ICC WOMEN’S WORLD CUP: Shrubsole six-fer gives England fourth World Cup title

July 23, 2017 is a date that is unlikely to be forgotten easily in Women’s cricket. History was made even before a ball was bowled in the final of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 with a sell-out crowd at Lord’s coming in to witness, and with a record number tuning in. With a setting unlike any other, hosts, and favourites, England won an important toss and chose to bat.

For India – who had to go through a qualifying tournament to get to main event, reaching the final was a major achievement in itself. Mithali Raj and Co. had done more than what was anticipated in getting a nation glued to the outcome of the match. But could they make it even more memorable for those backing them? Could England win a third World Cup at home? There were many questions that needed answering. In a drama-filled, twist-laden game worthy of a finale, England emerged victorious thanks to a spell for the ages from Anya Shrubsole. India fell short by nine runs, and the players were left heart-broken, but both teams gave the viewers their money and time’s worth and then some.

It didn’t start off all too well for India even as both teams went in with an unchanged squad. England’s openers Tammy Beaumont and Lauren Winfield started in contrasting fashion. The former was the one taking the attack to the pacers, particularly Shikha Pandey whose overpitched errors were driven away crisply to the boundary. On a pitch that had very little bounce or carry, a few edges too fell well short behind the stumps but the experienced Jhulan Goswami adjusted her lines and lengths to finish her first spell with figures of 5-2-9-0. Despite her efforts, the openers were able to set up a solid base before the spinners were brought on.

It was here that India first managed to pull the game back towards them. Rajeshwari Gayakwad who was hit for three boundaries in her first over by Winfield, came back strongly with a maiden in her next. But she didn’t stop just there. A smart switch to over the wicket enabled the left-arm spinner to beat Winfield’s sweep in her next over and bowl her round the legs. And along with Deepti Sharma, she applied the brakes on the scoring rate first. Soon enough a mistake was induced as legspinner Poonam Yadav saw a well set Beaumont holing out against a full toss. The spin-choke also got the better of skipper Heather Knight who was done in by a slider from Poonam as India got their third wicket, through a review.

But this three-wicket burst didn’t put the lid completely on England. Natalie Sciver and Sarah Taylor fought back through a gamely partnership. There was some innovative hitting, and plenty of sweeps against the spinners as the two added a vital 83-run stand for the fourth wicket. By the time the second powerplay was nearing, England had a strong enough base to launch from and take the game away from India.

Realising the dire need to check the run flow, Mithali Raj turned to her long-time partner and gun bowler Goswami once again. And boy did she deliver! In a spell that turned the match on its head, Goswami first had Taylor through a bit of luck, caught down the legside to a nothing delivery but outdid Fran Wilson with a sharp yorker first ball. She missed her hat-trick but had delivered more than what her skipper would have wanted from her.

But Goswami’s contributions didn’t end just there. The dangerous Sciver had just got a deserving half-century and was setting up for the final assault. But Goswami’s impeccable line did her in LBW, on 51, just before the 40th over of the innings. Goswami, who came in with India looking to check the run-flow, finished her spell (10-3-23-3) ensuring that not only was England’s final onslaught delayed, but by a considerably reduced arsenal as well. Good hands from the lower order ensured that England finished with a total of 228 for 7, sixty more than the highest ever successful chase in a Women’s World Cup Final. However, India too went out with their spirits lifted, thanks to that Goswami spell.

The chase, however, did not start well for India. Smriti Mandhana’s tapering form continued as she missed a straight ball to be bowled for a duck by Anya Shrubsole. India’s best batter, and skipper, Mithali Raj started off the chase steadily. But a slight bit of hesitation in going for a quick single cost her dear as she was run out for 17. At 43 for 2, India were in a spot of bother.

But none of that reflected in what was to follow between Harmanpreet Kaur and Punam Raut. The former struggled to find gaps initially but gradually found her rhythm and stitched together an important, composed stand with Raut. Sweeps, flicks and lofts all fetched boundaries for the duo as they kept India in the hunt. The 95-run stand between the two raised India’s hopes steadily. But there were more twists in store.

Soon after getting her fifty, Harmanpreet went for a slog sweep against Alex Hartley but holed out to deep square leg. India still needed 90 runs at this stage but the asking-rate was catching up quickly. Veda Krishnamurthy took up the mantle of upping the ante and did it in style. Her 34-ball 35 took India within touching distance, along with Raut. But with the latter beginning to cramp up, the onus was rising higher on Krishnamurthy. With seven wickets in hand and 38 to get, it was still India’s game.

But one player was not giving up for England. Shrubsole proceeded to produce the spell of her life, picking up 4 for 11 in the space of 16 balls to trigger a spectacular collapse. Raut was LBW, Krishnamurthy was done in by change of pace, Goswami was bowled first ball off a yorker as England came roaring back into the game. Hartley’s dismissal of Sushma Verma and nerve-induced run out of Shikha Pandey raised the pressure on India. But yet, with two overs to go and 11 to get, India still had a chance. Shrubsole snuffed out all their hopes in a momentum-high, blistering spell picking the last two wickets in the space of four balls to give England a nine-run victory, and their fourth World Cup title.

Brief Scores: England 228/7 in 50 overs (Natalie Sciver 51, Sarah Taylor 45; Jhulan Goswami 3/23) beat India 219 all out in 48.4 overs (Punam Raut 86, Harmanpreet Kaur 51; Anya Shrubsole 6/46) by nine runs.

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