Sunday, 17 February 2013

The Perfect Tournament?

Melissa Aguileira & Jodie Fields
With the preliminaries finished and their toughest rivals consigned to a battle for minor placings, Australia enter the final of the Women's World Cup at Brabourne Stadium as the warm favourites.

Along the way to the final, they have played no knockout games, for such is the manner of the competition that winner take all doesn't apply until the final. Eight are reduced to six, are reduced to two solely on the basis of a round robin system. This has made for interesting results.

The Southern Stars went into the tournament, despite being five time winners, as equal second favourites. Short priced to defend the World Cup they won down under were England, led by the immaculate Charlotte Edwards, whom many consider the finest player in the history of the game. Those of us below the equator might like to argue the toss, with Belinda Clarke and Karen Rolton being persuasive counterpoints. Regardless, Edwards has become the highest run scorer in the history of women's ODI cricket and added another two centuries to he tally in this tournament.

New Zealand sat equal second in the betting, a phrase one considers seriously before using it with its prior flippancy, thanks to a spiteful acronym which has led us all to doubt of champions with magnifying glasses. The Armstrong spectre has ghosted its way beyond where it was first spoked. The Kiwis had played well in ODI's and T20's against the Australians in the previous few months and on the Southern Stars turf.

To get to the final, Australia beat both England and New Zealand in compelling games. At Cuttack, the Kiwis were bested when Meg Lanning matched duel international Suzie Bates hundred with one of her own and in Mumbai, England failed to chase an Australian total that was never enough but kept coming again and again as champions do. Erin Osbourne claimed the last wicket after the final pair had added 31 of the 34 they needed.

Holly Ferling 9 wickets at 10.5
So it has been for the Australians, who have bowled well and to tight regimes, especially in the middle and late overs. Megan Shutt and the 17 year old rookie Holly Ferling, have taken wickets with aggressive new ball tactics and then Julie Hunter, Lisa Sthalekar and mostly Osbourne have strangled the life out of batting line ups. Three or four down early, the effort to dominate the niggardly middle of the innings bowlers has been too much for all. Australia's batting has been sporadic and unreliable, with Rachel Haynes clearly the best but the bowlers have saved the batsmen time and again. Who, from the bowlers union, would say it has ever been otherwise.

So disciplined are the Southern Stars under Jodie Fields, that an odd thing may have happened in the last round of matches. With England playing New Zealand and the winner a likely finalist, Australia may well have manoeuvred the result to best suit the objective of the tour. After all, the prize is the World Cup and despite beating both previously, they obviously present a hard nose to tap into submission than Melissa Aguilleira's West Indians. With scores from other matches on display on ground scoreboards, Australia chasing a Deandra Dottin inspired 164, needed 35 from 67 deliveries, with captain Fields and vice captain Alex Blackwell at the crease, established and in control.

Staffanie Taylor
Six were lost for 26 in ten overs, including two laughable run outs, West Indies won and England and New Zealand were shut out. Deliberate? If it was, it will never be admitted but where's the shame if they tanked? Steve Waugh did it in a men's World Cup, ordering a go slow win to lower his side's tournament run rate and play a more favoured opponent in a semi-final.

The Southern Stars are here to win.

What of the West Indians? Can they break through in the middle overs and dominate the Australian bowlers in a way no one else has been able too. After all, the Australian Achilles heel is their brittle middle order and their run rates have been added by a couple of easy wins. Too often they have been bowled out below par in this tournament, so a total of 200 by the West Indies would likely be enough.

Deandra Dottin
Aguilleira's trumps are the all rounders Staffanie Taylor and Deandra Dottin, the only two batters with strike rates above 100 and more than 200 runs for the tournament. Dottin has only faced 150 balls in her six matches and has 204 runs, including 10 sixes. Her 60 against Australia saved her side, with 46 of it coming inboundaries. Taylor has the highest score of the tournament (171 off 137 v Sri Lanka) and is a murderer of slow bowling. Both bowl well, taking important wickets. Their are others who play supporting roles but remove Taylor and Dottin cheaply and much will have been done to secure the win.

Aguilleira was told the media that the Caribbean women haven't hit their straps yet and given their slow start to the tournament that may be right. After all, they lost the opening game of the group matches to India and only just qualified for the Super Sixers following a mauling by the Three Lions. They can win this final but only Taylor and Dottin can beat the Australian A-game.

It's ebullience and effervescence against experience and ice cold strategy.

The head says Southern Stars and my green and gold heart screams agreement but my gut loves to see sheer brilliance shine through occasionally.

This will be cricket worth staying up for.