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Hayley Matthews: 'T20 leagues have played such a big part in the changing standard of the game'

Ahead of hosting England for ODIs and T20Is, the West Indies captain talks about her WBBL experience and her desire to become a power-hitter

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Hayley Matthews is currently the No. 1 allrounder in ODIs  •  Hagen Hopkins/ICC/Getty Images

Hayley Matthews is currently the No. 1 allrounder in ODIs  •  Hagen Hopkins/ICC/Getty Images

When you make an international debut at 16 and win a World Cup at 18, it probably doesn't seem that unusual to be a national captain by 24. But of two teams? That's more than most players can ever dream of.
Last July, Hayley Matthews led Barbados at the Commonwealth Games and in September, she captained West Indies for the first time.
"Growing up, when I thought of being an international player, captaining the team was really big on my list," Matthews says from Antigua, where she is preparing for West Indies' limited-overs series against England, starting with the first ODI on December 4. "It's been a huge honour to be given the responsibility of leading the team and the team has supported me really well from the outset."
That includes the former captain Stafanie Taylor, who was stood down from the role by the Cricket West Indies board in June. Far from creating any awkwardness, Taylor's presence in the side has helped the transition. "She has played a major role in how smoothly things have gone over the last couple of months," Matthews says. "Everything has been going great so far and I am just loving the job at the moment."
Except everything is not exactly going great for West Indies, who last won a series a year ago in Pakistan. Since then, they have lost to South Africa away and to New Zealand at home, and seen the departure of senior player Deandra Dottin, who retired from international cricket to pursue opportunities in T20 leagues.
The last of those is a circumstance West Indies are more familiar with than any other team, and Matthews believes it's on the administrators to create clear windows and avoid conflicting competitions.
"It has a lot to do with disparity in payment when it comes to playing international cricket or franchise cricket. Boards have to try to take steps to make sure players are happy playing both. Once those windows are created, it helps create a bit of balance, we can get a bit of both in."
Matthews, the top-ranked allrounder in ODIs and No. 2 in T20Is, knows the importance of being versatile in that way only too well. She was picked up in the inaugural edition of the Big Bash by Hobart Hurricanes, a year before her heroics at the 2016 World Cup, and has been part of the tournament ever since. In fact, she missed West Indies' training camp, arriving in Antigua straight from Melbourne, where she was Renegades' leading run-scorer this season and their stand-in captain for the last two games.
Although Renegades finished seventh out of eight teams, Matthews still regards the experience as a career highlight and believes the WBBL has set the benchmark for other leagues.
"It's one of the highest standards of competitions in the world. It's a great experience to go down there, play some cricket, learn some more and even lead in those two games at the end of the season - those were all experiences for me to take in," she says. "Australia have had eight seasons of WBBL and it shows in their [international] performances and how they are leading in world cricket. The quicker we can get the other boards and teams to really come forward and build a strong franchise system, the smaller the gap is going to be."
West Indies have already got on board and held the first women's CPL, preceded by the 6ixty (ten-overs-a-side), this year. Matthews captained Barbados Royals, who won the 6ixty and reached the final of a four-team CPL. She thinks the addition of these tournaments will help West Indies' players develop in the same way as Australia's have. Specifically, Matthews thinks the pace at which the game is played and the amount of runs scored has increased markedly from eight years ago.
"The difference in the scores from when I started playing international cricket to now is massive. Now, when you set 145 in a T20I, you know the other team is in with a shot. Before, you would have been pretty comfortable going out to bowl to that," she says. "Kudos to the leagues - they have so much to do and such a big part to play with the changing standard of the game."
One of the things that comes with greater run-scoring is bigger hitting, which is a focal point in the women's game. Matthews has a strike rate over 100 in T20Is and has been called "one of the best players in the world" by England captain Heather Knight, but clearing the rope is a skill she wants to improve on.
"It has a lot to do with my balance and technique," she says. "I know big hitting is crucial and it's something a lot of players have been working on. Women are consistently striking at 140 or 150, so as a player you have to adapt a lot more and a lot quicker to keep up with the game."
Matthews and Knight will lead their sides against each other in three ODIs and five T20Is in Antigua and Barbados. Both formats will serve as a measure of West Indies' progress, and Matthews will be looking to add to the three wins on her captaincy record.
"We need the points for the Championship in the ODIs and to prepare for the T20 World Cup," she says, optimistic of their chances of challenging a team that swept them 5-0 in their most recent T20I series, and whom they last beat in 2009.
"England is a very good team but coming to the West Indies is always very challenging for outside teams.
"We have to come hard if we want to compete well with them. We saw a lot of players put into new positions and new roles in our team recently, which is exactly what we needed to do. Once we keep giving opportunities to players and the players keep wanting that, we should be able to see a lot of progress."
Nobody in West Indies cricket embodies that more than Matthews, who has taken just about every chance she has been given since she gave up javelin-throwing for cricket. She has risen through the ranks and been a force for so long that it's easy to think she is in the twilight of her career, but she has plenty more left.
"With so much cricket going on, you have to take it year by year. What's really good is that the Future Tours Programme has come out now. It's given me an idea of what cricket we have over the next couple of years and a good opportunity to sit down before the year starts and plan out what I am going to be doing and where I am going to be, so I can keep myself mentally and physically fit.
"It's going to be quite difficult to stay on the park all the time, but I am 100% committed to West Indies cricket as the No.1 priority. Everything outside of that, we have to schedule around it."
You wouldn't expect any less from a cricketer who played senior cricket at 12 and at double that age has only multiplied her accolades.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent