And then there were two: Australia and England.
Predictable? In part. They are the two most successful teams in the history of the ODI Women’s World Cup and were considered first for silverware in the current 12th edition ODI. But neither favorites Australia nor reigning champions England could have foreseen the contrasting campaigns that pitted them against each other in an over-50 clash at the summit of the World Cup for the first time since 1988 , while they were playing cricket in… uh…skirts were a thing
The women’s game has come a long way since then – in terms of rejecting that questionable dress choice as well as other teams making incremental progress towards (occasionally) challenging the supremacy of Australia and England. What has remained largely unchanged, however, is the two teams’ grip on the Cup: Australia have six in their bag as a triumph in Sunday’s final at the Hagley Oval would give the England, who have never successfully defended a world title at 50, their fifth.
Until the last game of the league phase of this World Cup, Australia against England was far from a likely match for the final. Considered a depleted force throughout their first three successive defeats following a winless Ashes campaign, Heather Knight’s England were forced to rely on knockout mentality after that.
But five straight wins later resulted in a dramatic turnaround. The most recent of these was also by far their most comprehensive overall performance in the tournament: a 137-point victory over South Africa in the semi-finals on the same ground as the venue for the final.
For Australia, ranked No. 1, the scenario could not have gone better. They kicked off their campaign with a hard-fought 12-point win over England with a record between captain Meg Lanning and assistant Rachael Haynes. This started them on a pre-final unbeaten streak of eight matches in the tournament and 11 ODIs dating back to the Ashes in January-February.
The fact that they didn’t field the same XI for two successive matches until their first all-rounder Ellyse Perry was left out of their last league game speaks to the composition of a squad full of impact players . For a team that scripted a world-record 26 ODI wins on the trot in response to their shock elimination in the 2017 World Cup semi-finals, a final ‘W’ to their name in this edition would be a fitting crescendo in their quest for redemption.
Australia WWWWWW (Last five matches completed; most recent first)
In the spotlight
Even in the potential absence of Ellyse Perry, Australia looks quite an unstoppable juggernaut. This is partly thanks to the many iconic rescue acts Rachel Haynes and convenience store series Beth Mooney have scripted in this tournament. Haynes weathered a couple of top-notch slumps en route to the top of Australia’s run chart with two fifty and a career-best 130 against England. Mooney, player of the 2020 T20 World Cup series, barely took a misstep, playing her role as an intermediate floater perfectly. The two left-handed hitters, along with big game player Alyssa Healy and knockout specialist Lanning, could be winning contributors.
Although it is difficult to choose a standout artist from the Australian line-up, it is more difficult to look beyond Sophie Eclestone as far as England is concerned. The highest-ranked white-ball bowler, Ecclestone won a career-best 6 from 36 in the semi-finals to become the top wicket-taker for England in a single World Cup. The 22-year-old, a nets thrower in the 2017 equivalent, with a hundred caps across all formats in just five years into her international career, is three strokes away from equaling another arm player left, former Australia international Lyn Fullston, on the list of all-time ticket takers in a single edition.
England have a full squad at their disposal while Australia will wait for Perry’s fitness to decide their final XI. If chosen, she will become a specialist batsman, Lanning said on Saturday, given that she had not played since back spasms forced her off the field in the league match on March 29. With an average of over 50 in the format with the bat, with two successive player of the match awards in this World Cup, Perry’s reinstatement in the XI could come at the expense of versatile player Annabel Sutherland, who replaced against Bangladesh and in the semi-finals. final.
Australia (possible): 1 Alyssa Healy (wk), 2 Rachael Haynes, 3 Meg Lanning (capt), 4 Beth Mooney, 5 Tahlia McGrath, 6 Ellyse Perry/Annabel Sutherland, 7 Ashleigh Gardner, 8 Jess Jonassen, 9 Alana King, 10 Megan Schutt, 11 Darcie Brown
England had dropped 21-year-old offspinner Charlie Dean for their tournament opener against Australia. But they are unlikely to go that route for the final given that Dean’s 11 wickets in five outings have parachuted her into the top five wicket-takers of this World Cup.
England (possible): 1 Tammy Beaumont, 2 Danielle Wyatt, 3 Heather Knight (capt), 4 Natalie Sciver, 5 Amy Jones (wk), 6 Sophia Dunkley, 7 Katherine Brunt, 8 Sophie Ecclestone, 9 Kate Cross, 10 Charlie Dean, 11 Anya Shrub
Location and conditions
Australia have not played at Hagley Oval since the 2000 World Cup, while England have played only two in their last three games before Sunday’s day-night match. On a fresh surface, the rapids should have their say at the start of both runs. Anya Shrubsole, the heroine of the 2017 World Cup final who inflicted two debilitating blows in her opening two semi-final overs on Thursday, could harvest a healthy move on what have so far been favorable conditions at bat for the best game in Christchurch.
Under the lights the ball is likely to skid a bit more, and dew, Lanning said, could be a factor in the second half of what should be a (mostly) rainless encounter.
Statistics and anecdotes
Meg Lanning is set to play her 100th ODI and will only become the seventh Australian woman to do so. Of her current teammates, only Perry, who has 127 appearances to her credit in the format, has passed the 100 ODI milestone.
Heather Knight is set to become the first England captain to win back-to-back world titles over the age of 50, after lifting the trophy at Lord’s in 2017
England (122) and Australia (109) occupy first and third positions on the list of teams having conceded the most extras in this World Cup, with semi-finalists South Africa (121) ranked second.
“[It was] fair [about] trying to keep everybody really happy, everybody positive. And I think the girls did that brilliantly. Sometimes you have to force a little when, obviously, you are in a bad situation. But I think we’re very close as a group, I’m very proud that we really stuck together.”
Heather Knight on what sparked her team’s phenomenal turnaround
“[There is] a bit of everything, to be honest. A few nerves around. I think it would be crazy if you weren’t nervous before a World Cup final, so that’s a good thing. But there is a lot of excitement. It’s a great opportunity for our team to play on a big stage and play some really good cricket. We know it’s going to be tough. England always offer great competition.”
Captain Meg Lanning on the atmosphere in the Australian camp the day before the match
Annesha Ghosh is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha