The pressure cooker of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup is bringing out the best in its captains.
- The first half of the group stage have seen skippers lead by example, particularly with the bat
- Meg Lanning, Heather Knight and Bismah Maroof have all guided their teams through crucial situations
- And Sophie Devine, Chamari Athapaththu and Dane van Niekerk are juggling top-order duties with bowling and captaincy to great effect
- It’s a cricketing axiom that captaincy affects batting, that the pressure of dual roles detracts and distracts, with everything from team selection to field placements clouding the view under the visor.
Skippers at this fascinating Women’s T20 World Cup have already proved that to be stuff and nonsense with the group stage not even at its halfway point.
The best-performing top orders in the tournament have captains as their crux, with New Zealand’s Sophie Devine, Sri Lanka’s Chamari Athapaththu and South Africa’s Dane van Niekerk leading the way.
Devine, 30, only took on the armband in January but far from dampen the run that saw her named Women’s Big Bash Player of the Tournament, her performances have taken on a new authority.
“I do think captaincy has brought the best out in me,” reflects the White Ferns star.
“We’ve had fantastic leaders in Suzie (Bates) and Amy (Satterthwaite) who led from the front, and I don’t want to be any different. It’s the best way to keep your team-mates on board.”
Rattling off four successive fifties in a tune-up series against the Proteas, Devine was on the field for all 37.2 overs of their opening victory against Sri Lanka, compiling a masterful unbeaten 75 and taking one for 27.
“You feel like you’re in safe hands when she’s at the crease,” adds Kiwi attack leader Lea Tahuhu. “She’s been in exceptional form in the last six months.”
Another to juggle all-rounder duties with team leadership, Athapaththu has sent some of the world’s best bowlers cowering back to fine leg with her destructive approach as an opener.
It’s been almost impossible to stop the Sri Lankan scoring heavily behind square on the leg side and through the wide mid-on region, taking 41 and 50 off New Zealand and Australia at a strike rate of 133.
Neither a lack of support from fellow batters nor a weight of duty to the team has affected Athapaththu.
“You can see I play all my natural game,” she says. “I love that pressure because I started international cricket ten years ago and I’ve had pressure as the number one batter ever since then.
“I talk to myself and say play positive, play with courage and play freely. That’s all.”
Van Niekerk is a less swashbuckling proposition, but has the same unclouded approach to her role at the top of the order and is an arch partnership builder.
She has ‘parked the ego’ – to use England captain Heather Knight’s words – and allowed Lizelle Lee and Marizanne Kapp to free their arms, making 46 from 51 balls and laying foundations for a famous win.
Van Niekerk also managed her bowlers beautifully, not too proud to admit the decision to open with Nonkululeko Mlaba backfired, and tied Knight and Fran Wilson in knots in the middle overs with her leg-spin.
“Dane does everything,” said all-rounder Chloe Tryon. “The girls feed off her in everything she does. It’s great to have her leading from the front.”
Bangladesh captain Salma Khatun also impressed in their defeat to India, taking a wicket in her first over en route to figures of two for 25.
The feats of these top order totems should be taken in the context of a tournament when openers have often struggled to get off to flying starts, and always been unable to bat as deep as they’d like.
Then there are captains that bat in the middle order, offering a mature approach to managing crises and pacing moderate run-chases, all while directing traffic for their teams.
Knight came to the crease with England at seven for two against Thailand and left with them on 176, a historic maiden T20I century under her belt and a record-breaking partnership built with Nat Sciver.
“Heather loves to lead the pack,” said batter Lauren Winfield. “She always stands up when we need her and she’s determined to set an example. That innings showed the kind of character she is.”
Heads were spinning when Meg Lanning took strike with Australia struggling at ten for three against Sri Lanka, but the 27-year-old and vice-captain Rachael Haynes were the coolest heads at the WACA and steered their side to a five-wicket win with a 95 stand.
It seems ice really does run through Lanning’s veins with Haynes revealing they’d meet in the middle and the Australia skipper would tell her off if she was getting ‘antsy’, with their no less than their World Cup fate on the line.
And one of the tournament’s shocks was orchestrated by another skipper as Bismah Maroof swept her way to a match-winning, unbeaten 38 to earn an eight-wicket win over Windies.
“Bismah took a lot of responsibility in the run-chase,” said Aliya Riaz. “She guides everybody really well and she helped Nida Dar through the overs.
“That’s what a good captain does, they carry the team and make sure they lead from the front.”
Courtesy of the ICC