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Raf Nicholson

What have we learnt from the Women's World T20?

The WBBL helped West Indies but maybe not Australia. And double-headers may be redundant now

Raf Nicholson
Raf Nicholson
Deandra Dottin leaps for joy after West Indies complete their win, Australia v West Indies, Women's World T20, final, Kolkata, April 3, 2016

Did the underdog tag give West Indies the freedom to play without pressure in the final?  •  AFP

World Cups are normally a good time to get people who might otherwise simply ignore it talking about the women's game. This one has been no different. It's been a crazy few weeks, but now it's over, what are the questions on everyone's lips?
1. How did West Indies do it?
They cried when they lost their group match to England off the last ball, thinking they were going home. They damn near lost their all-or-nothing game against India. It wasn't surprising that when we ran a poll on CRICKETher a few days before the semi-finals, asking who would win the tournament, both England and New Zealand secured 44% of the vote, Australia managed 13% - and West Indies got 0%. If anyone tells you they predicted the final result, then trust me, they'd be lying.
So how did they do it? Perhaps there's something about being the underdog that gives you the freedom to go out there and bat like Stafanie Taylor and Hayley Matthews did in that final. Perhaps, in Matthews' case, it was partly the audacity of youth - why shouldn't she take on Ellyse Perry? Perhaps they simply believed in themselves as a team even when no one else did.
Either way, it has taken 43 years' worth of world events to finally produce a global tournament winner outside of Australia, England and New Zealand. And now that it has happened, it's a final - and a result - that won't be forgotten in a hurry.
2. What has happened to Australia?
No one expects the Southern Stars to lose a World Cup final. The last time it happened was back in 2000, against New Zealand.
It's not just losing the final, either. Australia came into this tournament on the back of T20 series losses to New Zealand and India. They came within a cat's whisker of losing their group match against South Africa; and they wouldn't have even been in the final at all had England not botched things up at the last hurdle.
What's going wrong? Is it just that, as Meg Lanning says, "Everyone is sort of catching up [with us]", or is it something more deep-rooted? And is this really the end of not just the "four-peat" dream, but an entire dynasty as well?
3. Is the double-header dead?
One of the most delightful aspects of Sunday's final was seeing the West Indian men's team storming onto the pitch in the wake of the winning runs being hit, to celebrate with Dottin, Cooper and the rest. And then there were those glorious photographs after the men's final, as the two sets of world champions shared their jubilance at the other's success.
They are the kind of scenes that you wouldn't see if the Women's World T20 was a separate tournament to the men's. Yet when you witness World Cup matches being played out to empty stadiums, it does sometimes feel that the double-header format has outlived its usefulness. That women's final at Eden Gardens had an almost non-existent crowd; back in 1997, when the same ground hosted a standalone women's World Cup final, the crowd was 65,000-strong. When the spectators only turn up for what they see as the main event, might the double-header actually be damaging the women's game?
As it stands, the next Women's World T20 in 2018 will be standalone. It might well be that this is the best way forward for all future women's tournaments.
4. What impact did the WBBL have?
It's interesting that there seems to be some debate about this one. Southern Stars coach Matthew Mott has implied that some of Australia's recent losses might have been due to their schedule overload as a result of the franchise tournament, saying: "I think we did come out of the WBBL quite tired."
Surely, though, it's no coincidence that the four teams who made the semi-finals of this tournament all had players featuring in the WBBL. Matthews was certainly in no doubt about the impact her stint at Hobart Hurricanes had on her performance during the final: "Definitely, coming from playing in Australia, it helped me to already know a lot of the bowlers a lot better," she said. "Also, working with coaches in Australia… really helped me a lot with my batting."
This should certainly provide a wake-up call for those boards, like the BCCI, whose players were prevented from participating, and whose women's team yet again failed to progress out of the group stages in a tournament they were hosting.
5. What's with the pitches?
Let's face it, people watch T20 cricket for a bit of bish-bash-bosh. This women's final will go down as one of the greats partly because, on a grass-topped wicket, we saw Matthews and Taylor pull off the second-highest chase in the tournament's history.
Sadly, some of the group matches didn't quite match up, and it generally wasn't the fault of the batsmen: slow, sluggish pitches made for a whole heap of low-scoring matches. As Mithali Raj put it after India's match against England, which saw England just about manage to chase down the 91 required for victory: "When you're promoting women's cricket around the globe, it is imperative that you put up the best brand of it for the world to watch. And attract people that come to the stadium. A wicket like this, where the ball is keeping low and turning square, makes the job of the players very difficult."
Personally, I quite like a more even contest between bat and ball, but it's probably true that in order to attract new fans to the game, we need to offer them the best possible spectacle - and that means providing pitches that are conducive to that. Let's try to get it right next time around.
6. Why couldn't we watch it?
Sometimes cricket Twitter speaks with one voice; it happened at least twice during this #WWT20, and both times were during England's group games. Firstly, their match against West Indies - which came right down to the last ball - and second, the game against Pakistan, which was a must-win for England in order to progress to the semi-finals. There was mass collective bafflement as to exactly why neither was being shown on television.
The ICC made a huge fuss prior to the tournament about more games being broadcast this tournament than ever before (13 in total). Great, have a pat on the back. And then reflect on the fact that the world is still missing out on being able to watch a last-ball nail-biter and a crucial group decider, all because the ICC has yet again failed to mandate that the host broadcaster must show all the women's matches.
Take a look on Twitter, Dave Richardson, and take a look at the recent viewing figures for the WBBL, and then try telling me there's no demand for a tournament that is fully broadcast, from beginning to end. Maybe, just maybe, you could try doing something about it before the next World Cup.
7. Where next for women's cricket?
Hopefully, onwards and upwards. For all the gripes, it certainly feels like this tournament has gained more exposure than any previous World Cup; and with the development of competitions like the WBBL and the forthcoming Women's Super League in England, there are plenty of reasons to feel positive.
It's important, though, that cricket boards don't just rest on their laurels. That particularly applies to the WICB. Yes, your women have just won a world tournament, but as Taylor put it, "We have to look at this as a stepping stone. We don't want to [be] stuck here. We definitely need some infrastructure, like in Australia and England… We need to start building. We need consistency to compete [against] teams like England and Australia."
Only further deep-seated investment can ensure that this West Indies win isn't just a flash in the pan. Let's hope it's forthcoming.

Raf Nicholson is an England supporter, a feminist, and has recently completed a doctoral thesis on the history of women's cricket. @RafNicholson