In the space of five heady months in 2009, England women won the 50-over World Cup and the World Twenty20, and then added the Ashes to boot. They were masters of all they surveyed.
No longer. It has been seven long years since England’s women last lifted an ICC global event. While the women’s game has been transformed, with the onset of professionalism in England and beyond and global interest surging, a nagging fear has emerged that English cricket is being left behind, especially after the comfortable Ashes defeat last summer.
Now England spy revenge on the world stage. Australia rightly enter the match as favourites, but England have earned the right to be quietly optimistic. They won all four games in the group space, including two nerve-janglers against India and the West Indies.
There will be a claustrophobic tinge to the match in Delhi, so frequently do these players meet, not merely for their countries but in domestic cricket too after the launch of the Women’s Big Bash League last December. It is a meeting of “frenemies,” as England skipper Charlotte Edwards put it. “A lot of our girls performed brilliantly out there so they are going in very confident. Both teams know a lot about each other. There are no ho hidden secrets.”
The cross-pollination between the two nations is about to intensify further with the formation of the Women's Cricket Super League in England this year. “The girls are interested in playing because it’s such a great thing,” said Australian captain Meg Lanning, hoping that a women’s IPL could soon follow.
Such thoughts can wait when a place in the final is at stake. While Australia’s batting has an imposing feel, notwithstanding their defeat to New Zealand, England believe they can match them. Under Mark Robinson, the former Sussex coach who was appointed women’s coach in November, they have aimed to add power and six-hitting prowess.
“He’s come in and he’s got his own take on women’s cricket, he wants us to be more aggressive,” Edwards said. “He wants us to hit more boundaries. From my point of view it’s about being more aggressive throughout my innings, not just the first six; looking for the intent to score boundaries, hit 360 degrees, and have shots in our lockers to bring out at any point.”
So far it has been difficult for England to show off their new power hitting given the turgid wickets produced for the matches in Dharamsala. But in their last group match, against Pakistan in Chennai, England reached 148-5 to give a glimpse of the merits of their new power approach.
On that occasion, as so often, England were indebted to Edwards, who has just become the first man or woman to reach 2,500 runs in T20 international cricket. She arrived in the tournament facing criticism about her perceived stodginess at the top of the order. But her two half-centuries have revealed a player who, at 36, has expanded her game, becoming more adept at hitting fours in the Powerplay and in working the ball for twos. Opening partner Tammy Beaumont provides pyrotechnics from ball one: she has scored England’s only three sixes of the tournament, and the wicket in Delhi is likely to be conducive to hitting several more. They could do with great support from number three Sarah Taylor, one of the most dexterous players around who has only mustered 28 runs in four innings this tournament.
While England were defeated by Australia in the last two finals of the WT20, Edwards draws inspiration from their last meeting in the semi-final, at The Oval in 2009. “We were also not favourites for that game,” she said. “We didn’t play that well through the group stages and got Australia in the semis, which wasn’t predicted at the start of the tournament. It has a similar feel and we hope for a similar result.”
Three things England must do to beat Australia
Win the powerplay Under Mark Robinson, England have placed an emphasis on exploiting the powerplay. It has worked: no side has scored more runs in the powerplay at this tournament.
Match Australia in the field Australia’s two direct-hit run-outs against Ireland show how good they are in the field. England will need to be as alert if they are to cut down on Australia’s quick singles and twos.
Learn from the White Ferns New Zealand, the outstanding team so far, proved that Australia’s top order is not infallible by reducing them to 4 for 4 en route to victory last week.
Australia v England
Wednesday, Delhi, 10am
Australia (probable): E Villani, A Healy (wk), M Lanning (capt), E Perry, A Blackwell, J Jonassen, B Mooney, E Osborne, M Schutt, R Farrell, K Beams.
England (probable): C Edwards (capt),T Beaumont, S Taylor (wk), H Knight, N Sciver, L Marsh, L Greenway, D Wyatt, K Brunt, J Gunn, A Shrubsole.
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