Fran Wilson, on her One-Day International debut against Sri Lanka in 2010, joined Jenny Gunn at the fall of the fourth wicket, but was back in the hut for a duck within two balls.
Wilson did not play ODIs for the next six years, and Gunn’s presence in the middle-order was over shortly thereafter. She has batted at No. 5 just five times since that game and has not played above No. 8 in more than two years.
The next time Wilson and Gunn batted together was against India on the opening day of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 in Derby. Chasing 281, England was 154 for 5 when Wilson, in the side because Lauren Winfield was injured, Katherine Brunt and Gunn scripted a remarkable revival. They were all run out in the space of 9.5 overs as the chase fell through, with Gunn unhappy with Anya Shrubsole after her run out. England lost by 35 runs, but the lower middle-order’s resistance set the debate going on how the game has evolved.
When a fit Winfield returned for the third game against Sri Lanka, Gunn was dropped. A minor injury to Wilson brought Gunn back into the team for the marquee clash against Australia in Bristol. As it turned out, her 39 from No. 8, which included a stand of 85 with Brunt, and a terrific final over gave England a three-run win. It went a long way in England finishing at the top of the league table, and playing the semi-final against fourth-ranked South Africa in Bristol on Tuesday.
Wilson, who returned for the next game against New Zealand while Gunn retained her place, had said before the semi-final that had the Australia match been a day later then she would have been available for selection. The sequence of events was leading up to something special.
Chasing 219 against South Africa, England became 145 for 5 and was left needing 74 off 16 overs. The responsibility was once again on Wilson, Brunt and Gunn to do something special. What they did won’t be forgotten for long.
The way the trio had counter-attacked against India had established that no target was safe in women’s cricket anymore. They hit eight fours while playing 12 dot balls in a combined association of 66 runs. Sweeps and reverse sweeps against the spinners had proven effective, while the seamers had been hit down the ground with a straight bat.
The formula was there to be repeated against South Africa, but the stakes were different. Mark Robinson, the coach, had pointed out that lack of fitness had led to England’s exit from the semi-final of the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 in 2016. He had driven a change, bringing more youngsters into the setup. He was prudent enough to appreciate the experience of Gunn and Brunt, even while he brought back the likes of Natalie Sciver, Wilson and Tammy Beaumont into the mix.
This was the team’s chance to walk the walk in front of a global audience and vindicate the coach’s faith. The turning point in many ways was Wilson’s reverse-swept boundary against Sune Luus in the 36th over, the first of the batting Power Play.
Luus had bowled poorly, and was lucky with the wicket of Heather Knight, while the delivery to dismiss Sciver was a rare good one on the day. Wilson, though, was a step ahead. With the pitch slowing down, she waited till the last moment for the ball to complete turning before using the bottom hand to good effect to reverse sweep with enough force to reach the boundary. It was the first boundary after 21 balls and just the release shot England was after in the last stage of the chase.
Dane van Niekerk, the South Africa captain, was not landing her leg-spinners like she had through the tournament, and Luus’s bluff was called. With four overs remaining in the Power Play, South Africa had to go back to the seamers – its strength.
With Ayabonga Khaka, the birthday girl, having completed her quota, it was now up to Shabnim Ismail, Marizanne Kapp and Moseline Daniels.
They bowled tight as England now needed 53 off the last 10 overs. In the league stages, England had the best run rate of 7.72 between overs 41 and 50. South Africa’s economy in the same phase was 6.09 – fifth among eight teams. So England was ahead but numbers don’t factor in the pressures of a knockout game.
What an all-pace attack, except for one over from van Niekerk, meant was that the pace off the surface always offered a chance for the batters to find the boundary. South Africa could not attack, and it allowed Wilson and Brunt to take easy singles.
When Daniels bowled Brunt, South Africa had brought the equation to 46 off 46. From there on, it was a matter of who blinked first. South Africa lost the fizz and gave away boundaries as England marched on. Gunn used the long handle to good effect and Wilson was cheeky, as they collected five fours between many singles and twos in their 40-run stand.
“I don’t mind pace on the ball. My role in that situation was to just get the ball into the outfield and take ones and twos and if the bad ball came your way then you just hit it all the way through. It was about resisting from doing anything stupid out there,” said Wilson afterwards.
“Jenn was great. She is so soft spoken off the pitch, but on the pitch she was like, ‘Come on, Fran, come on. Keep going’. She was so stern. I was like, ‘Yeah, okay. No worries. I will do it’. It is great to bat with Jenn because the boundary can come from anywhere. She hits the ball anywhere and her arms are so long. You just know that she will get the boundary away and you can take it easy at the other end.
“It is just a simple game plan really. It was a simple low-risk option. Putting pressure on them makes them do mistakes, fumbles. It’s also annoying from a fielding side point of view to see people running,” she added. “When you start feeling pressure that it is down to you then you punch back and take a risk to find a boundary. Or maybe come out of the crease, do something different. The key is to not panic really and just keep going as you are.”
Wilson and Laura Marsh fell to make things interesting. But Shrubsole’s four off the penultimate ball gave England a two-wicket win and made the Wilson-Gunn stand a special achievement.