Cricket: Women finally achieve parity with male counterparts

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England 95

Australia 96-2

Australia win by eight wickets

Played four, won four - and then there was Australia. In the handsome VCA Stadium yesterday, England were handed the sharpest possible lesson in just how good a women's cricket team can be. Comprehensively outplayed by 11 quick and agile athletes, they can not now be in any doubt about how big a challenge they face to retain their world title.

The field was immaculate; the wicket had been prepared for the recent India-Sri Lanka men's Test. It was flat, grassless and quick, but Catherine Fitzpatrick was quicker.

When Australia's opening bowler told reporters she could send it down at 75mph, eyebrows were raised, but from her first ball it was all too plain she could. Her first two overs were maidens, and Charlotte Edwards was clean bowled for nought in her third.

Of England's vaunted batting line-up, few made much headway. At No 3 Barbara Daniels worked hard for 23 and at No 4 Sue Metcalfe grafted for her 14, but the run rate was painfully slow, and was stifled utterly when leg-spinner Olivia Magno went to work. A silly run out and some rank bad shots looked likely to leave England with a truly woeful total, before Clare Connor and Melissa Reynard stuck in for 10 overs.

When Fitzpatrick came back she smashed Connor's stumps with her first ball, and Connor's assessment of her fall was refreshing honest: "I bottled it." Reynard, coming in at No 8, was England's best bat, but she holed out to mid-off with two balls of the innings left, and England were all out for 95.

Australia cruised past that total inside 28 overs. Captain Belinda Clark oozed confidence and control. When Reynard tricked her with a slower ball that she lobbed up for Jane Brittin at cover, Michelle Goszko took over, and looked similarly untroubled.

It was, in short, an all-too familiar story of what happens in cricket when England play Australia. In England's defence, their previous three games have been no kind of preparation for opponents of this ability, and on another day they can play pace like Fitzpatrick's.

All the same, travelling to Nagpur together and staying in the same hotel on Wednesday night, there was a palpable tension between the two sides, and whatever they might say to the contrary, England played as if they had built Australia up as something formidable in their minds.

Come the game, the old enemy took ruthless advantage. In a one-day game, they set Test match fields with two slips and a gully, a silly point or a short leg or both. Too many English women were psyched out by an aggressive fielding outfit more than willing to stare them down.

It was, at least, only a group game - so the question is, will it happen again? Karen Smithies said: "We didn't apply ourselves batting. We knew after the last three games the step up in class would be difficult, and we needed someone to be watchful, which no one really was. But I still think we can counter them. We just have to learn from today."

England are a talented and big-hearted squad who can certainly play better than yesterday. They will now need to lift themselves before they go to Chandigarh for a quarter-final against the Netherlands or Sri Lanka on Sunday.

England won toss

ENGLAND

C Edwards b Fitzpatrick 0

J Brittin b Mason 7

B Daniels c Calver b Magno 23

S Metcalfe c and b Magno 14

J Cassar run out 1

*K Smithies b Magno 2

K Leng lbw b Magno 0

M Reynard c Rolton b Fitzpatrick 23

C Connor b Fitzpatrick 1

S Redfern run out 2

C Taylor not out 0

Extras (b5 lb4 w13) 22

Total (49.4 overs) 95

Fall: 1-4 2-30 3-39 4-45 5-54 6-58 7-59 8-74 9-85.

Bowling: Fitzpatrick 9.4-3-25-3; Calver 8-3-11-0; Mason 10-3-22-1; Fahey 10-3-13-0; Magno 9-5-10-4; Rolton 3-1-5-0.

AUSTRALIA

*B Clark c Brittin b Reynard 40

J Broadbent c Cassar b Taylor 1

M Goszko not out 51

K Rolton not out 4

Total (for 2, 27.5 overs) 96

Fall: 1-3 2-59.

Did not bat: M Jones, B Calver, J Price, O Magno, A Fahey, C Fitzpatrick, C Mason.

Bowling: Taylor 9-1-20-1; Smithies 9.5-1-34-0; Reynard 6-0-26-1; Leng 3-0-16-0.

Umpires: Sunas Phadkar and D K Kar.

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