“She’s a very special person!”
That was the Facebook description of one adoring fan immediately after Hayley Matthews posted her career-best bowling figures of 4/15 off 10 overs to help the West Indies to yet another nail-biting win in their 2022 ICC Women’s World Cup campaign.
Matthews’ outstanding performance deservingly earned her the Player-of the-Match honours, while providing further concrete evidence of her continuing rise as West Indies Women’s cricket’s brightest star.
Matthews had earlier also demonstrated her outstanding batting skills in the West Indies opening match of the tournament against hosts New Zealand. She scored a superb century, 119 off 128 balls and including 16 fours and one six, to help WI post 259 for 9 off their 50 overs, a total which in the end proved to be just out of reach of New Zealand.
Now still only 24 years of age, Hayley Kristen Matthews started her involvement with cricket at the tender age of 11. By then, she had already captained her school’s boys team. Just a year later, at 12, she made her debut for the Barbados Women’s team.
It took just four relatively short years of representing Barbados before Matthews made her international debut, as a 16-year-old, in September 2014, representing the West Indies in a Twenty20 game against New Zealand.
Her ODI debut, against Australia, swiftly followed, and Matthews impressed right from the outset, making 55 in the first game and a total of 241 runs in the four-match series. She was also the highest wicket-taker from either side in both the ODIs and T20Is during West Indies’ 2015 tour of Sri Lanka.
Mathews had her first experience of playing at an ICC World Cup during the 2016 Women’s T20’World Cup. It was at that tournament that she established her credentials as an all-rounder of international repute. She produced her most telling performance in the final against three-time champions Australia.
Having had her 18th birthday in the middle of the tournament, Matthews took on the Australian bowlers with the audacity of youth, hitting 66 off 45 balls to help her team chase down 149 and win their first world title.
In the eight years that have passed since she became an international cricketer, Matthews has played 66 ODIs and 61 T20Is for WI. Her 65 ODI innings have produced 1729 runs, including three centuries and six half-centuries, at an average of 27.44.
Her bowling returns have been 78 wickets for 1858 runs off 2791 balls, yielding an average of 23.82 and an economy rate of 3.99.
In the 61 T20Is she has played for WI to date, Matthews has scored 1055 runs, with one century and four half-centuries, at an average of 17.88. Her overall strike rate for her is 104.87.
As an off-spin bowler, Matthews has so far captured 58 wickets from 1049 balls bowled at a cost of 1040 runs for an average of 17.98. In the 55 innings in which she has bowled, her economy rate is 5.94.
Such statistics aren’t quite reflective of the international stage dominance that was expected of Matthews after her World Cup 2016 final performance. Back then, she had seemed to be clearly destined for even bigger things, both for herself and for her team.
Inconsistency has, however, been Matthews’ problem. Having debuted in ODIs in 2014, she made three fifties in her first three matches, but she has made 50 or more only seven times in the 58 innings that followed.
More recently, after an unbeaten hundred against Pakistan at home last year, she scored only 12 runs in five innings as opener, following which she was moved down to number 5.
Her T20I scores of late haven’t been that great either, with a highest score of only 32 in her last 20 innings.
That was then but now seems to be of a different time altogether with Matthews’ 2022 World Cup scores to date being 119, 45, 43, 0 and 18, reflecting a far greater degree of consistency. With the ball she has also been consistent, picking up wickets fairly regularly, as evidenced by her returns of 2/41; 2/40; 1/65; 1/31 and, most recently, 4/15 in her five 2022 World Cup matches to date.
Matthews’ recent performances have resulted in significant improvements in her standings within the ICC Women’s Player rankings. She is now ranked second behind Australia’s Ellyse Perry, the ICC’s top allrounder, ninth as a bowler and seventeenth as a batter.
Asked about her up-and-down batting performances across limited-overs formats since the 2016 T20 World Cup final, Matthews said: “I feel like that’s what I’ve been doing over the last couple of years. Maybe I guess some people might say I haven’t hit the expectations I’ve wanted to. But at the same time, I feel like, over the last year or two, I’ve really been able to improve. Yeah, just show what it takes, and yeah, hopefully, I can continue doing that.
“Obviously, I’ve been shuffled around the order a little bit over the past maybe eight or nine months. But at the same time, I think my job is to do as best as I possibly can for the team wherever they need me. When you talk about playing on the biggest stage, the World Cups, to be able to produce really good all-round performances obviously means a lot to me!”
Such words and actual performances from an older, obviously much wiser Matthews are suggestive of her ever-increasing maturity. Certainly, far more than had previously been demonstrated by the prodigiously talented 18-year-old, who had burst onto the international scene with her outlandish batting during the final of the 2016 T20 World Cup.
Hopefully, such words are also indicative of Matthews’ realisation and complete appreciation of the role she now has to play as a senior member of the West Indies Women’s team in setting most examples for her teammates to follow. The manner in which she has spoken during her post-match interviews at the current World Cup certainly suggests as much.
The eloquence that Matthews has demonstrated during such interviews is also indicative of her impressive knowledge and understanding of the requirements of white ball cricket. Very early in her international career, she had been appointed as the West Indies Women’s team vice-captain only to be subsequently stripped of the position as a consequence of an act of indiscipline on her part.
The Matthews of today now seems to be a totally different person from the less mature, apparently indisciplined younger adult she was before. She now seems to have finally found her way back to being firmly on the path to fulfilling all the glorious achievements that have long since been expected of her, including eventually being appointed as Stafanie Taylor’s replacement as captain of the West Indies Women’s team.
While she works towards fulfilling such worthy objectives, we will all hope that her performances will leave even more fans gushing adoringly with descriptions of her as a ‘very special person’!