There is no better time to be a women’s cricketer. There’s more playing opportunities and professionalism than ever before; more money, more interest and more attention on the game than at any time in its history and naturally, more at stake.
The T20 World Cup is among the game’s biggest prizes, and this one, the first since a packed MCG told us women’s cricket was hitting all the right notes, is particularly significant. A pandemic has come and (almost) gone since that memorable day and the women’s game suffered disproportionately because of it. FICA’s Women’s Global Employment Report noted that as tours and fixtures were cancelled over the next 18 months, only five countries – Australia, England, India, New Zealand and South Africa – maintained their pre-pandemic playing days while the rest of the ODI nations’ matches halved. In essence, this is the dividing line that defines the next phase of the professionalism of the women’s game: who gets ahead and who gets left behind. This World Cup will serve as an indicator for the lay of the land.
But it is also – and you wouldn’t ordinarily say this about a World Cup – a shop window of sorts. The WPL auction will take place on day four of the tournament, after nine of the 10 teams (Ireland are the exception) will have played their opening matches. The performances in that first round could change the lives of players who end up securing big-money deals and the WPL as a whole is likely to change the landscape of the women’s game and perhaps, even reduce the gaps in the international game which stem from differences in infrastructure and investment.
The best and the rest
As far as this World Cup goes, there’s a clear front-runner: Australia. It could turn out that the real competition will take place between England, India, New Zealand, South Africa, West Indies, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Ireland to decide who will lose to Australia in the final rather than a competition for the trophy itself. That’s not to put a damper on things but we have to be realistic and acknowledge how far ahead of the pack Australia are. FICA called them the “global leader in the women’s game,” as they’ve been to six of the seven T20 World Cup finals, won five, and they have only been beaten twice (once in a Super Over) between their 2020 T20 World Cup win and the start of this tournament.
But there is one thing that may prove challenging for the defending champions. Australia have never played a T20I in South Africa and have only toured the country for one white-ball tour – the 2005 Women’s World Cup – and yes, they won that too. That competition was held upcountry while this one will be played in the Western and Eastern Cape, venues that are completely foreign to Australia. They came in expecting pace and bounce and have been surprised by the slow nature of the coastal wickets including the tired Newlands surface where they beat India in their first warm-up match on Monday.
Australia and India are the only two teams to have been given a practice match at a World Cup venue, and it was on Australia’s request – because they play no group matches at Newlands and expect to make the semi-finals, which will both be played there – and have been given some opportunity to get to grips with the surfaces. They may not be entirely to Australia’s liking, which could tilt the balance, but probably only slightly.
As for the challengers, India, buoyed by their Under-19 Women’s T20 World Cup win and the WPL on the horizon, and England, ranked second, are the obvious candidates but don’t count out at least two others. New Zealand were the only team to beat Australia in a regular T20I in the last three years and have a good mix of youth and experience. South Africa, apart from being the hosts, are two-time semi-finalists and believe this to be their full circle moment. Their coach Hilton Moreeng is in his 10th, and likely last, year in charge and has overseen their full transition: from amateur to professional to pushing for major tournaments, and deserves a crowning moment send-off. The Dané van Niekerk saga aside, South Africa have a strong outfit with several match-winners, who will want to make the most of their opportunity to do something special in their backyard.
This time for (South) Africa
Upto the point that Shakira sang those words to open the 2010 Football World Cup, South Africa was considered a premier destination for major sporting, and especially cricketing, events. It had hosted the 2003 Cricket World Cup, the 2007 T20 World Cup, the 2009 Champions Trophy and the IPL that year. Since then, South Africa has fallen away sharply as ageing infrastructure and high-level corruption have left the country on the brink of being labelled dysfunctional. There have been rolling electricity blackouts every day since Christmas 2022 and for a record number of days last year. The World Bank ranks it as the most economically unequal country on earth and Forbes magazine has rated South Africa as the most dangerous place for female travellers. Yet, here we are.
This year, South Africa has launched its own franchise T20 league, played host to the inaugural Under-19 Women’s T20 World Cup, it’s about to host the senior Women’s T20 World Cup, and will host the Netball World Cup in the winter. The costs of keeping the lights have all been borne by the tournament organisers, with the ICC funding the generators that will be used at Newlands, Boland Park and St. George’s Park over the next two weeks. The country’s premier sports broadcaster, SuperSport, who still largely hire women in a decorative rather than substantive role, have changed their tagline to “Here for Her” in a bid to show their support for women’s sport. They broadcast more of it than ever before and given their presence on the continent as a whole, that means women’s sport is getting extensive exposure and it also affords the opportunity for South Africa to celebrate women.
It is also a chance to enjoy South Africa’s stadia, which, as Eoin Morgan told ESPNcricinfo while playing for Paarl Royals at SA20, still carry a certain charm because of the grass embankments. While grounds in other parts of the world are entirely built up, Newlands, Boland Park and St. George’s Park all retain an informal atmosphere, where picnic blankets can be laid down, umbrellas and gazebos put up and a proper party had. And there’s every chance of that happening. The Women’s T20 World Cup comes in the midst of a summer where locals have regained their love of cricket (thanks, in no small part, to that SA20) and are filling stands with a fervour not seen before. Ticket sales are said to be progressing steadily and decent crowds are expected throughout with the municipalities in Cape Town, Paarl and Gqeberha also doing promotional work.
The City of Cape Town – the municipality of the city – has taken ownership of the bulk of the marketing and on Saturday held a beachfront event, with all 10 teams present, to launch the tournament. Each captain was gifted an individual and locally significant trinket. Heather Knight got a doek (an African head scarf) and was shown how to tie it, Hayley Matthews was given a skirt, Laura Delaney got a beaded necklace and Harmanpreet Kaur, an apron, although it’s understood she does not cook. Well meaning as the City was, their item of choice for the South African captain was, let’s say, hopefully ironic rather than symbolic. Sune Luus was given a wooden spoon (and fork).
Still, there’s no better time to be a women’s cricketer, Luus confirmed at the captain’s press conference, especially a cricketer leading her team in a home World Cup.
Leave aside revenge, work towards common goal says Mathews
Rex Clementine in Dambulla
There has been a remarkable turnaround for the national cricket team in 2024 with Sri Lanka recording five series wins inside two months and have won all six games so far in the bilateral series against Afghanistan. The team has played some attacting cricket, a far cry from their World Cup campaign where players were sloppy on the field, awful with the bat and indiscipline with the ball.
Former captain Angelo Mathews, who was the star in the second T-20 International on Monday with an unbeaten 42 and two wickets, credited the new selection panel for the change of fortunes.
“The team has turned things around not with the dawn of the new year but with the dawn of new selectors. They have given lot of confidence for boys. Seem they have proper plans rather than doing things haphazardly. You see a massive difference out there with boys playing with freedom. Communication is a key aspect in international cricket. Forget about agendas, forget about differences, forget about revenge. Get together and think of Sri Lankan cricket.”
“It is all about planning. In a cycle you get two years or four years to plan things out. With the new selectors they have planned well. The new captains are doing a great job. They are giving confidence to youngsters and senior players. The guys are playing with freedom and enjoying their cricket rather than worrying about things. We are in good shape.”
Mathews was a doubtful starter heading into the game and had to prove his fitness on Monday.
Sri Lanka were struggling at 121 for five during the 15th over of the innings and Mathews reserved the best for his last taking Sri Lanka’s total to 187 for six hitting Azmatullah Omarzai for three consecutive sixes in the penultimate over.
“The plan was Sadeera to bat deep so that I could bat with freedom. Last game we didn’t bat 20 overs and it was a disappointment. Glad we got our act together. Sadeera was superb today.”
Mathews praised young Matheesha Pathirana, who was making a comeback to the side during the series and bowled some unplayable deliveries. The former captain expected a bright future for the 21-year-old.
“Facing Matheesha Pathirana at the nets is the biggest challenge. He bowls consistently at 150. It’s difficult to bowl that speed when someone is bowling straight but to bowl with that action makes things tougher. He has gained experience in franchise cricket and at 21 if you tell him to defend 12 in the last over he will do the job in nine out of ten games. He is a disciplined cricketer. We have to look after him well.”
CR sit on the rugby throne after 26 years!
By A Special Sports Correspondent
Ceylonese Rugby & Football Club (CR&FC) produced rib bruising rugby last Sunday (February 18) to end Kandy’s winning streak and be crowned as the new men’s champions in domestic rugby. The women’s tournament was won by Sri Lanka Navy.
Turn the pages of time to the launch of this tournament and there were predictions that the game would find a new winner in the men’s segment. And that’s just what the sport did. In a way these are the results that serve the game well; results that end a regime and usher in a new king. Kandy was winning it for too long and the educated spectator probably had to motivate himself to travel to the venue and catch the action when he can already predict the result while sitting on his sofa at home.
But the crowds came in their numbers to Longden Place; which is a good sign because the sport has lost a chunk of its spectators already. This is probably due to the fact that games are less exciting and ticket prices are so high. CR&FC must be lauded for many things. One is that they celebrated 100 years in rugby last year and were generous enough to open the gates free of charge for spectators at the final this year. If there are attempts to bring back the crowds to the venues and stop them from watching matches on TV or their mobile phones then CR must be given pat on their backs. Believe this writer! Nothing can beat the thrill you get out of watching a gripping rugby match through the naked eye.
Players in the likes of Adeesha Weerathunga, Lasindu Karunathilake, Manilka Ruberu, Gemunu Chethiya, Zubair Dooray, Raveen de Silva, Randy Silva and KushanTharinduhave raised their game to the next level. All these players have delivered in the try scoring department as well; apart from performing in their allocated roles without blemish. Weerathunga, a former Isipatana College schoolboy, has come of age. From his school at Havelock Town to Navy SC and at present with CR&FC he has reached a level in his playing which guarantees a berth in the national side as well as in any other domestic club side which extends him an invitation. This guy needs not be surprised if Kandy SC makes an offer for him to do a switch next season; given that the Nittawela side is struggling to put its forwards in order and is looking for a pack leader. Another player who caught the attention of spectators was Dooray for his breathtaking runs and quick thinking on the field. All on all the forwards combined well with the backs and produced a smashing 33-25 win in the Cup Championship decider against Kandy SC. In the first round game CR beat Kandy 38-26; which was by a bigger margin.
We have to talk about Dushanth Lewke, the CR&FC coach, for turning this side around. Lewke is now set to add more feathers on his cap as a rugby coach and what’s important is that he seems to have made the whole rugby set-up at CR listen to him. This probably has to be the case because when a coach gets all the support from the club and given that the players are both willing and able the result is a resounding victory. He is the son of a top cop and accomplished rugby coach Nimal Lewke, a former Senior DIG in the Police who also excelled in rugby, rugby refereeing, boxing, pistol shooting and spent the best years of his life in the war front. His son only has to concentrate on rugby. This writer doesn’t wish to compare the two individuals nor the different eras they were present in, but what has to be told must be told.
Kandy SC just couldn’t come to terms with how CR played the game in a fast, open and threatening manner. Many seasons ago they were playing this same form of rugby and had the opposition in shambles, but that was possible only with better and more accomplished players. It was Kandy’s speed that shattered the opposition, but not anymore. Take the Ratwatte brothers Nigel and Tharinda out of Kandy SC and you’ll see an outfit which can be beaten by any other side in the tournament. The Nittawela side played especially around Tharinda Ratwatte, easily the best player in the tournament and the country at present. He is an individual who has raised his game while being in a set-up which doesn’t know how to progress in 15-a-side rugby. If you analyze sides in the past like Police, CH, CR, Havies and even Air Force (during the times when a try gave a team four points and there was no lifting allowed in line outs) every side improved as the season progressed.
There were far less learning tools back then and the internet was unheard of. But people knew the intricacies of how common sense worked and also details of subtle communication methods; like the lines on the palm are read in the subject of palmistry. People or coaches were open to the ideas of others and thanks to human kind there was no smart phone to make you think you know it all. The Kandy side was not a bad side and even had one of the most experienced and seasoned campaigners in the game like Srinath Sooriyabandara. There were players like Jason Dissanayake, Dinal Ekanayake, Danushka Ranjan, Dange, Kavindu Perera, Shanushka Abeywickreme and Thilina Bandara to carry Kandy’s hope this season. But they collectively failed to lift this Kandy side one notch up. Coaches Marija and Viraj Prashantha (two rugby stars during their playing days) may be thinking hard, but hard work and application only produces a human result, not a miracle.
As for Kandy it’s now back to the drawing board for analysis and reviewing the season. Unlike in school rugby, Kandy Sports Club, which has buying power, knows how to strengthen the side when homegrown talent cannot keep the Kandy SC flag flying. It’s interesting to see how Kandy SC recovers from this big loss and looks to the future; the Clifford Cup Knockout tournament is next.
Thomians rout Trinity to clinch Ranil Abeynayake Memorial Trophy
Under 19 Cricket
by Reemus Fernando
S. Thomas’ registered crushing innings and 114 runs victory over Trinity as Nathan Caldera and Yatindra Siriwardene collected match bags of eight and seven wickets respectively to dismiss their visitors for meager totals in the traditional Under 19 cricket encounter at Mount Lavinia on Thursday.
The Thomians first win over Trinity since 2018 was achieved in dramatic fashion as they dismissed the Trinity batting line up within 19 overs in the second innings.
The win was sealed in the seventh over in the post lunch session as Thomians grabbed the last five wickets within that period. Trinity had only nine batsmen in the second innings as open batsman Dimantha Mahavithana did not bat due to an injury.
Paceman Caldera who bowled with fire in the first innings completed a match bag of eight wickets. It included an impressive five wicket haul in the first innings where he gave away just six runs.
Thisen Eheliyagoda was the star in the batting department as he top scored with 94 runs on a wicket where Trinity’s top score was Tharana Wimaladharma’s 23 runs.
64 all out in 33.3 overs (Tharana Wimaladharma 23; Nathan Caldera 5/06, Yatindra Siriwardene 5/19) and 58 all out in 18.5 overs (Nathan Caldera 3/15, Yatindra Siriwardene 2/14, Ashen Perera 2/10, Kavindu Dias 2/18) and 58 all out in 18.5 overs (Nathan Caldera 3/15, Yatindra Siriwardene 2/14, Ashen Perera 2/10, Kavindu Dias 2/18))
173 for 7 overnight 236 all out in 76.2 overs (Mithila Charles 27, Sadev Soysa 22, Senadhi Bulankulame 23, Thisen Eheliyagoda 94, Ashen Perera 26; Tharana Wimaladharma 4/47, Malith Rathnayake 4/52, Thisal Yapa 2/53)
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