“I don’t see any fear in them,” says Mithali Raj of her team ahead of title clash at Lord’s.
A total of 13 players in the England and India teams have played an international match at Lord’s in the past. All that will matter for little when both teams face off in the final of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 on Sunday in front of a capacity crowd and much will depend on who handles the occasion better.
“Both teams have got good batters and quality bowlers. England have got good fast bowlers and their left-arm spinner (Alex Hartley) is getting wickets,” said Mithali Raj, India’s captain. “Their middle-order is as good as ours. It all boils down to how well we face pressure situations. There will be times when they are on top, and when India is doing well. It’s how we take that momentum is very important. Also when it is a crucial phase, how the teams respond to it.
“It is a final, there will be pressure. Any final we play, there is always the fear of putting the wrong foot. This bunch of players is playing finals for the first time, but then I don’t see any fear in them now,” she added. “It’s completely different to 2005 (when India also made the final) where we were all overawed by the occasion. But these girls are different. I am sure it’s not going to be easy, but it all depends on how well we hold our nerves and perform.”
There will be three key match-ups that could decide whether England win their third title or India make history.
Sarah Taylor v Deepti Sharma
Sarah Taylor’s classical shots have been one of the hallmarks of the tournament. After two bad games, she got into the groove with an unbeaten 74 against Sri Lanka, and then hit a brilliant century against South Africa. It was an emotional affair because Taylor had been uncertain of playing international cricket again a year back. She underwent cognitive behavioural therapy and gradually returned to the game. The remarkable aspect about Taylor’s innings has been the way she has used her feet against the spinners, almost dominating from the start. It has also led to her early dismissals a few times, and that makes Deepti Sharma, India’s highest wicket-taker, crucial. Deepti has got sharp turn and found the right length to keep the batters in check.
Taylor: 351 runs in 8 matches at 50.14 (HS: 147 against South Africa)
Deepti: 12 wickets in 8 matches at 27.18 (BB: 3-47 against England)
Mithali Raj v Anya Shrubsole
Both are experienced warhorses who have gone into many battles, but this is the biggest of their careers. Shrubsole was a part of the team that won the World Twenty20 and the World Cup in 2009, while Raj was part of the side that contested the 2005 World Cup Final. Raj, who became the first batter to score 6,000 ODI runs during the course of this tournament, has taken her batting to another level. All her three fifties and one century have come when the team needed it the most. The century against New Zealand, her first against a top-three nation, was in a must-win league game in conditions not exactly favourable for batting.
Raj, however, has had issues against in-swingers throughout her career, and that brings Anya Shrubsole into picture. Shrubsole has not had the best of tournaments, but played a key role in the semi-final win against South Africa. She bowled Lizelle Lee with an in-swinger, and that allowed England to gain early control. If she bowls from the Member’s Stand then she could use the slope to her advantage.
Raj: 392 in 8 matches at 49.00 (HS: 109 against New Zealand)
Shrubsole: 6 wickets at 43.00 (BB: 2-19 against New Zealand)
Natalie Sciver v Harmanpreet Kaur
The power that Natalie Sciver (two centuries) and Harmanpreet Kaur (one century) have displayed through the tournament will be one of the talking points in the future. They are impact players and can change the game in a space of few deliveries. Sciver soaked in the pressure against New Zealand after England lost three early wickets, and played one of the best innings of the tournament to take the team to the semi-final.
Harmanpreet, on the other hand, was brutal against Australia, playing the best innings by an Indian in the history of women’s ODIs (and by perhaps anyone!) However, she is suffering from a shoulder injury and that gives Sciver a slight advantage in the battle of the all-rounders.
Sciver: 318 runs and 7 wickets in 8 matches at 45.42 and 24.85 (HS/BB: 137 against Pakistan/3-3 against Windies)
Kaur: 308 runs and 5 wickets in 8 matches at 61.60 and 32.80 (HS/BB: 171 not out against Australia/2-18 against South Africa)