Escape to victory! England were down and almost out in the Women’s Cricket World Cup but now they believe they can stop the Aussie juggernaut and defend title in mouthwatering final
- England’s women are looking to defend their 2017 Cricket World Cup crown
- They lost their first three matches but have come storming back in New Zealand
- Heather Knight is one game away from lifting the trophy for the second time
- England take on favourites Australia – final starts at 2am (BST) Sunday morning
It almost became the most calamitous World Cup defence imaginable but England’s women will try to complete a great escape early on Sunday morning by stopping the Australian juggernaut.
England, defending a title they won so gloriously at Lord’s in 2017, feared they had been knocked out when they lost their first three matches of what has been a thrilling 50-over World Cup in New Zealand.
But they have been unbeaten since, culminating in a comfortable semi-final win over South Africa that has convinced England they can upset the hot favourites in Christchurch.
England are now one game away from defending their World Cup crown in New Zealand
England proved too strong for South Africa and will now take on Ashes rivals Australia
‘When we lost our third game I thought, “What a disappointing World Cup that’s been. Three games and we’re out already”,’ admitted England bowler Kate Cross.
‘Then I got a text that night saying, “It’s still possible. You need things to go your way but most of all you need to start winning”.
‘The final still felt a long way away but at least we knew we could still get there.’
Now Heather Knight is one game away from lifting the trophy for the second time at the end of a gruelling winter that has seen England spend the last three months on the road undertaking an ill-fated Ashes series before the World Cup.
They will start as big underdogs against a formidable Australia team they have not beaten all winter.
Heather Knight is one game away from lifting the trophy again at the end of a gruelling winter
‘It feels like two very different stories have been told here,’ Cross told Sportsmail.
‘Australia have cruised most of their fixtures and have been a dead cert to reach the final all the way, while we’ve had our backs to the wall and have had to fight to get here.
‘We’d have loved the journey Australia have had, but we’ve had to show a lot of character and it’s told us a lot about ourselves as a team. We’ve not been able to hide and we’ve had to use every resource we’ve had.’
England could be peaking at the right time, through the form of their outstanding slow left-armer Sophie Ecclestone, the improvement in their veteran bowlers Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole, and the blossoming batting of Danni Wyatt.
Kate Cross was left out back in 2017 but is now one of England’s most important bowlers
Then there is Cross, who was left out of the 2017 tournament and felt like an intruder when she was asked to join in the celebrations in the Lord’s dressing room after England’s famous win against India.
Now, at 30, she has become one of England’s most important bowlers, mainly in a middle overs containing role, and hopes to be able to play a full part in celebrations this time as a bona-fide member of the team.
First England have to stop Australia, who have taken the women’s game to new levels since embarking on a five-year plan after their disappointing tournament in 2017.
In contrast, England and the ECB have not fully taken the opportunity that glorious day at Lord’s in front of a young and diverse full house provided for the women’s game.
England have come close to beating Australia this winter, notably in their opening World Cup game, but so far have not registered a win. ‘We have pushed them so close,’ added Cross.
‘We weren’t expected to get to this final and we’re not expected to win it, so we just have to do the best we can and find out if it’s good enough on the day.
‘It’s Australia’s to lose in many ways but we’re enjoying ourselves now and want to be part of something special.’
England have to stop Australia, who have taken the women’s game to new levels recently