Stafanie Taylor, the West Indies captain, sat down with ESPNcricinfo to review what changed for the women's game in the Caribbean after her side won their first world title, in 2016, and what didn't. She also reflects on the impact of domestic T20 leagues on her game in an international career spanning more than a decade.
How is the health of women's cricket in the Caribbean at the domestic level?
The health is not quite that great yet. We, West Indies, recently had the Under-19 tournament and we've been working really hard to get some young buds going. I do see a few young players that, maybe in the next two years, will integrate with the seniors. I do believe [developing more] young players is the way to go; we left it too long, too late. Now we do need to start building that strength. It's good that West Indies put on that Under-19 tournament, but not much light is shed on that. We really need to try harder to get those younger players coming through. I will be 28 this year and most of the players in our side are on the latter side of the 20s. I feel because of a poor [domestic] structure, we never really had that much young talent coming through and even integrating with the senior players like myself.
How could this integration come about?
If you identify a youngster whom you believe is capable of touring with West Indies, bring in that youngster. She could play in a one-off game to get some experience. Maybe at a camp; it might be even better there given that you spend more time with the support staff, with the senior players, we could get practice games. And getting them to the camps on a consistent basis will help them develop more time. You want a pool of maybe 22 or 24, where you get more players coming in. So, make the pool a bit bigger.
The ICC recently announced plans for an age-group world tournament for girls. How well-placed are West Indies to field a quality team?
I don't think we'll struggle to put together a team because we have a decent crop of players coming through. Trinidad, for instance, has been very good with [preparing] young players; their infrastructure is quite good. Even Guyana has some young players coming through. I believe Barbados, too. Jamaica… we are getting there. From Jamaica, I think you could find four good players from the Under-19 level that could be integrated with the senior players at least in camps. We are improving step by step, but I just wish we had started much sooner.
How was the groundswell of interest used by Cricket West Indies after West Indies women's 2016 World T20 triumph?
It's pretty much the same [as before the victory], not many changes have been made, which is disappointing. You would think that after winning the World Cup things would have improved, but not much has been done.
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West Indies men also won the World T20 the same day, at the same venue.
When it comes to the men's side, things were always going to be different - because it's pretty much good or it will improve, whether it might be in terms or money or something else. It's always the talk about the guys bringing in more money or the guys bringing in the money that has to be split into different categories to facilitate women, or Under-19s, or Under-17s, Under-15s, which is sad to hear at times because the men get preference.
Have there been changes in the pay structure after the victory?
Right now, I think there are 15 players who are contracted. For the captain, it is a bit different; the captain gets an allowance. What if the player on the lower tiers, unlike me, get like US$500 a month and, say, you're the breadwinner in the family, you got to pay bills and take care of other things… it's really hard to live on that and you do that even when you give 150 percent of your life to [the team].
What suggestions would you give CWI for the women's game?
Development of young players, better payment in retainers. We'd love to have a masseuse. It's hard to be on tour for a month and get only one or two massages given you're expected to train every day, and play every other day. As much as an ice-bath is important, having massages is important, too.
If you want to improve the women's game, you've got to give us contracts at the domestic level. It's not just improving our fitness, you have to understand that people have to work. You can't just go out everyday, and play and run. You have a family you have to take care of. So if there are some kind of professional or semi-professional contracts, then you know you have to emphasise your fitness, your skills, your game - you can focus better. If you have a 9-5 job, it gets a bit difficult to improve your cricket.
Yes, it's hard. It's really hard. To get that going, we need more camps. Our domestic level is so poor… we only have about two or three weeks of domestic cricket. In Regionals, say, if it's Jamaica v Trinidad or Barbados v Guyana, the top West Indies players play against each other. But it lasts only for about three weeks. Then you get selected [for international tours], we go for camps which last about ten days before a tour, and then go off to play international cricket. We need camps outside of pre-tours, otherwise how can we improve?
What is the focus usually on during pre-tour camps?
When you go into a pre-tour camp, you pack in everything because it's just before a tour. So, you're left to do a lot in a very short period of time. You want to do fitness, you want to do strength, you want to work on cricketing skills. But if camps outside of tours, or in the off season are held, then I feel it helps improve the players' game. But it all comes down to money. You may get to hear, "We don't have money to do this, we don't have money to do that." It may be hard, but you've got to get these things going.
What is it like plying your trade in T20 tournaments like the Women's Big Bash League or Kia Super League?
I have enjoyed my time at Sydney Thunder. I like the KSL, but Sydney Thunder is bigger, you have more time, more games. A few of us girls stay in the same apartment at Thunder - Harry [India T20I captain Harmanpreet Kaur], Sam Bates, myself, and there was another player earlier, who's now gone to a different team. At Thunder, we have something called 'international nights' where the international players cook. Harry likes to cook rice maybe because likes rice or can [only] cook rice, but I am the one who mostly does all the dishes [laughs].
Last season, while playing for Western Storm in the KSL, you shared the dressing room with Smriti Mandhana, who captained you at Trailblazers, during the Women's T20 Challenge last month. How different was it to playing alongside Harmanpreet?
[Laughs] That's a good one because from a personality angle, Smriti is on the chatty side and Harry is more on the quiet side. If you go to Harry, she'll talk but she won't have have a prolonged conversation.
Harmanpreet recently spoke about awareness around mental health, or the lack thereof, in the Indian dressing room. Do conversations on the subject take place in yours?
No. And it's got to be talked about because I feel players do suffer from it. You might not get players to come out and say it themselves because if players say something, they might be looked down upon. But I feel this needs to be talked about - for people to have that free will, to open up about anything if they are willing to.
Having a sports psychologist does help. Absolutely. I struggled at one point in England, last season, and I went to JP, that's John Pitt. He would say little things to me about myself, and the following day I would feel better, work better.
Sometimes you forget how good a player you are. You can easily forget that, say, if you have two bad games and you start thinking you are not good enough anymore. He reminded me of that, and gave me a lot more insight that helped me figure out what kind of a person I am. It was good to take a personality test and find out I am more on the feeling, intuitive side. I am a very feeling kind of person; knowing that has also helped me as a captain because I am now fine with giving myself to go with my feeling, rather than relying simply on strategy.
What did you make of the Women's T20 Challenge?
Exhibition games are quite good; these were proper T20 games, with great crowds and good quality cricket. If not having enough Indian players [in the domestic pool] is something the Indian board thinks will be a hurdle in expanding the tournament, it should be emphasised that it's not important to have the same thing as the men. If, say, each team has five overseas players, and you increase the number of teams and games, it could help grow the league because there are enough quality international cricketers. It can be competitive, the Indian [uncapped] players can grow. I've seen Harleen [Deol, the 20-year-old batting allrounder]… she's amazing. I sat and watched her, went out there and batted with her, she's got that flair, a very good talent for India.
How has playing in these leagues benefited you?
Other than just the cricket, the experience in these leagues help you grow as an individual. I remember I never used to really talk about my game before to anybody. Having meetings in that environment at Sydney Thunder forced me to do that. I used to find it as a weakness - talking about your game because you're so passionate about it that sometimes you shed tears, your voice gets deeper because you are crying inside. But the first time I got to do that… it wasn't easy, but it felt good (smiles). I felt like it's okay to talk about my game, sharing that wherever I go, especially back to the West Indies because at the West Indies level, we don't talk about our game, and I feel like that's a big part.
What kind of impact has it had on your captaincy?
Communication-wise, these leagues have had an impact on me. As much as I am the leader for West Indies, you are dealing with and creating other [potential] leaders as well. It's not just seeing myself as a leader, but having more leaders around me, to help me lead. The girls at Thunder are quite good, and I get to lead meetings at times… that helps.
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo