How The 2022 Women’s Cricket World Cup Reinvigorated A Nation’s Followers Once More

Photo credit: England Cricket

It’s been a winter of discontent for followers of England’s cricket teams.

A semi-final knockout in the Men’s T20 World Cup, two heavy Ashes defeats, a drawn T20I men’s series against the West Indies and a disastrous loss in the final Test of a three-match series against the same opponents that derailed the men’s ‘red ball reset’ – there really hasn’t been much to shout about.

After England’s first three matches of the 2022 Women’s ODI World Cup, it looked like the suffering was set to continue.

But the thrilling turnaround of Heather Knight’s team, winning five games in a row – matches that, if they lost, would have meant an early exit for the defending champions – to reach the final, provided excitement and genuine, believable hope for the first time this winter; and it was great fun to be a part of.

They didn’t do it the easy way. While coasting to victory against India, they lost two quick wickets near the end of their run chase which added unnecessary tension. They required the nerves of steel of number 11 Anya Shrubsole – hero of the 2017 final – to see them over the line against New Zealand after losing 20 runs for five wickets in another nail biter. They stuttered to just 234 in 50 overs in their final group game against World Cup debutants Bangladesh.

Indeed, it wasn’t until their semi-final against South Africa that you could say they put in the ‘perfect’ performance, with Danni Wyatt’s scintillating 129 setting up a big total of 293-8 before all the bowlers shone in knocking over the Proteas for just 156, Sophie Ecclestone taking 6-36.

But the frantic, chaotic, nerve-shredding nature of that run to the final was part of what made the World Cup so interesting to follow. You never knew which England would turn up. One day they were smashing runs for fun, the next they were collapsing in pursuit of low totals. Some games they’d field like a team of Jonty Rhodes’, in others they’d drop catches you’d expect most amateurs to take.

Other than that semi-final, they were often below their best. But when they needed to win, they always found a way. This was a united team that knew they had the players and the attributes to take them over the line in whatever circumstance. They implicitly trusted each other and we trusted them too, albeit often while hiding behind the sofa or under the duvet.

Ultimately, Australia proved to be just too good in the final. Fielding errors cost England – both the openers were dropped within the space of four Kate Cross deliveries – and Alyssa Healy (who was on 40 when she had her a stroke of luck) took full advantage, blasting a record World Cup final score of 170 as the 2013 champions finished on 356-5. In reply, Nat Sciver compiled an equally stunning 148* but, despite five batters getting into the 20s, she couldn’t find a long-term partner to support her as England finished 71 runs short.

There is no shame in losing to this Australian side though. Since being knocked out in the last World Cup at the semi-final stage, they’ve won 40/42 ODI games. They have restricted England to a solitary win across the last two Ashes and have not lost any of their last 21 series in any format.

This is a squad that doesn’t know how to lose and should be firmly regarded as one of the greatest sporting teams of all time alongside the likes of the All Blacks between 2011-2015, the current crop of Dutch women’s hockey stars, the Mercedes F1 team between 2014-2020 and Barcelona FC’s men from 2008-2012.

At their very best, England could run them close. In reality though, they are still a way off the Aussies both in terms of international standard and also domestic structure. The talent coming through the Australian ranks is frightening, especially in the bowling department – Alana King, Darcie Brown and Annabel Sutherland are serious talents. The country is fully reaping the rewards of the professional system they’ve been running for the last five years.

The signs are promising for England however. Full-time contracts for non-international players have only been around for less than two years but already we’re beginning to see an exciting crop of young players emerging. Sophia Dunkley has been brilliant in the middle order; Charlie Dean was the breakout star of the World Cup, taking wickets and bowling economically in high pressure situations; Emma Lamb and Maia Bouchier have earned call-ups to the senior team after impressing domestically; Issy Wong continues to show just why she is going to be a star of the future; Alice Capsey could become a world beater before too long.

And don’t forget, Ecclestone – currently the number one ranked ODI and T20I bowler with 159 international wickets at an average of 20.55 – is only 22.

It wasn’t just England’s performances that lit up the World Cup for fans either – right throughout the tournament, there were a number of gripping games and big upsets aplenty. Many of these involved South Africa and the West Indies, both of whom pulled off impressive wins over England but were run close by Bangladesh, while the latter were beaten by a Pakistan team who had never won a game at the tournament before.

The standout match however was the very final group game between India and South Africa, with the beaten 2017 finalists side looking certain to have booked their place in the last four by taking the wicket of Mignon du Preez in the final over, only for a no-ball to be called, allowing South Africa to seal a remarkable win and send the Indians home in the process.

Every day it seemed, a ‘speccie’ of a catch was taken; the bowling was of the highest standard from both spinners and seamers alike and there were numerous brilliant batting displays in an array of scenarios. Indeed, arguably the least interesting three games were the semi-finals and finals as they were so one-sided.

With the English season now upon us, the sport needed something to get us excited about the sport once more. The Women’s ODI World Cup – with its thrills, spills and, from an English perspective, frequent squeaky-bum-time moments – provided just that and we as fans are so grateful that it did.

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