Hayley Matthews, the teenage sensation of West Indies’ world-beating women’s team, is relishing the chance to make a career of the sport she loves.
Carlos Brathwaite’s final-over whirl will forever define the the 2016 World T20, aided by Ian Bishop’s compelling, word-perfect call. “Remember the name!” But in less hectic surrounds five hours earlier, Hayley Matthews, another Barbadian, made a name for herself on one of cricket’s biggest stages.
In the women’s final, she flummoxed Australia’s bowlers with 66 from 45 balls, opening the innings and hunting down their 148. After she popped Megan Schutt over the fence and deep midwicket, and Ellyse Perry back over her head early in the chase, the three-times women’s champions never recovered.
At the start of the tournament, Matthews was 17 going on 18; by its conclusion she was the Player of the Final. “To this day I still am trying to find words for it,” Matthews tells ESPNcricinfo in a discussion of her Kolkata heroics and her story to date.
Four decades ago Janis Ian sang of the pitfalls of the awkward ages – of solitude, despair and expectations routinely failing to meet reality. But Matthews’ experience of those testing years strays from that narrative. Self-assured and ambitious, considered and calm, she’s as impressive in conversation as she is in the middle.
“A lot of people take so long to get something like that in their lifetime,” Matthews reflects. “That I could be part of that at such a young age really means a lot to me.”
She’s right. These are heights that few scale on the very best day. But so young, with so much of the journey yet to be even conceived? “It is surreal,” Matthews continues. “I saw one article(on ESPNcricinfo) saying that I started the tournament as a 17-year-old and I finished at 18 covered in a bottle of champagne I couldn’t have drunk when it began.” That’s another way of looking at it.
She has paused her formal schooling for cricket, pledging to return when she has the time. But between national duty, and the new domestic circuit for women – commitments to Hobart Hurricanes in the Women’s Big Bash League in the Australian summer, and Lancashire Thunder in the Kia Super League in England – time is a particularly scarce commodity.
The privilege, though, isn’t lost upon her; following the sun, making a living exclusively from the game – Matthews is of the first generation of women who can legitimately do that.
She gets home to the beach, “to parties with my friends, what normal teenagers do,” but since that breathtaking performance in March, that has changed too. “They tease me quite a bit, saying that they are walking around with a legend and a celebrity.”
Home is the enduring and quintessential hotbed of Caribbean cricket talent: Barbados. Matthews grew up playing with the boys at her father’s club – a familiar story – before dominating a regional girls’ tournament at age 15. The path to a West Indies cap and central contract followed; her ODI and T20 international debuts both came when she was 16.
Brathwaite, who shared so much with her on that special night in Kolkata, remains her closest friend in the men’s game as a former team-mate of her father. “When we won the game, all the guys came running on the field and I jumped into his arms and he spun me around.” His company is also her equipment sponsor – she is the only woman in the game to use the Brathwaite bats.
When asked to consider why Carlos and Co. have managed to prosper in white-ball cricket after such a distressing decline in Test cricket over the past two decades, Matthews has well-thought-out views and isn’t shy about expressing them.
“The competition for Test match cricket in the region isn’t as high as you’d see in a lot of other countries,” she says. “For example, in Australia where you see a lot of first-class cricketers having about ten hundreds before they get a chance, whereas back home we tend to make teams a lot easier. I reckon it is just that the standard needs to be raised a bit, and professionalism needs to be raised a bit in the four-day cricket back home as a whole.”
The conversation, conducted in August when she was playing in the inaugural edition of the Kia Super League, returns to the main subject – Matthews. It’s in these tournaments that she is especially hot property and where she is destined to be a permanent fixture for a generation. In Australia, clubs were actively hunting for her signature as a player around whom a club could be built, directly approaching her through the southern winter in unsuccessful attempts to entice her away from Hobart Hurricanes, who defied expectations to contest a semi-final in season one. Matthews’ affection for the Tasmanian capital is clear; and she notes the standard for the WBBL is “very high”.
“Spending a couple of months there at the end of the year is not any harm for me at all,” she notes with a broad smile. “It is a great place; I absolutely love it.”
As for the chance to participate from day one in both the WBBL and the KSL, Matthews calls it an honour, as it is for her to be already a vital member of the West Indies outfit who yesterday drew level with England in their five-match ODI series in Jamaica.
But casting forward, she relishes more: to be the best in the world. “I want to be,” she simply says.
For that to be the case, dependability will soon need to follow talent. Matthews is the first to admit she blew hot and cold in the WBBL and then the KSL. For Hurricanes she made fewer than 200 runs in 14 innings, and with Thunder she had a nightmare with the bat, offset by a team-leading eight wickets with her effective and efficient offspin.
“I don’t think it’s any technical flaws, it’s a mind thing for me,” she explains of this consistency predicament. “Sometimes I over-pressure myself a bit, but I’ve been really working on that and I hope it works.”
For all of her gifts within the game, Matthews’ opportunities don’t stop there. She can launch a javelin a long way; far enough that she has represented her nation – and won medals – at the CARIFTA Games at age-group level. It’s a discipline she admits she seldom has the time to train for, yet can still excel at: handy attributes for a second career. Surely the Olympic Games tempt?
“Sometimes I wish I could be at the Olympics, but if I made the choice to go with track then I wouldn’t have won the World Cup,” Matthews says. “You have got to give up something to get something and I hope I made the right choice.”
Logistical considerations aside, she isn’t closing the door: “I guess it would be hard to find time, but if I do find the time I definitely would go back to training and see.”
With cricket’s entry to the 2024 Olympics looking at least a puncher’s chance – when Matthews will still be very much at her physical peak…
“Hopefully the two events don’t clash.”
The audacity of youth.