Hayley Matthews kicks off ODI World Cup in style, over to others now

The West Indian all-rounder smashed a century on the opening day, setting up a perfect start for the tournament
West Indian batter Hayley Matthews (Photo | ICC)
West Indian batter Hayley Matthews (Photo | ICC)

CHENNAI: Until about 24 hours ago, Hayley Matthews was West Indies’ lead middle-order batter, whose role was to carry the team to a good finish along with skipper Stafanie Taylor. It was a job she had been doing well in the lead-up to the tournament — 281 runs and 17 wickets in 10 matches. But on the eve of the opening match of the 2022 ODI World Cup against New Zealand on Friday, Rashada Williams had to take a concussion break and Matthews was asked to open by head coach Courtney Walsh. Despite the surprise, Matthews obliged.

After the hosts opted to field first, Matthews walked out, opening. The build-up to the tournament had been massive. It was the first ICC main global event fixture since the 2020 T20 World Cup final in Melbourne Cricket Ground, which saw 86174 fans decorate the stands. All eyes were on the first game, either looking forward to it or to criticise it. If switching positions all of a sudden wasn’t enough pressure, all these factors could have weighed her down too.

But none of it was visible as Matthews toyed with the New Zealand bowling over the next couple hours to smash 119 runs from 128 balls. Perhaps, it was opening alongside someone like Deandra Dottin. Or watching Dottin smack Lea Tahuhu over cover for four on the very first ball of the innings, match and the tournament and follow it up with a couple more in the same over.

Either way, Matthews showed no nerves. Getting a low full-toss in her second ball probably helped as the all-rounder drove Jess Kerr through covers. A square-cut off a wide delivery and a pull off a short one from Tahuhu followed. These were bad deliveries. It wasn’t surprising that she was capitalising on it, racing to 12 off 10. But, on the last ball of that over, she moved back and across outside the off-stump and punched the short-of-length delivery through covers. It’s the kind of shot that makes people stop what they are doing, look up and take notice.

Hannah Rowe was welcomed with an elegant on-drive. Kerr, at the other end, had just given the hosts their second breakthrough, dismissing Kycia Knight. The very next delivery Kerr was provided ‘the Tahuhu treatment’ as Matthews creamed her through covers. A flick over square-leg followed as she was just having fun out in the middle.

Now, none of this is surprising if you had watched Matthews bat over the years. It's often a roller-coaster ride between being astonished and exasperated. There will be a couple of shots that will take your breath away, like the loft over extra-cover against Manchester Originals in The Hundred last year or the one on Friday when she launched Sophie Devine, who had given away just 6 runs in three overs, down the ground with ease. But before that even sinks in, Matthews would be back in the pavilion. Such has been the case more often than not since her match-winning effort in the 2016 T20 World Cup final.

However, having watched her score a hundred while opening the batting against Pakistan at home in July 2021 when half the world was sleeping, one could sense that this innings was different. In fact, after the match, even she felt the same. “Maybe, I guess, some people might say that I haven't hit the expectations I've wanted to but I feel like at the same time over the last year or two, I've really been able to improve and yeah, just show what I can – and yeah, hopefully, I can continue doing that,” Matthews said.

The 17-year-old Fran Jonas was the next to come under the gun. After crossing 50, Matthews smacked her between long-on and deep-midwicket thrice. It wasn’t just the free-flowing bat-swing that was on display, there were a few deft touches too as Matthews squeezed a yorker from Kerr between short-third man and gully for a four.

The one that took her past 100 was probably the most unlike-Matthews kind of shot as she nudged Devine behind square and ran a double without thinking twice, as a result ramming into Katey Martin, trying to survive a close run-out call. Matthews fell over, so did Martin, but it didn’t matter as the all-rounder got up and removed the helmet and an elated celebration followed in the direction of the dressing room.

Over the next ten deliveries, the Matthews, who takes your breath away, was on display as she jumped out and smashed Devine over extra cover and wide of mid-on, before scooping Tahuhu behind the stumps. By the time she got out, West Indies were at 220 for five in 44.3 overs.

They would go on and finish with 259 for nine, before the hosts, riding on Devine’s fighting century, came within a solitary blow of winning the game in the final over. However, Dottin defended six runs in as many balls to seal a nail-biting thriller by just three runs.

Between Australia men playing in Pakistan after 28 years, and Virat Kohli’s 100th Test in Mohali, there was too much cricket going on for the entire cricketing fraternity to look at the World Cup. But as both men’s Tests broke for lunch, and with Martin taking New Zealand closer to the target, for the last few overs, social media was buzzing about the game. And the way Dottin came on to bowl for the first time in months and took the team across the line meant that everyone’s attention had turned to the World Cup. It was the perfect start the tournament could have asked for.

However, hours before Devine’s valiant effort in the chase and Dottin’s uber cool last-over defence, it was Hayley Matthews who got the World Cup off to a flying start and set it up for the rest of them. Just like a Brendon McCullum for the 2008 men’s IPL, a Harmanpreet Kaur for the 2018 women’s T20 World Cup, or a Smriti Mandhana for the 2017 edition, this ODI World Cup needed a Matthews — someone who wasn’t even on the radar to open the batting to begin with — to start with the bang, and she delivered.

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