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The rise of the West Indies women's team: Tony Cozier


The rise of the West Indies women's team

Their World T20 title was thanks largely to their players gaining experience playing around the world, following the WICB's takeover of the women's game
Victory in Kolkata was like scaling "cricket's Everest"    Getty Images/ICC

The unforgettable six-hitting spectacle that sealed West Indies' unlikely last-over conquest of England in the men's final of the World T20 in Kolkata transformed Carlos Brathwaite into an overnight superstar.

His consecutive 6, 6, 6, 6 demolition of England's trusted "death" bowler Ben Stokes, along with his unassuming, common-sense reaction to his sudden fame, has made the strapping Bajan the subject of television interviews and newspaper columns across the globe.

Had it been someone far better known, Marlon Samuels, for instance, for his unbeaten 66-ball 85 that earned him a follow-up Man-of-the-Match award to that in the 2012 final against Sri Lanka in Colombo, the fascination would hardly have been the same as with Brathwaite, a first-timer at the World T20.

The spotlight shone brightly as well on Stafanie Taylor, captain of the triumphant women's team and Player of the Tournament. The achievement by her and her team was in many ways even more significant than that of the men.

It provided an immediate injection of confidence and interest in the women's game, which, for a variety of reasons, has taken a downward path in popularity since Rachel Heyhoe-Flint, a former England captain, spoke of crowds of up to 6000 watching their matches against Jamaica at Sabina Park in 1967. Both the men's and women's game in the Caribbean can presently only dream of such numbers. The 2016 World T20 champions can anticipate increased attendances, if not quite 6000, when they next play in the Caribbean.

They have taken the public's imagination. They arrived in Barbados to be feted with official functions, organised motorcades and tributes from the schools they attended, or, in the case of 18-year-old Player of the Final Hayley Matthews, still attend. Those who went on to their individual territories found it much the same.

The West Indies Cricket Board took over the management and development of the women's game in 2005 from the Caribbean Women's Cricket Federation (CWCF). That body had been formed in 1973 mainly through the efforts of Monica Taylor, an indefatigable former player and business executive who had set up the CWCF's forerunner, the Jamaica Women's Cricket Association (JWCA), in 1966.

Even before the World T20, the WICB awarded ten professional contracts to the women. Taylor, Matthews, Deandra Dottin and Stacy-Anne King played for franchise teams in last season's Women's Big Bash League in Australia. With no issues yet with the WICB, and with Test cricket long since off their schedule, their presence back home is not mandatory for their selection for international matches, as it controversially is for the men. It frees up others likely to attract the attention of the increasing number of overseas domestic T20 leagues. Taylor and Dottin have already been engaged for England's inaugural Women's Super League this season.

For all the obvious improvement over the increasing number of multi- and bilateral tournaments home and overseas in recent years that elevated them to fifth in the ICC rankings, the women confronted the mighty Australians, seeking their fourth consecutive title, in Kolkata. It was cricket's Everest. Through self-confidence and flair, and boosted by the support of the men, who followed them four hours later, they reached the summit.

Their ascent was a welcome surprise. A repeat by Darren Sammy's team was far less so. Eight of the 11 who overcame Sri Lanka in the 2012 final in Colombo were again involved, five with valued T20 experience in the IPL and other domestic franchises.

The furthest the women had managed to go in previous ICC limited-overs tournaments was the final of the last 50-over World Cup, in India in 2013. They had beaten Australia on their way but the Australians ruthlessly crushed them by 114 runs with the peak in sight.

To go all the way, they first had to overcome the control on the women's game of Australia, England and New Zealand, where organised women's cricket dated back to the 1920s. Those teams contested their first Tests against each other in 1934 and 1935. West Indies had a long way to catch up; significant competitions for women only began in Jamaica and Trinidad in the 1960s.

The big three contested the finals not only in the four previous World T20s but also in eight of nine 50-over World Cups before West Indies progressed to their date with Australia in Mumbai three years ago. This T20 dominance of the triumvirate extended to individuals. Those teams provided all the previous players of the tournament, as well as those with the most runs, most wickets, and the players of the final.

Now Stafanie Taylor (with the tournament-highest 246 runs, and eight wickets), Dottin with the most wickets (nine, equal with New Zealand's Leigh Kasperek and Sophie Devine), and Matthews (66 and one wicket in the final) have finally broken the mould.

Six years after her West Indies debut at 17, Taylor is ranked the top allrounder in T20s by the ICC and No. 4 in the batting list. In ODIs, she is at No. 5.

"Batterer" would be a more appropriate label for the power-packed Dottin. Her unbeaten 112 off 45 balls against South Africa in St Kitts in 2010 is the second highest score in the five World T20s; the nine sixes were the most in an innings, the 248.88 strike rate the most devastating.

Anisa Mohammed, the crafty Trinidadian spinner, is rated second in ODIs and fifth in T20 bowling, Taylor sixth. Not that they were the only ones to send West Indies to the top; it was a combined effort. Britney Cooper's 61 from 48 balls, with five fours and two sixes, set up the close semi-final win over New Zealand; spinners Afy Fletcher (7) and Shaquana Quintyne (6) were behind only Dottin as the leading wicket-takers.

It is fitting that Taylor is from Jamaica, the birthplace of her influential namesake Monica, and the island that, more than any other, firmly established the women's game in the Caribbean in the 1960s. The Jamaica association's league and limited-overs competitions, as well as the teams, were sponsored, a concept before its time. It initially led to matches between Jamaica and Trinidad, where too women's cricket was well established. Monica Taylor's next move was to set up the CWCF, which instigated annual regional competitions.

The upshot was a West Indies Test team - shorter formats would take over later - that played its first series against Australia in Jamaica in 1976, when both matches were drawn. Tours to India and England followed. There have since been several more tours to all points on the women's cricket map, following the amalgamation of CWCF into the WICB, and the ICC's concerted resolve to globalise the women's game.

The West Indies women benefited from the exposure. Kolkata's Eden Gardens produced their eventual apogee.

Rest in peace TC! :notworthy:

Lara credits Cozier's advice at 'turning point' in career

The death of Tony Cozier has been considered a loss cricket will mourn for a long time. Countless tributes have surfaced in the two days since his death due to illness in Barbados. Former West Indies captain Brian Lara, a legend of the game, also paid tribute, explaining how Cozier gave invaluable advice during a tough time in his career.

In 1998-99, West Indies were dismantled on a tour to South Africa; a tour which may not have gone ahead in the first place after Lara, captain at the time, and some of his players traveled to the UK instead of South Africa to protest against the allowances they were being paid and their unease with security arrangements. The WICB, in response, fired Lara and vice-captain Carl Hooper, and it needed an intervention from the South African board's managing director, Ali Bacher, and a series of meetings between the players, the WICB and the West Indies Players' Association in London to finally reach an accord. Lara was put in charge of the team again and South Africa whitewashed them. Only two of the five Tests went into the final day.

If West Indies thought returning home would bring them better luck, a world-beating Australian side bowled them out for 167 and 51 at Lara's home ground at Port-of-Spain in Trinidad. It was amid such tumult that Lara turned to Cozier.

"We shared a very important moment in my career, which for me was a turning point. It happened after returning from South Africa in 1999 after a 5-0 drubbing and a first-Test loss to Australia. I sought out the advice of Tony as I believed him to be the one person who had the first-hand experience to comment on where we were going wrong and what we could have done to arrest the painstaking slide," Lara told Trinidad and Tobago Newsday. "That conversation played a pivotal role in our winning the next two Test matches and drawing the series against the then best team in the world, Australia."

Lara went on to score 213 in the second Test of the series, setting up the side's ten-wicket win and followed it up with an unbeaten 153* that helped West Indies chase down 308 in a thrilling one-wicket win. Lara believed very few people may be able to replicate the steadfast dedication that Cozier had to serve the game and its fans.

"Tony was a living history book, who had the unique ability to bring to contemporary cricket commentary a deep sense of strategy and analysis, as well as decades of watching history upfront," Lara said. "He had lived it, he had worked it and he had absorbed it. That added a layer to his broadcasting, journalism and commentary that will be hard for anyone to match.

"His commentary was so descriptive, vivid, energetic and engaging, I could have visualised each ball, each over! I remember meeting Tony for the first time and it was as memorable as my first encounter with the great players at that time, such was his passion and love for the game."

Lara went on to add: "For 58 years, Tony devoted his life to West Indies cricket never once losing his passion, even amid the turmoil West Indies cricket sometimes faced.

"I offer my deepest condolences to all his loved ones. He will never be forgotten."

ESPN Sports Media Ltd.


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