Football didn’t bring it home for England, but cricket well might. And that may happen before their football manager Gareth Southgate’s waistcoat-inspired Christmas jumper becomes a nationwide rage.
England’s entry into the first-ever standalone Women’s World T20 final came about in a manner similar to that of the other finalist – and arguably their most-fancied rivals – Australia. Both sides thumped their opponents convincingly in their completed group-stage fixtures, save for one game each. England fluffed their lines in the frantic last leg of their botched defence against hosts West Indies while Australia got a pasting from India.
The semi-finals were rematches of the last two women’s global-tournament finals, but Australia managed to reverse their result with Alyssa Healy and Ellyse Perry pinning West Indies onto the mat in the presence of an 8,000-strong crowd in Antigua. England caused India to implode again in a crunch game.
Since taking over the captaincy reins from Charlotte Edwards, after England’s semi-final loss to Australia in the 2016 World T20, Heather Knight has executed Mark Robinson’s template of how to win “scrappy” games (as Knight put it) to near perfection. After a humdinger of an end to their title-winning campaign at a full-house at Lord’s, they now find themselves within touching distance of their second world title in 15 months. But their unpredictability as a fielding unit – sloppy one night, sublime the other – could undermine Anya Shrubsole’s ever-looming, big, booming inswingers, or the form Natalie Sciver and Amy Jones finally found in the semi-final amid an overall lacklustre performance with the bat from the line-up through the tournament.
Australia hold the clear edge. In 2018, they’ve blanked India in India 3-0 in an ODI series, blown England away in the final of the T20I tri-series that followed, and after a six-month hiatus from international cricket they assigned New Zealand and Pakistan to a similar fate to stroll into the World T20 as overwhelming favourites. On the eve of their fifth straight World T20 final, there’s little to suggest that they’ve shed that tag.
After things “turned to custard” in the World Cup semi-final last year, this Australian team, under coach Matthew Mott, has been spot-on. Alyssa Healy has hit the form of her life at the top of the order, Meg Lanning and vice-captain Rachael Haynes have cushioned the middle order, and Ellyse Perry has adapted to her No. 7 position with reasonable success. Their bowling attack, led by Perry, has been as commanding, with consistent contributions from pacers Delissa Kimmince and Megan Schutt and the young spin contingent.
With a first ever standalone WBBL final slated for Australia Day 2019, and the Women’s T20 World Cup at home in 2020, a win in Antigua promises to be the cherry on top in what is an exciting for time for women’s cricket in the country.
Australia WLWWW (completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Alyssa Healy wasn’t just talking herself up when she declared in March she was “always probably going to play more aggressively than others”. A year that kicked off with a maiden Women’s Big Bash League ton in January, led to a first international century two months later, and now a stellar World T20 showing. She goes into the final as the tournament’s leading run-getter, with 203 runs from four innings at an average of 67.66 and a strike rate of 149.26. She also has the second-most wicketkeeping dismissals in the tournament, and four Player-of-the-Match awards in five matches. She was concussed in the final group match, but that didn’t stop her from putting in another award-winning show in the semis. England need to get her out early.
Four days after she left the field having bowled her allocation inside 15 overs, Kirstie Gordon overcame back pain and became India’s pain in the neck. She took out the dangerous Harmanpreet Kaur in a double-strike in the 16th over of the semi-final. But that is only one of the highlights of Gordon’s stellar run in the tournament. The 21-year-old kick-started her England career with 3 for 16 and a Player-of-the Match award on debut last week. This, after forgoing an opportunity to represent Scotland in the World T20 qualifier in July. Her England call-up had come on the back of an impressive showing on the county circuit and a charts-topping 17 wickets from 11 innings for Loughborough Lightning in the Kia Super League. She goes into the final topping England’s wickets charts, trailing only West Indies’ Deandra Dottin on the overall list.
Both finalists went with unchanged sides into the semi-final. Chances of tinkering with their combinations for the title clash appear slim.
England (probable): 1 Danielle Wyatt, 2 Tammy Beaumont, 3 Amy Jones (wk), 4 Natalie Sciver, 5 Heather Knight (capt), 6 Lauren Winfield, 7 Sophia Dunkley, 8 Anya Shrubsole, 9 Danielle Hazell, 10 Sophie Ecclestone, 11 Kirstie Gordon
Australia (probable): 1 Beth Mooney 2 Alyssa Healy (wk) 3 Meg Lanning (capt) 4 Ashleigh Gardner 5 Elyse Villani 6 Rachael Haynes 7 Ellyse Perry 8 Sophie Molineux 9 Delissa Kimmince 10 Georgia Wareham 11 Megan Schutt
Pitch and conditions
With the North Sound track offering both turn and grip, runs will be at a premium. Given the 8pm start, dew could be a factor, but anything close to 140 should be a competitive target to set.
Stats and trivia
Ellyse Perry is one away from 100 wickets in T20Is, and 49 away from 1,000 runs
Alyssa Healy is 55 runs away from surpassing Meg Lanning’s tally of 257 in 2014, which is the highest aggregate at a single edition of the Women’s World T20
England left-arm spinner Kirstie Gordon and Australia quicks Megan Schutt and Perry are joint-second on the tournament’s wickets charts, with eight scalps each
Healy is three dismissals away from equalling India’s Taniya Bhatia’s tally of 11 and England’s Sarah Taylor’s 73 – the most dismissals by a wicketkeeper in the World T20 this year and in T20Is overall, respectively
Healy has won four Player-of-the-Match awards from five games so far. That’s already the most ever in a World T20, in men’s or women’s cricket, and one short of Debbie Hockley’s all-time World Cup record: five awards in the 1997 ODI World Cup”
“It’s probably not been the smoothest ride to get to the final, but the main thing is we’re here and we’ve got another opportunity to have a shot at winning a global trophy again. And what an achievement it would be, how special it would be, if we could be double white-ball champions.”
England captain Heather Knight
“Coming up against England, they’re great rivals of ours. We play them a lot and really respect them as a team. Hopefully it’s a great game but we can come out on top.”
Australia captain Meg Lanning