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Feature

The varied architects of a hard-fought West Indies win

A young mother, a hard grafter and a flamboyant allrounder all delivered when it mattered

S Sudarshanan
S Sudarshanan
18-Mar-2022
Afy Fletcher mock dials her seventh-month-old  •  ICC via Getty

Afy Fletcher mock dials her seventh-month-old  •  ICC via Getty

Afy Fletcher was into her sixth straight over - and West Indies into their 13th since their last wicket, defending 140 - when she got the better of Fargana Hoque. It was not the generous flight by the legspinner which enticed the well-set Hoque into a false shot that grabbed the spotlight, but what played out after that.
Fletcher ran towards covers, took out an imaginary phone from her pocket to mock-dial her seven-month-old on a video call to say, "Hi baby!" with a wave and a gleam in her eyes. Irrespective of where your allegiance lay, it was a moment that would have brought a smile to your face.
Fletcher returned to international cricket after maternity leave during the home series against South Africa in February, but played just the one match. In the two warm-up matches ahead of the Women's World Cup, she remained wicketless. It then took West Indies five games to get Fletcher into the playing XI, but now here she was in the thick of the action.
"I thought Afy was brilliant (in her) first (World Cup) game back after giving birth," captain Stafanie Taylor said after the match. "She has been working really hard in the nets. Really pleased she came out on top."
In the over after she dismissed Hoque, Fletcher showed why she is rated highly. First an authentic legbreak got the better of Rumana Ahmed as she was caught behind, before a wrong 'un left Ritu Moni clueless next ball. Though she couldn't get the hat-trick, her ten overs - bowled at one go - resulted in three wickets for 29 runs and, more importantly, broke the back of the chase.
"You look at women in sport nowadays and you see so many changes happening," Hayley Matthews said later. "It's been fantastic that she's been able to go out, become a mother and come back. It speaks for her dedication at her age - being 30-something at this point.
"It is becoming more of a regular happenstance that women can leave the game, give birth and come back to it, knowing that they have that support around her. It's brilliant to have her back, we saw the class that she is and we expect only good things from her going forward as always."
Matthews herself delivered a Player-of-the-Match performance, with career-best ODI figures of four wickets for 15. She is currently the joint-leading wicket-taker at the tournament, with ten scalps, and among the top five run-getters as well.
"Over the last year or so, I was able to understand a lot about bowling offspin in certain situations," she said. "(I have been) working on my technique, getting my hand coming from a bit higher, trying to get as many revs as possible. What's more important for me is to control where I am pitching the ball. As a tall girl, helps me get a bit more bounce as well."
That Matthews bowled the opening over in West Indies' defence of 140 speaks about Taylor's faith in her and she backed it up with a wicket off the fifth ball, trapping Shamima Sultana in front.
"Looking at the wicket, we saw how well their spinners bowled," Matthews said. "The conditions definitely suited spin. So we figured that if we get a spinner there in as early as possible, it would be really helpful and hopefully pick up some early wickets. I am just the one the team went for and it worked pretty well."
Matthews, Fletcher and Taylor picked up all ten wickets between them, making it the first instance of spinners claiming all ten in a Women's World Cup match. It perhaps wouldn't have got to a stage where the trio could put pressure and inflict damage on Bangladesh, had it not been for Shemaine Campbelle's gritty innings.
West Indies were 48 for 3 when the wicketkeeper-batter walked in and soon found themselves 70 for 7. At that time, Campbelle was on 15 off 63 balls, 52 of which were dots. However, she stayed put and scored her second half-century in this competition, in the process helping West Indies get to a total which had looked way beyond their reach at one point.
"At that point we really needed our batters to stand up and she did really well," Matthews said, heaping praise on Cambelle. "She's the type of person who can catch up and get the runs towards the end of the innings. She realised what was more important and that was her spending time in the middle, and she did exactly that. Some people will say the strike rate was pretty low but at the same time we were in a bit of a trouble. She just did what we needed her to do."
While West Indies have flexed their bowling muscle well to churn out three wins in five matches and move to the third spot on the points table, they will know it is time for their batting to come good to truly make this World Cup a party.

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo