Cricket: Women's World Cup Final: Finale a survival of the fittest

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WITHIN minutes of seeing off the Netherlands on Thursday, Karen Smithies and her colleagues were haring up the pavilion stairs at Ealing Cricket Club. Forget the showers. A session with the team psychologist took precedence.

It remains to be seen whether Steve Bull's theories on body language, self-assurance and visualisation can achieve their ultimate goal, namely victory over New Zealand in tomorrow's Women's World Cup final, but there can be no doubting their influence on the hosts' rendezvous at Lord's.

When the England squad first met Bull last October, only a couple of their number believed Australia could be beaten. Proof of the transformation was visible in the assertive way they overcame a loss to New Zealand to trounce Ireland, held the Indian batsmen at bay with 17 runs required off the last 17 balls then defeated the favourites 24 hours later with a superb display of outcricket that drew some of the sting simultaneously being suffered by the menfolk at Headingley. The amateurs, in effect, have outboxed the pros.

New Zealand, though, are still on their feet, and standing tall at that. Defeat against the Antipodean arch-enemy in their final round-robin fixture would almost certainly have meant elimination on an inferior run-rate yet Australia were brushed aside for 77 and the tournament's only unblemished record survived. Then again, one can hardly expect any less of a side led by an Illingworth.

Sarah Illingworth has at her disposal a rich vein of seamers and an array of fielders every bit as lethal as those in Smithies' corner. That much was made abundantly clear when the pair met at Beckenham, where England, chasing 128, sustained five run-outs and fell well short.

In Jan Brittin and Carole Hodges, England nonetheless boast the event's two most consistent batsmen. Jointly responsible for all four of the centuries scored during the qualifying section, they have so far helped construct four totals in excess of 200. A fascinating, if probably low-scoring, tussle is undoubtedly in store.