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Back at the top of the order, Hayley Matthews proves she's still got it

She's had a patchy run since the 2016 T20 World Cup final, but on Friday, the West Indies allrounder put in a performance to remember against New Zealand

Annesha Ghosh
Annesha Ghosh
Hayley Matthews celebrates her classy century, New Zealand vs West Indies, Women's World Cup 2022, Mount Maunganui, March 4, 2022

Hayley Matthews hit 119, as West Indies won a thriller by three runs  •  Getty Images

It was almost as if Hayley Matthews was sending out a message in the first five overs of the 2022 ODI World Cup opener: "Save the legs, I'll do it in fours."
After all, at one stage, she had raced to 21 in 15 balls, just one of those runs not a boundary.
Almost like she was asking us to remember her name, and her range, that was most memorably on view that day six summers ago, which you probably remember for another name.
On April 3, 2016, just hours before Carlos Braithwaite scripted a heist for the West Indies men's team, fellow Barbadian Matthews, too, had achieved cricketing immortality. With a 45-ball 66 in the final of the Women's T20 World Cup, she unseated Australia from the T20 throne, thwarting their hopes of a fourth straight title in the format.
One of the narratives that emerged on that heady April evening of West Indies' twin T20 World Cup triumphs in Kolkata was of Matthews' likely dominance on the international stage in the foreseeable future. She was clearly destined for even bigger things, for herself and for her team.
In the six years since, West Indies have somewhat fallen short of expectations that 2016 T20 World Cup-winning campaign set for them. They made the 2018 T20 World Cup semi-final at home but crashed out in the league stage in the 2020 edition, and their performances in the 50-over format especially have been on a downward spiral. Since their 2016 high, they have won 22 of their 49 T20Is and tied one; in ODIs, they have won 18 out of 55 games, including the win on Friday over New Zealand, and tied two.
"I guess our batters probably like the shorter format of the game and find it more exciting," captain Stafanie Taylor had said before the latest World Cup when asked why West Indies, finalists in the 2013 edition, have struggled to get going in ODIs more recently.
Inconsistency has long been Matthews' problem, too. In the last 20 T20Is, for example, she has a high score of only 32. Having debuted in ODIs in 2014, she made three fifties in her first three matches, but she has made 50 or more only seven times in the 58 innings that followed. More recently, after an unbeaten hundred against Pakistan at home last year, she scored only 12 runs in five innings as opener, following which she was pushed down to No. 5.
In the opening match of the World Cup on Friday, Matthews was back in the opening position but only because the regular opener, Rashada Williams, was out, recovering from concussion. Partnering Deandra Dottin, Matthews scored 16 in her first four scoring shots to set the tone for her maiden ODI World Cup century.
"Obviously, I've been shuffled around the order a little bit over the past maybe eight or nine months. But at the same time, I think my job is to do as best as I possibly can for the team wherever they need me," she said after West Indies' thrilling three-run win over New Zealand in Tauranga. "When I got the call yesterday that I had to go up the order, it was just about me going out there and doing as best as they possibly could. And, yeah, I got some (runs) today."
"You talk about playing on the biggest stage, you talk about World Cups... To be able to put on a really good all-round performance obviously means a lot to me"
Matthews on leading her side to an opening victory in the World Cup
Pivotal to West Indies' total of 259 - their third-highest score in a 50-over world tournament - were Matthews' three fifty stands in the middle-order - with Taylor, Shemaine Campbelle and Chedean Nation. Along the way, she struck 17 boundaries, with a solitary six, measuring 75 metres, against Sophie Devine.
"Initially, going out there to open, I probably thought I try to take it a bit steady, obviously; [I] haven't opened the batting in a couple of months," she said. "But when we got out there and saw how good the wicket was playing, I was able to capitalise without trying too much.
"That's pretty much how I just played my whole innings - taking it ball by ball, setting small targets with my partner, always looking for partnerships. That happened to work really well and then we were able to push pretty hard at the end."
Asked of her up-and-down batting performances across limited-overs formats since the 2016 T20 World Cup final, Matthews said, "I feel like that's what I've been doing over the last couple of years. Maybe I guess some people might say I haven't hit the expectations I've wanted to.
"But at the same time, I feel like over the last one year or two, I've really been able to improve. Yeah, just show what it takes, and yeah, hopefully I can continue doing that."
It wasn't only with the bat that Matthews left a mark in West Indies' final-over victory, twice pegged back as she was through the day by a hamstring niggle.
First, Matthews dealt New Zealand a critical blow with the wicket of the in-form No. 3, Amelia Kerr. Her bowling forearm strapped with Kinesio tape since the start of New Zealand's chase, Matthews pushed Kerr deep into the crease with just her second ball and trapped her lbw for 13. Later, in the 35th over, she had left-hander Brooke Halliday caught at first slip, the mix of Matthews' high-arm action and generous revolutions in her offspin too good for the New Zealand No. 7.
An innings of 119, and 2 for 41 with the ball from ten overs: did she ever have a more memorable all-round outing?
"Probably not," she said. "I think you talk about playing on the biggest stage, you talk about World Cups. First game, obviously - really, really big for us against the home team. To be able to put on a really good all-round performance obviously means a lot to me and even more to the team seeing that we got the win."

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha