World T20 talking points: Let's have better pitches and flexible boundaries
The tournament was a grand success but there are ways in which it can be improved upon
As they say in parts of the Caribbean… party done.
The first standalone Women's T20 is now part of cricket's history. In some ways an outstanding celebration of women's place in the sport and, in others, a set of markers showing both how far the game has come and how much further it could - and should - go.
So what worked and where can improvements be made?
Low and slow is never the way to go
Let's shout it loudly for the people in the back row and then repeat it until their ears beg for blessed relief: if pitches are important to the men's game, they are 10, 20, make it an even one hundred times more important for women. This simply can't be emphasised enough and should be the first topic discussed for major women's tournaments and series.
This competition was a mixed bag: there were decent runs to be made in Guyana and the groundstaff in Saint Lucia were dealt a nasty hand with the heavy rain that caused one washout and a persistently soggy outfield. But it was a shame to see the climax of the tournament play out on such a slow wicket in Antigua. Sure, it challenged teams to adapt and that became a defining factor in the knockout stages. But the Women's World T20 should showcase the best the players can offer and if that is a series of paddles, sweeps and nudges for singles it's in trouble.
We know that's not the case though. Pace with the ball and off the bat encourages and enables more power-hitting and exciting play. There will always be plenty of room for spinners in the women's game and this isn't an argument against varied pitches in general. But this is a T20 tournament. Fans want to see Deandra Dottin smash a 30-ball 50 or the sublime strength of Ashleigh Gardner. They also want to see what Shabnim Ismail and Ellyse Perry can do if they have some helpful wickets to work on. How about we give them some?
Do the hokey pokey
Okay so sometimes the pitches may not be helpful to batters. In those cases why not bring the boundaries in a touch? No one wants to see women's cricket played in the space of a bread plate but if the pitches are slow they could, conceivably, be brought in from the maximum 65 metres to something that encourages batsmen to go over the top. The officials did bring the boundaries in at Darren Sammy Cricket Ground because of the wet outfield but perhaps this flexibility could be applied more generously. If you know a venue is going to be slow, bring the boundaries in. If it's going to be quick, push the boundaries out. You can shake them all about if you want but there could at least be some balancing measures to even up the contest.
The ICC used Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Darren Sammy and Sir Vivian Richards as ambassadors in their native countries of Guyana, Saint Lucia and Antigua respectively, and each former player was instrumental in stirring up interest and support through media appearances and appeals to fans. The sight of Sammy cheering on West Indies from his box in the ground that bears his name, or that of Sir Viv and Andy Roberts offering advice and support to the West Indies at Coolidge Cricket Ground was inspiring and helped connect the local women's team to the legendary teams of the past. On top of that, a social media campaign based around the idea that jerseys have no boundaries gained international traction, no doubt helped by the fact it was kicked off by Virat Kohli.
If you don't notice them, they've had a good game
So goes the cliche about umpires and if that is the marker of success then there was a very mixed bag of under-the-radar and the wrong kind of attention-grabbing. The third day of the tournament was overshadowed by controversy surrounding three penalties given for running on the pitch in two games. Whatever the technicalities of the laws and playing conditions, the 'crackdown' - if it was one - made the women's game look amateur during one of its showcase tournaments. All the teams were taken by surprise, even though the umpires reportedly discussed the issue as a problem in women's cricket. Technically it could be argued that the teams transgressed, but if there is going to be a particular emphasis on running on the pitch, time wasting, or throwing the ball back on the bounce, for example, tell the players and the coaches before the tournament. It gives them time to address any problems and save the game from descending into farce, as the India-Pakistan game did. It wasn't just that incident: at times it seemed the on-field officials were too nervous to make a call and the third official was given plenty of work. A rib-high no-ball was missed in the final and other questionable decisions became talking points, making the focus on running on the pitch seem even more laughable. It's one thing to give deserved opportunities but this is a world tournament and it deserves to have at least some of the most-experienced and best umpires officiating.
Mind The Gap
When it comes to investment and professionalism there are basically three groups in women's cricket and this is reflected by the recent FICA report into that part of the game. At the top of the pile is Australia, with its strong domestic competitions and talent pathways, followed by England. In the second group you find India, West Indies, New Zealand and South Africa, with decent central contracts for the national team but little to provide a base underneath the elite players. The rest fall into a third pool of varying benefits and financial rewards for international players who, in some cases, are only semi-professional or fully amateur. That the tournament played out largely along those lines should sound alarms. Too many games had predictable results and were one-sided. It emerged that Pakistan's players hadn't been paid their monthly retainers in more than six months while the Ireland players receive minimal financial compensation for playing. The ICC is working on expanding the women's championship and creating more opportunities for all countries to play, but while there is such contrast in investment and funding, there's a danger that gap could widen to a point where it's all but impossible to bridge.
The 2017 World Cup in England showed a women's tournament could hold its own and the West Indies experience confirmed it. This tournament had a distinct personality; the kind you'd invite to any party. For the first time every match of a women's ICC event was broadcast on television. The attendances, local media coverage, marketing, social media, and general atmosphere were all outstanding (A small caveat: it was a shame to see so few journalists representing major media outlets from the leading countries). The World T20 captured the Caribbean imagination, helped largely by the joyful performances by West Indies themselves. An impressive 10% of the populations of Saint Lucia and Antigua attended matches and the irresistibly catchy official anthem by Patrice Roberts and Shenseea, Watch This, could be heard everywhere you turned. And if it inspires a new generation of West Indies fans to fall in love with cricket again, it deserves to be hailed a success for that alone.
Melinda Farrell is a presenter with ESPNcricinfo