“Senior players need to blaze the trail, show youngsters the way”.
Variations of that sentiment are a constant in any conversation with West Indies Women’s two most influential captains in recent years, Stafanie Taylor and Merissa Aguilleira, her predecessor.
Along with Anisa Mohammad and Deandra Dottin, they have featured in at least 95 of West Indies’ 149 One-Day Internationals so far. To an outsider, they are very different personalities: Taylor is all about quiet determination, Aguilleira is a people person, outgoing with an easy laugh. But the two share a deep investment in the future of West Indies cricket, which goes beyond caps and trophies.
Wisden India sat down with them for a chat.
“A bit of romance, a bit of action” and some of The Exorcist. Stafanie Taylor was in the middle of an eclectic movie spree on a day off during West Indies’ tour of India in Vijayawada.
The selection reflected her mood. She was relaxed, after a few tough weeks of cricket, frustrated with her side’s 50-over struggles, reassured about their T20 capabilities, excited for the second season of the Women’s Big Bash League, and brooding over battles left to be fought in the women’s game.
As a player – currently ranked inside the top three – she has a combined 6,121 runs from 175 limited-overs internationals. Her manic 51-ball 90 in their six-wicket first T20I win last week was the latest example of her powerful batting. She doesn’t even remember that career-high 137-ball 171 in the 2013 Women’s World Cup in India.
As captain, she led West Indies to their maiden Women’s World T20 title earlier this year. An undeniable career highlight and reward for their hard work, she declares.
But, at 25, with eight years of top-flight cricket behind her, Taylor appears most conscious of her standing as an ambassador for the game. She speaks – in slow, contemplative tones, measured, yet forthright – of the legacy she wants her generation to leave behind.
Aguilleira: “I always tell the girls, listen, when you’re going out there and talking to people, you need to let them know that you’ve been through trials, you’ve been through tribulations, because so many people are going through those things and they need to know that somebody has been there in that situation and they came out.”
“What I would love to see is more young girls coming up,” she says. “We recycle players, and as much as you want to do that, you still want development players. If you look at Australia, England, they do it. It’s about time we take a page out of their book and try to do it. It’s not too late. We definitely need a feeder system where you get young players coming through, so it doesn’t look like you’re recycling players. We need to start looking at some young players.”
She rues the absence of a system for girls’ cricket and the unsatisfactory domestic competition – “You can’t really have a competition for just three weeks”. In England, she points out, “They had players going into schools, they had an academy, they had camps, and that was brilliant. You had 30-50 girls coming out. That’s good. They’re interested. I know at the level it’s more fun for them, but you’ve got to keep them interested.”
This preoccupation has led Taylor, a self-confessed science person who’s keen on pursing forensics (she’s a CSI fan), to consider her options after retirement. Perhaps sports management. “Someone said to me, ‘Would you ever think of coaching the West Indies women’s team?’ And I’d never thought about it, but now I am. I like giving back.”
So she’d change the system from the inside?
“I’d think after hearing me protesting, they (West Indies Cricket Board) would get on it before I actually reach (that level of administration)! I hope that as time goes on, with us doing well, and they see us doing well, they would start getting young girls coming through.”
Taylor: Being in the KSL and BBL has helped me be the person I am today. You play against top bowlers, you bowl to top batters. It’s more in the head. They say 75% of the game is actually played in the head. And I believe the way you think will definitely help the way you play.”
Taylor’s own cricket story began when she was around eight. Having started out playing netball and football, her trainer introduced her to cricket. “I saw him with a bat, and I didn’t know what it was. I asked him what it was, and he said to me, ‘It’s a bat.’ I was like, ‘What sport is it?’ And he said, ‘It’s cricket, do you want to try?’ And I did, and it led me here.”
The moment she picked up the bat, she knew that’s what she wanted to do, she claims. Bowling came later, “just to fill the gap”.
The reason she chose cricket over the other sports when it came to a career – backed by her cricket fanatic dad and mum who still doesn’t quite understand the game – was because of her love for travelling, and the promise of that with the cricket team. “I was afraid of the plane – my first time flying, I actually cried – but it was a dream of mine to travel,” she says.
Much of Taylor’s thoughts on the development of the sport are the result of her participation in Australia’s WBBL with champions Sydney Thunder and England’s KSL, where she led the batting and bowling charts with Western Storm. She credits the leagues for her all-round development, and for West Indies’ performance at the World T20.
“Being in the KSL and BBL has helped me be the person I am today and [I’m] still growing … you play against top bowlers, you bowl to top batters.
“It’s more in the head, it helps you to develop more. They say 75% of the game is actually played in the head. And I always believe that the way how you think will definitely help you in the way how you play.”
Merissa Aguilleira said once in an interview that if she weren’t a cricketer, she’d be an evangelist.
She’d make a good one.
Aguilleira’s teammates say she’s the nicest person they know. She cares. She sees the best in people and situations – troubled youth, out-of-form teammates, opponents who’ve just beaten her; even a complaint about the chaotic Vijayawada traffic that makes crossing the road impossible is delivered with a laugh and an infectious lightness.
West Indies’ wicketkeeper-batter, who has led in 74 of 96 ODIs and 70 of 81 T20Is she has played, including taking the side to the 2013 World Cup final, agrees she’s the team cheerleader. And that’s what keeps her going.
“Not everybody can be a self motivator,” she says. “I like motivating people. Even if I know I need motivation, I will try to inspire somebody, because that will help me inspire myself.”
At 30, and having made her debut in 2008, she’s made it her business to keep up team spirit.
Aguilleira: “I like motivating people. Even if I know I need motivation, I will try to inspire somebody, because that will help me inspire myself.”
“My door is always open, no matter what time it is,” she says. “Just before Deandra Dottin came down (for an interview), she was on my bed, lying down and just talking. And that is what I like. I like to make sure that the players are open with me. I’m a person [who] likes to listen, because you don’t have much listeners right now. You sit down and you listen to some of the issues, and you just try to help them.”
Extending the sentiment beyond the dressing room, she adds: “I always tell the girls, listen, when you’re going out there and talking to people, you need to let them know that you’ve been through trials, you’ve been through tribulations, because so many people are going through those things and they need to know that somebody has been there in that situation and they came out. You just need to let them know!”
As one of seven siblings – “They’re my closest friends. I’m second to last, but they say I act like the biggest one” – she realises the importance of a loving, supportive family. She wants to reach out to those from broken homes, those involved in crime, and set them on the right track.
“We had a motto for the World Cup (World T20), ‘Moving in Faith’,” she points to the white band on her wrist, “and I was thinking to do a Moving in Faith campaign throughout Trinidad & Tobago. We are going through the streets. Because people are lost in faith … They’re calling young people monsters. Me as a young person, I will not sit down there and talk like that about young people. Because they are the future … You have to have people willing to stand and fight for young people and I am one of them.” She is fiery.
“If I don’t do it, I think God will hold it against me.”
Aguilleira’s approach to the game is as positive.
In her debut match, she was run out for 0 against the Netherlands. “I actually cried on that day,” she says. Her manager then gave her the motivation she passes on to others now. “I was in tears, crying, and she was like: ‘Merissa, don’t worry about that. People always remember the last thing you do. You’re going to field, and you’re going to take catches and stumpings’.”
And Aguilleira did: two in that game, four the next.
Wicketkeeping, though, happened by accident. Having picked up the game at 9, she has spoken of making her way up the ranks – watching her uncles play, and honing her skills by batting on the streets with coconut branches and taking up scoring. She and her coach knew she needed an extra something to break into the national side. On the day of the trials, he suggested that she don the gloves. “I was like I’ve never kept before, I don’t even know this!” But she went out and did it: “They selected me as the second ’keeper.”
Asked if she thinks her specialisation has put her at a disadvantage when it comes to being drafted into T20 leagues around the world like some of her West Indies team-mates, she is equanimous. “My coach was talking to me about that. He wants to challenge me in getting into the WBBL and so on, but I know nothing happens before its time.
“I’m just playing my cricket, doing what I have to do. If the opportunity comes up, I’ll accept it.”