Monday, 18 February 2013

The Fab Four & Jodie Fields Forever

Southern Stars
ICC World Cup Winners
There is something to be said for planning and a lot to be said for the way Cathryn Fitzpatrick does it. Overseeing the Australia Women's team at the 2013 World Cup, every detail has been thought through and executed. If the loss to the West Indies before the final was a manipulation to guarantee an easier opponent, then the message from the sheds to Australian captain Jodie Fields had only one source.

As a result, Australia are world champions again. Last year they lifted the World T20 cup. They are so good, old stagers like Lisa Sthalekar just don't want to stop playing. Of course, the other contributing factors are the brilliant on field tactics and leadership of Jodie Fields and the spirit that runs like blood between these women, coursing through arteries to re-oxygenise effort under the heaviest strain.

They are indeed the Southern Stars and girls right across Australia can look up to them for inspiration and the courage to know that anything is possible.

Australia was far too good for the West Indies.

From the first minutes when Meg Lanning creamed Tremayne Smartt through cover and then back cut her past third man, this was Australia's day. Lanning hit 6 boundaries in her brisk 31 as Rachel Haynes (Fab No 1) stood firm for the innings to build. The left hander swept against the never ending parade of spinners and her 25 over stay placed Australia on the launch pad.

Jess Cameron 75 off 76
Jess Cameron (Fab No 2) was outstanding. Taking her time to get the pace of the wicket, she accelerated mid innings as runs mowed down balls faced. Australia's Belinda Clarke Medallist looked to have a first ODI hundred sitting on a nearby shelf simply waiting for her to have the moment to pick it up but it was not to be. With Australia tearing along at five an over, she impetuously pulled Shanel Daley to Kyshona Knight at deep mid wicket and her chance had past. She won't forgive herself but for the rest of us, so wrapped up in the brilliance of the strokeplay, we were just selfishly disappointed.

Mid innings and the expected appearance of Deandra Dottin at the bowling crease was a no show. A close watch of her running with freedom and throwing flat and hard failed to provide a reason but there must have been a compelling complaint to prevent the allrounder from bowling. Instead, Shaquana Quintyne delivered ten exquisite overs worthy of any veteran champion but coming from a shy 17 year old, it was an astounding performance. When Cameron left, Australia lost 4-28 in 8 overs and dreams of 300 dissipated largely because of Quintyne's accuracy as she removed Sthalekar and Sarah Coyte.

If the wheels weren't off, they were in very bad balance until Jodie Fields (Forever) and Elyse Perry (Fab No 3) added 50 off the last 40 balls. Not only did it take the target well beyond the West Indians but it gave the Australians a impetus to take into the field. They finished like they started.

West Indies started slowly against Megan Schutt and Julie Hunter.

Much had been made of the fact that the sensational youngster Holly Ferling had been omitted despite taking 9 @ 10.5 in this tournament and that Elyse Perry had come back into the side under an injury cloud. It wasn't Perry who held her at bay for the final but Julie Hunter. Cathryn Fitzpatrick must have struggled in deciding between the two. Champions, even half fit, have to play in the big games, so Perry was always going to play but Hunter's glory days are dwindling.

Ellyse Perry
When Perry took the ball, she twice baulked in the delivery stride before her first ball was bowled. All was not well. A limp was easily discernible. Fields looked to the stands, clearly worried. She ran from behind the stumps to check on her fast bowler. The big question wasn't whether she would have an impact but whether she could finish an over.

Three overs later, Perry had 3-2, among them Stafanie Taylor, last year's ICC women's player of the year. The same Taylor who had blasted 171 of 137 ten days ago. She was one of two Australia had to get. Champions are as champions do.

Then an odd thing happened. With West Indian captain Melissa Agulleira at the crease with Kyshona Knight and their 3-57 being scored at less than three an over, Knight was suddenly and inexplicably injured the next ball after a mid pitch conference with a runner from the dressing room. She appeared unbothered by the single she had taken but looked up the pitch and dropped to the deck, retiring hurt minutes later. How opportune that the next batter in when she retired hurt was Deandra Dottin, the tournament's super hitter with a strike rate of 136. Convenient?

Sthalekar bowls Dottin
For a couple of overs, Agulleira and Dottin rained sixes but Fields just bought Perry and Sthalekar (Fab No 4) back. The veteran off spinning all rounder got both of  them by varying her pace and they were both done by flight.

Kyshona Knight returned at then end, batting and running unimpeded.

Others cleaned up the tail, including Schutt, whose two wickets made her the tournament's leading wicket taker.

As the Australian's stormed through the broken West Indian barricades, a delightfully upbeat Holly Ferling was interviewed on the boundary. Her effervescence provided stark revisionism of Janis Iain's view of life at 17. "Being here is enough. G'day Mum and Dad. This is very cool". Looking very much the part of a Queenslander, the appropriate lingo could only deem she was "stoked".

Read the Ferling article and interview on ESPNCricinfo for confirmation.

Us old blokes don't often care much about our age but if going back would gift me that enthusiasm and optimism, it might almost be worth the journey.

Forget the Poms, the best team won.

POSTSCRIPT
Lisa Sthalekar has announced her retirement from international women's cricket following the Southern Stars stunning triumph in Mumbai. She leaves the game as one of its most successful and highly decorated players, holding benchmarks and firsts no one else will achieve.

Born in India before coming to Australia during her childhood, winning the World Cup in the country of her birth, surrounded by new young talent, has provided Sthalekar with the perfect trigger to retire.

Her stunning catch to end the game and ultimately her career, was the stuff of fairy tales.

thecricketragics has often decried journalists who make comparisons between Australia's cricket genders but it's impossible not to imagine how much more graceful Ricky Ponting's end might have been if he had accepted his last World Cup hundred as the final chapter and not wandered on through postscripts.

Lisa Sthalekar will always be among our best, on skill alone but her grace under pressure, the ferocity with which she competed and her understanding of the role of custodian have offered so much more to Australian cricket that results. It's to her example young cricketers - female and male - can turn to know what the game expects of them.

She's left the game better than when she came to it. Despite this natural imperative, there are too few who it can be said of with such confidence.