really hard as the top four core batting group was batting really deep in the innings and that showed today," Matthews said.
"Obviously, we wouldn't necessarily have as much depth as we usually would and experience as we usually would within a West Indies team. So backing all the other players 100%, we know that our top four or five batters are our main ones that are looking to score most of the runs, and it was really good that we were able to spend some time at the crease and bat really deep today."
While Barbados' less-experienced players may not have made their marks on the scorecard on this occasion, they displayed an energy in the field that made it hard for Pakistan to push for twos, building pressure leading to mistakes. Matthews was keen to big up their impact and importance to the team.
"I think what's really good as well is our young players, they really take in as much information as they can, try to learn as much as possible and that's exactly what you want in a group," she said. "I keep saying we have a really tight group with a lot of experience and a lot of a youth mix."
A key theme that has emerged throughout the lead-up to the Games has been the pride players are taking in being part of a wider multi-sport team and Matthews echoed that sentiment: "It's really good to know that we're represent something so much bigger now".
Barbados only have 65 athletes across all disciplines at Birmingham 2022, so the cricket team represents a large share of the nation's interest in the event. They were cheered on at Edgbaston by the netball team and "so many people" from the Barbados Olympic Association. And Matthews is well aware that the support for her team will extend far beyond the borders of her own island.
"It definitely is really special going out there representing Barbados with that badge on our shirt. But at the same time, we know the entire Caribbean is supporting us 100% and we're playing for everyone out there."
One big backer for Matthews as she embarks on her journey as an international captain is Taylor.
"She messaged me this morning actually to tell me, 'all the best, take it stride by stride', and she has been a fantastic captain for me and the West Indies team for the last couple of years and I know she's always supporting me 100 percent," Matthews said.
Next up for Barbados is a much tougher proposition - T20 world champions Australia. Matthews was realistic about their chances - the only time in 13 attempts West Indies have beaten them was in the 2016 World Cup final - but she encouraged her side to go out there and play their natural game and give everything they've got.
"Looking at Australia, we know the kind of class players and athletes that they have in their team," she said. "But at the same time, I think it's really good that we can go there with no pressure on us. No one's looking for us to win the match and I think it's going to give us a really good opportunity to be able to head out there and free up and play some natural cricket.
"We have some very special players within our team mixed with some youth players that are really full of heart and full of pride and ready to just give everything so I think that combination could hopefully help us to pull off something special against Australia as well."
With one win already on the board, one surprise victory against Australia or India could take them into the semi-finals, giving them a shot at a spot on the medal podium. If their blend of experience and underdog spirit can carry them onwards, Barbados could become one of the feelgood stories of the Games.

Paul Muchmore is ESPNcricinfo's Social media editor. @paulmuchmore