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Relieved Hayley Matthews breaks West Indies' cycle of woe

A T20I win has been a long time coming for the team, and while Friday's was far from perfect, it was a start - as their talismanic captain put it

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Hayley Matthews lets out a roar after West Indies end their 15-match losing streak in T20Is  •  ICC via Getty Images

Hayley Matthews lets out a roar after West Indies end their 15-match losing streak in T20Is  •  ICC via Getty Images

West Indies had not won any of their last 15 T20Is. Not even the one they tied in 20-overs because they lost that in a Super Over to New Zealand in October 2022. The last time they won a series was 18 months ago, in June 2021, when they beat Pakistan at home. Their only other bilateral triumph in the last four years came against Ireland. Since winning the T20 World Cup almost seven years ago, they have been defeated in 60% of the matches they've played.
So when Hayley Matthews sliced her opposite number Laura Delany over cover for the four that completed a successful chase in their third T20 World Cup group match, she roared with the delight of someone who had done much more than simply keep a slim semi-final hope alive. She seemed to scream away the disappointments, the frustration and the burden she has carried since she was named Player of the Match in the final at Eden Gardens when West Indies beat Australia in 2016.
Poetically, she had scored 66 that night, exactly the same number of runs as she did this night. West Indies are unlikely to challenge for the trophy but the role Matthews plays in the side remains unmatched. In the absence of Stafanie Taylor and Deandra Dottin, who also contributed to the 2016 champion run, her worth to the side is amplified.
Much like Bangladesh's Nigar Sultana and Sri Lanka's Chamari Athapaththu, Matthews often has to carry her team alone and, just as those two have said, she doesn't mind. "As captain and one of the most experienced batters, I expect to go out there and take on a certain role and shoulder responsibility," Matthews said after the win. "The last couple of games we've played it hasn't worked but today I was able to execute."
In reality, it is more than just a couple. West Indies have lost to New Zealand, England, South Africa and India in the last six months, all by big margins, and talk of the decline of their women's team remains rife. For Matthews that analysis needs contextualising. "We had a long run of games against opposition that were all ranked higher than us. And at the same time, we suffered so many injuries in every match. We were almost struggling for players."
Even for this game, West Indies were without Taylor, who was stretchered off the field on Wednesday with a recurrence of the back injury that had kept her out, and Chedean Nation, who has been ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury. On the back of losses to England and India, and against an Irish side well set on 72 for 1 after 11 overs, West Indies could easily have slipped up.
That's when Matthews showed her hand. She brought herself back on in the 12th over and even though it began expensively with a no-ball six, it seemed to have a calming effect on the side. In the next over, Shamilia Connell had Olga Prendergast caught at extra cover and triggered an Ireland collapse. They lost 8 for 46 and failed to reach 150, which would have been a competitive score, and West Indies believed the game was theirs to win. "If we could restrict them to under 140, we knew we'd be in a pretty good position," Matthews said.
She gave credit to offspinner Karishma Ramharack, who took 2 for 18 in her overs, and bowled the 14th and 16th overs in which she conceded just seven runs. "She held the team together when everything wasn't going well, so kudos to her."
Exactly the same could be said about Matthews herself, although not without a little bit of luck. She was dropped on 8 at backward point and then called her ball-watching partner Rashada Williams through for a run that ended up in her dismissal. West Indies could have unravelled from there, and many times afterwards, but Matthews kept her cool. "We knew if we could carry one set batter to the end, we could get there," she said.
But it was only right at the end, when two more chances had been put down and another run-out effected, in the final over, that West Indies scraped over the line. It was error-ridden and unconvincing but that doesn't matter to Matthews. "It's good to get that win on the board," she said. "Some people may say we should have won more convincingly against Ireland - not taking away from them but our standards are pretty high - but for us it's about getting that first win. In sport, once you get the first win, it gets a bit easier to get the second and the third."
West Indies are now targeting a second win, over Pakistan on Sunday, to end the tournament with the knowledge that things have not slipped as severely as the statistics since the 2016 win suggests. "We've just got to keep believing. We knew England and India would be a challenge and these last two games would be a real test of where we are as a team," Matthews said. "These two games are the two most important for us to leave this World Cup with some pride and some respect."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket