I may start with a mutter that may not fully declare.
By most yardsticks – that/those most unscientific of measures – the England and Wales Women’s Cricket team is the best team this island has. Let’s say that again; for there are many doubters and many simply ignorant of the scale of their success, their domination. But our women are our best. Better than Chelsea, better than Manchester City, better than that generally discredited lot The Footballers and The (less discredited/maybe not?) Rugby Boys, certainly. Perhaps our magnificent Athletics team and in particular our Cycling Team might reasonably contest this rash description but as they are plainly super-human and therefore way beyond the norms of best-teamly banter let’s go with my assertion uncontested, please. Otherwise the blog never gets off the ground. Which we don’t want, right?
Earlier today the World T20 Final brought together the two primary powers in women’s cricket – England and Australia. With Australia as holders, but with England consistently trading blows seriously threateningly in this format, and near unassailable market leaders elsewhere, a fierce and even contest was anticipated. It should be noted that England had beaten the Aussies reasonably comfortably earlier in this very tournament – in the group stage – and therefeore had every right to feel confident.
There was a feeling abroad that this traditionally piquant North-South rivalry might be spiked to the heights of awesomeness by some top level inspiration from key individuals on either side – or both. Perry v Edwards awaited. We hoped for a lung-burster, a record-breaker, a watershed-teetering epoch changer; something which announced the (women’s) game, legitimised it beyond contradiction as well as entertained the pants off us. Some of that, we got.
Thus we are drawn by some philosopho-googly into some early consideration of the value or the quality of Women’s Cricket; regrettably. Clearly it would be a lovelier and easier universe if we had o’er-zoomed gaily into the balmy, spangliferous galaxy where girl-boy parity for stuff like this was a given. Alas not – not yet. Those of us who carry some velveteen sureness about the authenticity of women’s cricket at the international level have work to do still to convince the majority, I suspect. This game felt like an opportunity; something of a moment in a campaign that need never be… but may move sharply forward post a stunning triumph for women’s cricket. So much for the subtext.
England won the toss and put the Aussies in. No quibbling with that one as there seemed no weather or pitch related issues to heavily contradict the natural preference to ‘see what they get first’. And this England had many times previously proved themselves entirely capable of holding their nerve and their game plan together whilst ‘chasing.’ But Australia attacked – successfully. Sloppiness in the field erupted alongside the uncharacteristically mixed bowling, disappointingly so from the England perspective. Plainly they were either nervous of the occasion or unnerved by the positivity from the batters.
Both Lanning and Healy prospered – storming to a swift half-century before Lanning fell with 51 on the board. The bad news for England was that this precipitated the entry of Cameron – who went on to biff 45 off 34 balls. In short, the Green and Golds bossed the innings, rotating the strike and hitting with power and confidence. England’s throwing, in particular, seemed weirdly out of sorts. Any other day these things go instinctively well; here certain fundamentals wobbled. Aah, the spotlight.
Partnerships make any form of cricket seem easy because runs accumulate smoothly and because they make a difference to the sense of control. Lanning and Healy then Cameron and Sthlekar simply worked the thing forward as a project; together. This was to prove central.
Although the England attack prevented an absolute slogfest at the end of the Aussie innings, the final total of 142 for the loss of only 4 wickets reflected the relative serenity of the batting side’s progress. They must have been on the bouncy side of satisfied come the interval and they looked that way as they emerged, ‘pumped’ for the critical period – the Perry v Edwards confrontation.
There was certainly an up-shift in tension quality as Australia’s finest – the tall, fluent and swift strike bowler Ellyse Perry – eyed Charlotte Edwards – England skipper and batting icon – from the end of her run. Perry, we imagined, with her extravagant but athletic cadence providing a genuine extra gear, really might be of a mind to skittle the Pom line-up, thereby making the kind of statement to the enemy most of us have dreamt about. Edwards smashed her first delivery imperiously for four. This did not prove typical.
Marsh, Edward’s opening partner, went slightly clumsily, caught and bowled by Hunter for 8. Whilst not suggesting this setback was wholly responsible for that which followed, from then on it proved fascinatingly beyond England to gather their composure. If the incoming Sarah Taylor used her impressively quick feet to engineer her strokes and skipper Edwards struck from a less skittish base there was never the sense of an innings being built together. Things stuttered; the run rate being substantially down, immediately, on the Australian effort. And though there were hints of real quality and real defiance from Edwards, her dismissal – caught rather tamely off a solid but always inadequately brutal slap to deep midwicket – went with the momentum of the match. Perry – efficient rather than deadly today with ball in hand – took the catch, one of two or three played conveniently and directly at the gratefully receptive field.
England were insufficiently dynamic as much as Australia were efficient. They failed to execute rather than panicked, but the infectious clubbing of the ball to leg with little prospect of clearing a field set for exactly that response undid them. Greenway, like Edwards was caught too cheaply – and both were key wickets. Batters came and went at ten run intervals, approximately; a look back at the scorecard confirms the impression of non-application.
From Australia we had good rather than brilliant work despite Nasser Hussain’s repeated (and understandably supportive) use of the word ‘exceptional’. Some great saves around the boundary undermined by Blackwell’s drop in the circle and another close to the ropes. Meaning England will feel that they underachieved. However, at 71 for 4 England – despite being under pressure they seemed unable to pierce or grind a way through – were only three runs beyond the Aussie score. And with 8 overs remaining they now needed 8 plus per over – a stretch in these circumstances but not impossible.
Brindle had come in and immediately manoeuvred the ball around with some confidence but perhaps insufficient violence. Could she and Gunn cool that strip, flay their way through or nurdle and chase that many? The aforementioned drop by the ropes dawdled cruelly over for four, offering a wee lift to admittedly quietened English expectation. Now Sthalekar re-entered proceedings as if to test the England resolve towards risk; her gentle off-spin perhaps offering an opportunity for expansive hitting. They generally baulked at going big – particularly as the ball began to spin significantly – and Brindle was comprehensively bowled late in the 14th. Meaning 9 an over with 5 wickets remaining.
Again the sense was of individual batters needing to force things, intermittently, in the absence of any comfort from sustained pressure from the willow at both ends simultaneously. It was a lumpy, unconvincing innings. As the game slid further away Gunn and Brunt needed 10 plus an over. Gunn responded with a defiant blow to midwicket off Hunter. 42 needed off last 24 balls. Then Brunt was bowled playing back off a fullish delivery – when forward must surely have been the wiser choice. This became an issue – Eng staying deep in the crease to cut when going positively forward over the top may have been more productive. Inevitably but suddenly, we were at fireworks or bust. And Gunn and Hazell couldn’t effect that; not often enough.
29 off 14 balls however was still not impossible – even if it felt painfully unlikely. Hazell finally launched, with a four followed by a 6, before flicking slightly casually at shortish fine leg; another disappointment. Holly Colvin entered with 2 overs remaining, 23 from 12 balls needed, which fast-forwarded to 16 required from the last over; again, meaning that England were mathematically still kindof in it. But almost unbelievably, Hazell plays a soft paddle for 1 off the first ball. Then a huge no ball – above waist height – gives England an extra delivery. Then a poorish drop at mid-off and we’re down to 9 from 3. Shoddy fielding by now as nerves really bite. 6 to win from the last ball, 5 to tie, with Hazell on strike. Shit or bust. Shit, as it happens, as Aus win by 4.
A match then, that our dear friends from Down Under unquestionably deserved to win. Featuring good and sometimes great athleticism; from both sides. And some outstanding aggression and control and management by the Australian batters in particular. It may be that neither fielding unit brought their A Game to the final – mixed catching and some sloppiness late on from the Aussies just slightly unravelling their aspiration towards a perfectly executed plan. (Mind you, they seemed happy enough to win. Again.) A good final and a proper game of cricket.