Photo Credit: ICC
The opening match of the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup was, perhaps fittingly, a tale of two openers.
Two superb centuries – one from Hayley Matthews to set up a challenging run chase and another from Sophie Devine to keep her side in it – set up a captivating start to the tournament in a contest which was in the balance until the penultimate delivery.
Matthews, more often found down the card at four or five, did not have long to adjust mentally to the prospect of facing the new ball – receiving news of her promotion up the order the day before the game after Rashada Williams was ruled out with concussion.
To say she rose to the task would be an understatement. Three boundaries in the third over – after she had lost the company of equally fast-starting Deandra Dottin – got Matthews up and running and she paced her innings beautifully throughout.
Particularly strong through the off-side, Matthews unfurled an array of cuts and drives to keep the scoreboard moving and showcased her range of shots after reaching three figures, launching a 75-metre maximum over long-on and scooping four more shortly afterwards.
It was a career-best knock made all the more impressive by the fact she was carrying a hamstring strain, made clear by a grimace attempting a run while still in the sixties, and her day was not over yet.
Introduced into the attack in the 12th over, Williams made light of her injury to account for Amelia Kerr with her second ball and proved tricky to get away throughout.
Brooke Halliday also fell into Williams’ trap, snaffled by Anisa Mohammed at slip, but there looked to be no way through the defences of New Zealand’s own star opener.
Sophie Devine came into the tournament fresh from a blistering unbeaten 161 against Australia in the final warm-up match and picked up where she left off.
Even the dismissal of opening partner Suzie Bates came as a result of a nicely timed Devine drive, Bates unfortunate to see the ball deflected back on to the stumps at the non-striker’s end, and the White Ferns skipper became the glue which held the chase together.
She rode her luck at times, dropped twice and almost run out by opposite number Stafanie Taylor, but cashed in expertly and barely acknowledged her century such was her determination to see her side over the line.
It took a superb return catch from Chinelle Henry to bring her innings to an end on 108, with New Zealand still needing 45, but that was far from the end of the drama.
Katey Martin and Jess Kerr kept Windies’ nerves frayed but, as fate would have it, it was another opening batter, Dottin, who had the final say with the ball.
Thrown into a ‘sink or swim’ scenario, Dottin was handed the ball for the first time in the evening with the White Ferns needing six from the final over and both Martin and Kerr going well.
In the space of four balls, Dottin removed both and a run out from the next delivery finally settled a game that had been full of twists and turns.
The opening match has set the bar, as have the opening batters of either side – if this is a sign of things to come over the next month, we are in for a treat.