England strike blow for women’s game
High hopes that thrilling World Cup final could be a landmark moment
It is the women who know how to enthral. After two riveting World Cup semi-finals elsewhere, here was a final that had a capacity crowd nervously glued to their seats one moment, then leaping out of them in delight yet still never knowing which side would prevail until the final ball was bowled.
In the end it was England’s women who held their nerve. With the performance of a lifetime, Anya Shrubsole bowled England to a miraculous nine-run World Cup win over India with a remarkable spell of six for 46 – the best World Cup bowling figures for England and the country’s second best in all one-day international cricket. Somehow the men’s games this summer have been disappointingly one-sided by comparison.
This was not the decorous Lord’s of seasons past. The fans were chanting and gasping at every twist and turn. In the final overs each ball provoked raucous cheers from one set of fans or the other. Brilliant run-outs, scrambled singles, desperate dropped catches and then at the end – just as in the semi-final at Bristol – Shrubsole was engulfed by team-mates, exhausted not so much by the demands of the game but by the tension of a magnificent final. One-day cricket is a wonderful game when the outcome seems all-important.
At Bristol against South Africa Shrubsole faced one ball and hit it for four just when England appeared to be making a mess of a straightforward run chase – except that there is no such thing in a semi-final. Here England were struggling in the field with India bang on target. In their 42nd over they were 191 for three, needing only 38 more for victory.
Then the ball was tossed to Shrubsole of Somerset, known as the quickest bowler born in the north of the county – especially when Peter Trego is in earshot – and somehow she tinkered with fate. The dismissal of Punam Raut, who had batted with such polish and poise for her 86, prompted the first signs of panic among the chasers.
Then there was a certain magic about every Shrubsole delivery, partly because just about all of them had that special quality; they were straight. She yorked the vastly experienced Jhulan Goswami first ball but perhaps her best delivery was her last. Her opponent was not the most formidable – Rajeshwar Gayakwad is not the best of batters. But consider the previous delivery: a gentle catch to mid-off from the bat of Poonam Yadav would surely seal it for England but Jenny Gunn, renowned for her reliability, dropped it.
How easy to despair and lose concentration after such an error. But Shrubsole remained icily cool – at least on the outside. The next delivery had that deadly quality again; it was on target. The bails lit up and the celebrations could commence. Shrubsole was the player of a breathtaking match.
This was one of the great Lord’s finals and there was a buzz around St John’s Wood before a ball was bowled. On the Wellington Road the ticket touts were out in force and they seemed more eager to buy than sell. Not even Rachael Heyhoe Flint, one of the world’s great optimists and the captain of England in the first World Cup final in 1973, would have dared to envisage this.
Heyhoe Flint, a wonderful pioneer who died in January, was honoured before the start of a match that already felt like a celebration and a major landmark of the women’s game. Clare Connor, the head of women’s cricket at the England and Wales Cricket Board, joked as she looked out at the stands filling up, that “my work is done”. In fact she never rests.
Soon, Eileen Ash (née Whelan), who made her debut for England against Australia at Northampton in 1937, rang the bell in front of the bowler’s bar. At the age of 105 she did so with a vigour that rivalled the efforts of Henry Blofeld during the England men’s Test match against South Africa.
Goswami was inspirational in the field for India. She is one of the two vastly experienced cornerstones of the Indian side along with the captain, Mithali Raj. Both of them played in India’s previous World Cup final in Pretoria in 2005; both are 34 and playing in their last World Cup. How close they came to that trophy.
Goswami could not have bowled better. Raj, who made her debut for India in 1999, was run out by a slick piece of fielding by Nat Sciver. She seemed not to recognise the danger; there was no last-minute acceleration and certainly no dive. Maybe no one fielded with such athleticism when she started playing the game.
Even in defeat India’s performances may change how women’s cricket is viewed in their country. World Cup finals involving India tend to do that. In 1983 there was no real enthusiasm for one-day cricket in India, whereupon Kapil Dev’s side, against the odds, defeated the mighty West Indies in the World Cup final at Lord’s. Suddenly Kapil was king and the entire country was enchanted by the one-day game.
Likewise in 2007 they were a bit sniffy about this newfangled Twenty20 idea until one September night in Johannesburg, when India defeated Pakistan in the first World Twenty20 final, after which the game would never be the same again.
Somehow one senses this World Cup final at Lord’s will also have major ramifications. Anyone fancy a women’s Indian Premier League?
Selfie celebration … England cricketers join in with the festive mood of a sellout Lord’s crowd after winning the Women’s World Cup