CWC22 #4: Marizanne Kapp is a few emotions

Five years ago, an inconsolable Marizanne Kapp struggled to lift herself off the ground and the tears flowed freely after a close match against England in the World Cup semifinal. On Monday, in another World Cup, in another match against England, she again was on her haunches at the end of the game, but this time in prayer, this time in relief.

A minute before, even as Trisha Chetty hit the winning runs with three wickets and four balls to spare and her teammates invaded the field in celebration, Marizanne had stood at the boundary, fidgeting with her chain. Wracked. Contained. Before she dropped to the ground, head bent. Emotions still ran high, but this time – finally – a smile broke through as she was helped up off her knees and enveloped in the arms of her teammates.

All day, Marizanne had shown her class with bat, ball and on the field to spearhead South Africa’s victory. She’d earned a smile.    

Marizanne Kapp picked up career-best figures in the match against England at the ICC Women's Cricket World Cup 2022.
Marizanne Kapp picked up career-best figures in the match against England at the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2022. Photo: ICC

Five years ago, after an interview with Marizanne and her partner Dane van Niekerk, who is out injured for this World Cup, I had written that the two “are so expressive, you never want to look away”. And at the risk of overstatement, I had exhorted: “Whatever you do, don’t look away.”

And since then, I’ve taken my own advice. I can’t take my eyes away from Marizanne Kapp on a cricket field. I collect Marizanne moments with the enthusiasm of an ornithologist in the Amazon. It is my meditation, it is my exaltation.

Good sport makes you feel. Everything at times, and nothing, bereft at others. Marizanne is good sport. 

Her ritual is a reassurance. Watching her walk to the top of her mark, untying and retying her hair before every delivery in ritual, is the closest I will get to ASMR. Her smooth, rhythmic bowling action that follows is mediative. Breathe in, hold, breathe out.

Her wickets, then, are a release. On Monday, in her first spell, she was the fiery fast bowler that batters dream about hitting for six. The two early wickets, both the result of disciplined line and length, were accompanied by furrowed brows and cries of victory. In her final spell, she had turned into the thinking bowler, clinical with her slower balls. The wickets, which completed her first ODI five-for, were delivered with the quiet confidence of a master. And there was even a wry smile at the fifth.  

“I’ve played I think over 200 games for South Africa so I should be confident in my abilities,” Marizanne said after the match. “I think I just reached a point in my career where now I know what I’m capable of and, and I just have to back myself. And if I do that I usually perform well.”

If that sounds like an absence of humility, the assumption is misguided. If anything, Marizanne is self-critical to a fault. She felt her teammate Masabata Klaas was the best bowler on the day, and she apologised for not seeing through the chase.  

“I was a bit annoyed with myself,” she said. “I knew I probably should have finished that game. And I put a lot of pressure on the two batters that was in the middle.”  

Marizanne Kapp had a long chat with Trisha Chetty after her wicket at a crucial point in the chase.
Marizanne Kapp had a long chat with Trisha Chetty after her wicket at a crucial point in the chase.

If Marizanne’s bowling is an art, her batting is a lesson in perseverance. She knows her limitations, and makes up for it in smarts, picking the bowlers and balls to target. Against England, her 32 off 42 balls was crucial in the chase. The knock included another magic Marizanne moment: A six behind square off a Katherine Brunt full toss picked up around her hip. It seemed to turn the tone of the game.

“I just tried to be positive,” she explained that shot. “I struggled a bit against the left-arm spinner and I knew the pace bowlers I was going to try and take them on – I am strong through throughout that region and I just played the shot and it went for six and I’ll take it!”       

In recent months, even as she’s had all-round tournament-winning performances around the world, Marizanne, who makes no bones about being a family person, has found the long days in isolation sparking thoughts of retirement. She says she dislikes change, and when the retirement eventually happens, it might be too far a change for me too. So now, I double down. I’m more obsessed than ever. I won’t, I can’t look away.

CWC22 #3: Where is India’s planning?

I watched part of the New Zealand v India World Cup game on Hotstar in a doctor’s waiting room. I don’t know what was more frustrating: India’s batting or the two-hour wait in the hospital chaos.

Turns out, I’m mostly fine. The Indian team definitely isn’t. I returned with medication. Who’s going to be treating the Indian line-up?

The next few paras, rather than an attempt at a diagnosis, are a complaint. Not about the loss — those happen. But about why following and supporting this team is so *grabs own hair* frustrating.

Yes, even when they win.  

Because they can play like Harmanpreet Kaur did on Thursday, with her fluent 71. Like Pooja Vastrakar and Sneh Rana did last game against Pakistan in a match-winning seventh-wicket stand. Did you see Pooja’s and Jhulan’s yorkers at the death against New Zealand? Rajeshwari Gayakwad’s flight and guile? They were brilliant! At those times, India can be fun to watch. Exciting. Like they can win the whole bloody thing. As if they want to entertain.

Harmanpreet Kaur batting in the India v New Zealand match at the ICC Women's Cricket World Cup 2022.
India’s batting has been hit and miss. Photo: ICC

But at many times, like on either side of these performances, it’s like none of the things I just said are true.

This feels like a team that doesn’t know itself. 

We’re at a World Cup. They’ve had pretty good preparation playing South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand in the past year. The team/administrators/management have had five years to prepare for this moment. So why are we still watching an experiment? Why does it feel like they don’t know what their best XI, and the order of that XI, is?   

Two matches in, we’ve had as many opening combinations. Against New Zealand, Yastika Bhatia opened for the first time at international level. At No.3, there’s Deepti Sharma, who was already tried as a top order bat in 2017, and that plan abandoned midway through the World Cup that year after a sorry team performance against South Africa where the batting went nowhere, and then abandoned again in 2019. What has changed for faith to be put in her this time?  

At No.4 is not Harman, although that’s statistically her best position. Instead there’s Mithali Raj, consistency personified, but the second anchor in a row (and possibly the third on a bad day for the openers). So Nos. 3, 4, 5 are slow starters, and that’s what India are going with even though they’ve left out other candidates, arguably more in form, for the same supposed reason.   

And nobody seems to be convinced about what kind of cricket they want to play.

Against New Zealand, three left-handers occupied the top three spots. And New Zealand matched an off-spinner to them with little trouble. “It gives an advantage to the opposition tactically,” admitted coach Ramesh Powar. The batting coach too said after the game that India would probably relook that strategy. So great, another experiment.

India have accidentally stumbled into a bowling attack that somewhat works … when it works. Rajeshwari is in form with her left-arm spin, and although they have three off-spin options in Deepti, Sneh and Harman, the first two are fully effective in their 10. Meghna Singh as the second pacer is another experiment, but having begun it in October last year, at least it has some … erm … longevity. (Yes, two series; that’s how low the bar is for planning.)    

The coach speaks about process and plans. He says there’s work that’s been going on. He points out how the team scores 250+ more regularly now. He is happy with their preparation. “It is the pressure of the World Cup,” he said ahead of the West Indies game. “We messed up in the first 20 overs.”  

One-off, he seems to suggest. Except, it isn’t one off.

“I have been handed over a squad of 15, where I have a limitation of three openers,” he said defensively at one point, putting it on the players to perform. Except, it can’t be only on them, when there’s no clarity about positions or place.  

And that’s the point. India have limitations that have lingered for years.

The trouble is, as fans, we can disagree with many of these decisions. But anyone can argue for them too, because the alternatives aren’t great either. That’s what comes from building your team two months before a World Cup, at international matches, rather than at the domestic level, without a stepping stone between senior tournaments and playing for India. (No, the Challengers aren’t it.) Little wonder that selections seem ad hoc and rhythm is never really that.

The situation India are in is the result of a lack of planning, accountability and structure. Who’s going to fix it before it gets chronic?  

WWC22 #2: Are the new West Indies here to stay?

In her press conference before their opening game of the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2022, West Indies captain Stafanie Taylor, languid as ever, said her team were aiming to score above 200. She also said they don’t care too much for analytics and match-ups.

Which, given how the sport is progressing, seemed decidedly underwhelming.

It took five boundary-filled overs with the bat to put that first assertion to waste. And about five overs of bowling to smartly set fields to challenge the second one.   

Well bluffed, Stafanie.

In their opening win against New Zealand, former 20-over champions West Indies showed an awareness their 50-over was missing until recently. Could it be here to stay for the rest of the tournament?

West Indies women's cricket team celebrating a wicket in their ICC Women's Cricket World Cup 2022 game against New Zealand. Photo: ICC
Where did things change for the West Indies women’s cricket team in ODIs? Photo: ICC

A week ago I was wondering if I dared stick my neck out and name them as an outside shot at a top four finish. After the opening day, I’d feel less absurd doing so.

A year ago, though, I’d have called myself a fool to pick them as semi-finalists.

Since their run to the ODI final in 2013 and the T20 title in 2016, West Indies have been abject in the 50-over format. Their 2017 World Cup was terrible. Their post-2017 years were as bad. Batters were urged to be patient, but they rarely were. They made poor decisions in the name of Caribbean flair. It didn’t help that domestic competitions in the West Indies nations have been sporadic.  

“For a period of time we were stuck in 50-over cricket, not progressing as much as we wanted to,” admitted Hayley Matthews to the ICC ahead of their first match. “But I do believe in the last year or so we’ve made massive leaps and bounds.”

So where did things change? I don’t know.

Taylor hasn’t been particularly loquacious with details in her press interactions. She’s praised the coaching staff led by Courtney Walsh over and over, but in rather general terms. She’s spoken of them having a “huge” impact in putting the team in a “good space” and “avoiding bad habits”. But there’s been little said about what exactly those tweaks have been, what those plans and lessons are, which have made them more consistent.

A visible change has been to their batting and bowling line-ups. The big-hitting Deandra Dottin opening and Matthews moving to the middle order, where her strike-rate last year was slightly better than when opening, have been key to their stability. With the changes, the batting seems stronger. (Although for her match-winning World Cup knock, an injury to the regular opener meant Matthews was back as opener; so much for that theory.)

They seem to circle through their bowlers too in phases, with Chinelle Henry coming in and taking the new ball more. Perhaps this means there is better clarity of roles throughout?  

And the results are visible. In 2018-19, West Indies won just three of their 18 ODIs. But in 2021, they won more matches (8) than they lost (6). (They didn’t play ODIs in 2020.) All of Deandra Dottin, Taylor and Matthews have two centuries each since 2021. Four other batters have fifties, showing a depth beyond the big three.

Krissania Young, who knows the West Indies much better than I can ever claim, has an informative post where she breaks down an improvement in their dot ball percentages and bowling lines as well.

I’d love to hear more theories for this turnaround – and I think we can now safely call it one. Why that is, and if that’s here to stay is something we’ll probably learn through the tournament.  

“The team’s in a good space,” said Matthews after the win, again unhelpfully vague. “We’re peaking at the right time.”

Taylor, meanwhile, after the match, continued to underplay their chances. “We talked about how we need to be over 200 if we want to be competitive,” she repeated. “We like to stay under the radar, do our thing, one step at a time.”

I’m not sticking my neck out and saying “top four” yet for West Indies. But I’d love to see them do their thing.

WWC22 #1: The ones we miss

I’m not going to be on the ground covering the ICC Women’s World Cup 2022 in New Zealand.

Loads of people aren’t going to be at the World Cup, so boo effin hoo, you may think. And you’re right. Your eye roll is justified. But this is the first women’s world cup after 2016 that I haven’t been at, so allow me a moment of self-pity as I nurse my FOMO.

Tragedy is romanticised in a foreign language, so I’m embracing a word in Welsh: Hiraeth.

Hiraeth, I understand, is a deep yearning for something you can’t have. A longing for a place you can’t be, a place that feels like home.

It’s the crack of the bat I won’t hear, the roar of a crowd I will see but on TV, the echoes of victory bouncing off an emptying outfield and the calm of a sprinkler on the green I won’t feel.

There’s something calming when the sprinklers come onto an emptying ground.

When I’m not at my pity party, I think also of all the players that won’t be at this World Cup too. The amazing Dane van Niekerk, who broke her foot while mopping the floor. Shikha Pandey, whose in-swingers are made for these tracks, who’s been treated so unkindly by India’s selectors and management. Jemimah Rodrigues, Leigh Kasperek and, a personal hero, Kate Ebrahim, who lost out to competition to be in the 15. The powerful Chamari Athapaththu, who was hard done by the apathy of the Sri Lankan cricket administration. Of the whole delightful Thailand team who were so cruelly denied a place at the World Cup when the qualifying tournament was called off because of COVID and they found themselves in a Catch 22 situation: Only the top eight ODI teams would qualify, but Thailand isn’t considered an ODI team, so their wins didn’t matter.

I can’t even imagine the depths of their hiraeth.

Gymnast Mary Lou Retton is credited with this quote: “A trophy carries dust. Memories last forever.” It’s a comforting thought, even though it sounds suspiciously like telling a poor person that money can’t buy happiness. I think it’s the memories I will miss most.

When I close my eyes and think about the 2017 World Cup, I see Harmanpreet Kaur at Derby, on the way to her 171*. I hear the cheer when her slogged six went into the midwicket stands. And I see my friend Sid going “wow”.

I miss Sid.

I suppose 2022 is about making new memories. Rediscovering a different kind of love for cricket, as a spectator, fan, journalist. I’m going to try to blog more during the World Cup. But this will be the last self-indulgent piece, promise.

Let the games begin.