Hayley Matthews was a World Cup winner at the age of 18. The allrounder from Barbados was instrumental in West Indies beating Australia to become the fourth side in the world to win a world title. She first picked up the key wicket of Alyssa Healy and then scored 66 off 45 in the chase to guide her team home to walk away with the player of the final award.
When West Indies were looking to defend their title at home, they named the 20-year-old Matthews as the vice-captain of the side. However, things didn’t go as planned and Windies exited in the semi-final with a big loss against Australia. Matthews failed in the pursuit of yet another 140+ chase this time, with Healy running her out for five.
Matthews has always been a show stealer and it wasn’t any different when she scored a 55 on debut against Australia at the age of 16. However, that early promise didn’t always translate into performance.
On 5 September 2019, just ahead of the ODI home series against Australia, she was withdrawn from the West Indies squad on account of disciplinary charges. Subsequently, she was also stripped of the vice-captaincy.
Two months later, Matthews injured her medial collateral ligament (MCL) and was ruled out of the game for some time. West Indies didn’t play a single ODI in 2020 and they returned to the format in 2021 with a home series against Pakistan.
From her debut in 2014 to 2019, Matthews played 43 ODIs and scored 1046 runs at an average of 25.51 – including one century and four fifties – and took 45 wickets at an average of 25.31, with one four-wicket haul to her name. She was a fledgling allrounder with some impressive performances sporadically in the format.
It’s fair to say, as a senior member of the side, these numbers were underwhelming. It’s probably her bowling that kept her in the side but still she was just one among many spinners from the islands.
Since West Indies’ return to the format on July 7 last year, Matthews has played 23 matches and amassed 689 runs at an average of 31.04, while scoring two centuries. She also lit up the World Cup opener with her career-best score of 119 against the hosts New Zealand. However, the focus shifted to her bowling very soon.
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Four matches later, West Indies found themselves in trouble after they were restricted to 140 for 9 by debutantes Bangladesh. A loss there could have put their World Cup campaign in trouble with many teams crowding up the mid-table.
After coming from the high of twin wins against New Zealand and England, West Indies were brought back to ground with the losses in the India and Australia matches. They were defending a similar total against the latter when Stafanie Taylor trusted Matthews with the ball.
With her seventh delivery, Matthews snared Healy with a great reverse-cupped catch when the Australia wicket-keeper hit a full delivery back to her. Despite their best efforts, West Indies went down easily by seven wickets with almost 20 overs to spare. Matthews finished with figures of 8-2-31-1.
On March 18, a day before Matthews’ 24th birthday, at the Bay Oval, Taylor once again was looking at her erstwhile deputy to provide West Indies with an early breakthrough if they were to have any hope of defending a total of 140.
“I think looking at the wicket we saw how well their spinners bowled - the conditions definitely suited spin. So we figured that if we can get a spinner in there as early as possible, it will be really helpful and hopefully pick up some early wickets,” Matthews said at the media interaction after the match.
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Like in the Australia game, Matthews generously tossed and flighted the ball. The off-spinner had immediate reward when a slower one turned in to find Shamima Sultana in front of the stumps for a duck.
“And yeah, I'm just the one that the team went for and it worked out pretty well,” Matthews added.
In the ninth over, Matthews tossed up the ball well outside the off-stump and the ball was turning in. An indecisive Sharmin Akhter poked at it and was caught at slip by Deandra Dottin.
Matthews ended her opening spell with figures of 8-0-14-2 leaving Bangladesh at 47 for two. But her role didn’t end there and it wasn’t just about bowling her remaining two overs whenever the skipper wanted her to.
Experienced Anisa Mohammed wasn’t in the playing XI, leg spinner Afy Fletcher was making a return to international cricket after her maternity break, Karishma Ramharack was playing in just her 12th ODI, and Taylor has been going through a phase where she hasn’t been bowling much. Fair to say, Matthews was the leader of the spin attack that day.
“May be as the first spinner to bowl on the wicket, I was probably the one to do most of the assessment,” Matthews said. “Karishma coming in, she has so much control with the ball. She came to me for a bit of advice and I pretty much said we just have to kind of keep hitting stumps.”
“The ball wasn't turning massively, but one or two were. So, if we could pitch the ball anywhere around fourth stump or on off stump and get the natural variation from there it was going to work pretty well. She's a class player.”
Replacing Matthews at that end, Ramharack bowled eight consecutive overs just like the allrounder. While Ramharack didn’t pick up any wickets, she was the most frugal of the bowlers and gave away only 15 runs came from her ten overs.
“You saw her spell - she did not get any wicket, like you said, but she did exactly what we needed the time, bowled her ten overs for I think 15 runs, which is brilliant in a pressure situation like that.”
At the other end, Fletcher was relentless and bowled ten overs on the trot and wrecked the Bangladesh middle order with the wickets of Fargana Hoque, Rumana Ahmed, and Ritu Moni.
Matthews continued. “Then from the other end, Fletcher in her first game at the World Cup and it was brilliant to see her coming with her variations with so much control as well, able to pick up crucial wickets.”
At 81 for 5, West Indies were fancying the thoughts of a win but Bangladesh skipper Nigar Sultana was standing firm with experienced Salma Khatun for company. With 19 overs still to go and having already bowled Fletcher out, Taylor needed to make a decision regarding the two remaining overs of Matthews and she also had to find overs from elsewhere.
Taylor took it upon herself to keep the battle of attrition going. At the other end, she also brought Matthews back realising the danger the Bangladesh duo possessed. Second ball was a routine off-break; Nigar missed it and was hit on the pad. Umpire Paul Wilson adjudged it as not out. Taylor went for a review and the decision was reversed, much to the elation of Matthews.
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Two balls later, Matthews produced the perfect off-break that went through the gate of Fahima Khatun to clatter the stumps. “That’s as perfect as it gets for an off-spin delivery,” the commentator exclaimed.
A double wicket maiden to dent Bangladesh’s hopes.
Matthews ended her spell with enviable figures of 10-1-15-4, her career-best in ODIs, to take her wickets tally since West Indies’ return in 2021 to 33 at an average of 21.78 and an economy rate of 3.65. No other spinner has taken more wickets than the Windies tweaker since January 2020.
Taylor – probably drawing confidence from her team-mate or driven by the lack of choices – went on to bowl almost her full quota of overs. Taylor’s spell included the final over of the match where she ended Bangladesh’s innings.
“Steph, as you see, she reached a milestone today of 150 International wickets which just shows the class that she has as a spinner. It is wonderful to have her and it just shows that even when she doesn't contribute with the bat, she still has so much to offer, and not only as a captain, but as a bowler as well,” Matthews concluded.
39.3 overs of spin accounted for all ten wickets of Bangladesh, headlined by a certain Matthews. Designated vice-captain or not, 24-year-old Hayley Matthews will always be a leader.