By Shashank Kishore in Mirpur
As the two best sides in the women’s game vie for the T20 title, it’ll be a more than a simple contest between big hitting and miserly bowling
Historically, England and Australia form cricket's oldest rivalry. It's a match-up that elicits excitement, passion and hunger to win at any cost. The men's teams of both countries endured a torrid time at the tournament; now, the women have extra incentive to not just go one up and take the silverware home, but also garner some well-deserved attention from the fans and the cricketing fraternity.
The two sides last met on the global stage at the World Cup in India in February 2013. England's heart-wrenching two-run loss in Mumbai dealt a body blow to its title aspirations. Six months prior to that, England was heavily favoured to win after going into the 2012 World T20 final unbeaten. But it was pipped by four runs in Colombo courtesy Lisa Sthalekar's heroics.
On the face of it, the match would appear a contest between Australia's big-hitting batters and England's miserly bowlers. That isn't to say England doesn't have an able batting line-up to counter the threat from its rival; but, there's no denying that the batting looks top heavy. Beyond captain Charlotte Edwards and Sarah Taylor, to an extent, it lacks depth.
England failed to chase down 134 against West Indies in the tournament opener, while against India, it lost five wickets chasing a paltry 96. In its third outing against Bangladesh, it was Edwards who bailed the team out of a tight spot with a 69-ball 80. In its last group game against Sri Lanka, the middle order was once again untested as the team chased down 86 with consummate ease.
In the semifinal too, the chase was reduced to a canter after South Africa was bowled out for 101. That England has managed to post four wins on a bounce to reach the final has largely been thanks to the efforts of its bowlers, particularly Anya Shrubsole.
Blessed with the ability to swing the ball back in to the right-handers at a good clip, she is currently the leading wicket-taker in the competition with 12 scalps in five matches. Her jaw-dropping economy rate and average of 3.45 and 5.75 respectively is further proof of her intimidation with the new ball.
Australia captain Meg Lanning said her team had taken stock of the Shrubsole threat, but emphasised the need to play her without any preconceived notions. "There’s no denying Anya's been bowling really well," she acknowledged. "We have to be on top of our game and to ensure she doesn't get wickets early, I think it's important to do what is natural to us and that is to be aggressive. You can’t get bogged down against someone of her ability."
Australia has tinkered with its batting order through the tournament, something that has come about due to a touch of inconsistency. Elyse Villani was left out of two matches, but re-established her credentials by striking 90 in the last group fixture against Pakistan. In the semifinal too, against West Indies, she provided a power boost at the top.
Alyssa Healy's inconsistency at the top forced the team management to demote her to No. 7. The move paid off as Healy's unbeaten 21-ball 30 cameo proved to be the difference between a run till the semifinal and a berth in the final.
In 2012, Lanning was one of Australia's biggest finds. She finished the tournament with five consecutive scores of 30 plus, which made her the first woman batter to do so in the tournament's history. While there's no denying her wicket will be the key, Australia will also depend on the all-round efforts of Ellyse Perry, and spin twins Jess Jonassen and Erin Osborne, to punch above its weight.
The Ashes rivalry and an even match-up lend a bit of spice ahead of the final. Come Sunday, both sides will add another chapter to their long-standing rivalry. "There's always comments and banter, that is what you expect when we play each other," said Lanning. "But the good thing is, everyone knows where the line is. It’s just a bit of fun, no harm in trying to get an edge however you can."
Edwards agreed. "I’m sure there will be a few words exchanged tomorrow between two sides desperate to win, but surely there won’t be any swearing," she laughed. "I think off the field we get on really well, it is the biggest rivalry in cricket, but we have a huge amount of respect for one another. But we will try and do all our talking with the bat and ball."
While one captain is keen to establish an identity of her own, the other is keen to add another chapter to her glorious 18-year career. The contest promises to be a cracker, and the best possible reason not to wait till 7pm local time to find your seat at the stadium or in front of the television.
England Women (from): Charlotte Edwards (capt), Tammy Beaumont, Lydia Greenway, Rebecca Grundy, Jenny Gunn, Danielle Hazell, Amy Jones, Heather Knight, Natalie Sciver, Anya Shrubsole, Sarah Taylor (wk), Frances Wilson, Kate Cross, Jodie Dibble, Georgia Elwiss.
Australia Women (from): Meg Lanning (capt), Alex Blackwell, Alyssa Healy (wk), Nicole Bolton, Jess Cameron, Sarah Coyte, Rene Farrell, Holly Ferling, Ellyse Perry, Julie Hunter, Jess Jonassen, Elyse Villani, Erin Osborne, Beth Mooney, Delissa Kimmince.