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England, India have advantage of playing semi-finals on familiar venues

The former England captain predicts an England v Australia final
England Women

England would have been delighted to top the league phase of this ICC Women’s World Cup and secure a semi-final at Bristol. England has played a lot there, enjoyed success and it’s where it played South Africa and scored 374, so plenty of happy memories.

England has familiarised itself with that Bristol ground, had good support there and will be confident going into that last-four match against South Africa. We used to have what we called ‘Fortress Chelmsford’ because it was a ground I was never beaten at during my time as an England player. It certainly does make a difference and gives you a boost when you return to a ground where you’ve experienced success.

England has been unstoppable since that opening game defeat to India and is getting better every match. Sometimes the scores don’t necessarily show that, but even the other day at 100-odd for five it got itself out of a tricky situation against the West Indies when Laura Marsh got 31 not out and Jenny Gunn made another crucial contribution to get the side up to 220, which was always going to be too many on that pitch.

England seems to be hitting its straps at the right time, different players are stepping up to the plate each game and it’s been a real team performance throughout. We’ve seen five hundreds from four different players and the bowling, my worry at the start of this World Cup, has improved massively and has answered all my questions.

Lee has a reputation as a fearsome striker of the ball
Lee has a reputation as a fearsome striker of the ball

South Africa must hit England hard up front if it has to win. South Africa has got two of the best opening bowlers, but they bowled poorly against England earlier in the tournament and gave the batters far too much width. They’ve got to be on the money, get early wickets, get into England and then its spinners are having a good tournament and can maintain the pressure.

If South Africa can restrict England to the early 200s it will take confidence after replying with over 300 to England’s mammoth total in the group game. It has also got to be aggressive with the bat and Lizelle Lee will be crucial as she takes the attack to the opposition. The team will need her at her best to get the team off to an aggressive start against England’s opening bowlers.

There can be a fine line between confidence and complacency, but I’m sure England won’t rest on its laurels. It will know what South Africa brings to the table and will be more than ready. I spoke to Nat Sciver the other day and she hinted that the team would have preferred India or New Zealand in the last four. England has lost to South Africa in the last 18 months in an away game, it will be wary and know it is a more than useful side that cannot be taken lightly.

Veda Krishnamurthy's knock against New Zealand came at the right time for India with Mithali Raj batting beautifully as always
Veda Krishnamurthy's knock against New Zealand came at the right time for India with Mithali Raj batting beautifully as always

If I were a gambler I’d have had my money on New Zealand to beat India in that crucial last group match, but that victory will have given India so much confidence. India beat the Kiwis in such a high pressure game, Mithali Raj scored a great hundred under real pressure, Veda Krishnamurthy scored 70 off 40-odd balls and then to bowl New Zealand out for 79 was an incredible feat. That bodes well for India, which thoroughly deserves to be in the semi-finals. It will also do a huge amount for the tournament that India has progressed.

There will be a big crowd at Derby and India will be delighted to have the match there as it has won all four games it has played at that ground and it’s become ‘Fortress Derby’ for them. Australia hasn’t played in Derby yet so it’s going to be one real cracker of a semi-final.

Australia beat India comfortably in the group phase, but there’s something about this India side. It is not backing down. When the pressure is on, its players are really coming to the fore, it is a confident team and one that is backing itself and that’s what I’ve always wanted this Indian team to do. It won't fear anyone, it has already beaten England, it has won against a good New Zealand team and the next one on its list is Australia, so beware the Aussies!

Although Australia haven't played in Derby during the tournament, they might be too strong for India to overcome them
Although Australia haven't played in Derby during the tournament, they might be too strong for India to overcome them

Mithali Raj has gone past my runs record in ODIs in this World Cup, become the first player to break the 6,000-run barrier and she’s one hell of a player. She’s shown that throughout this tournament. Records are there to be broken and it’s fitting that she did it. To then score a century in the next game shows what pure class Mithali is.

The lure of a Lord’s final is huge and we will now see what these teams are made of. This is real pressure now, we’re at the business end, the World Cup is within reach and there are no second chances. We will see who deals with that pressure the best.

I’ve been really impressed with how England has coped with being the home nation and this is now the next step. It is do-or-die. You’ve got to win or you go home and miss out on one of the biggest days in women’s cricket. A full house at Lord’s – there’s no bigger prize.

I’m predicting an England versus Australia final. I think Australia would have to have an off day against India and should be too strong. I think the two best teams in this World Cup have been England and Australia and if all things are equal then those two teams meet at Lord’s on 23 July.

But then this is the World Cup, the stakes are high and the pressure is huge. May the best teams win!

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