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Match Preview – AUS Women vs ENG Women, ICC Women’s World Cup 2021/22, Final

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And then there were two: Australia and England.

Predictable? In part. They are the two most successful teams in the Women’s ODI World Cup history and were considered frontrunners for the silverware in the ongoing 12th ODI edition. But neither favourites Australia nor defending champions England could have potentially foreseen the contrasting campaigns that have pitted them against each other in a 50-over World Cup summit clash for the first time since 1988, when playing cricket in…erm…skirts was a thing.

The women’s game has come a long way since – in terms of discarding that questionable sartorial choice as well as other teams making gradual strides towards (occasionally) challenging the supremacy of Australia and England. What has remained largely unchanged, though, is the two teams’ hold on the Cup: Australia have six in their bag whereas a triumph in Sunday’s final at the Hagley Oval would hand England, who have never successfully defended a 50-over world title, their fifth.

Until the last league-stage fixture of this World Cup, Australia vs England was far from a likely match-up for the final. Deemed a spent force throughout their three opening successive losses following a winless Ashes campaign, Heather Knight‘s England were forced to rely on knockout mentality after that.
But five back-to-back wins thereafter steered a spectacular turnaround. The most recent of those was also by far their most comprehensive all-round performance in the tournament: a 137-run victory over South Africa in the semi-final at the same ground as the venue of the final.
For the No. 1-ranked Australia, the script couldn’t have unfolded any better. They kicked off their campaign with a hard-fought 12-run win against England riding a record stand between captain Meg Lanning and her deputy Rachael Haynes. It set them off on a pre-final undefeated streak of eight matches in the tournament and 11 ODIs dating back to the Ashes in January-February.
That they didn’t field the same XI for two successive matches until their premier allrounder Ellyse Perry was ruled out of their last league fixture speaks to the make-up of a squad full of impact players. For a team that scripted a world-record 26 ODI wins on the trot in response to their shock elimination in the 2017 World Cup semi-final, one last ‘W’ to their name in this edition would be a fitting crescendo in their pursuit of redemption.

Form guide

Australia WWWWW (Last five completed matches; most recent first)
England WWWWW

In the spotlight

Even in the potential absence of Ellyse Perry Australia seem every bit an unstoppable juggernaut. That’s down in part to the many signature rescue acts opener Rachael Haynes and serial troubleshooter Beth Mooney have scripted in this tournament. Haynes has weathered a few top-order collapses en route to zooming to the top of Australia’s run chart with two fifties and a career-best 130 against England. Mooney, Player of the Series of 2020 T20 World Cup, has hardly put a wrong step forward, playing her middle-order floater role to perfection. Both left-hand batters, along with big-match player Alyssa Healy and knockout specialist Lanning, could be in for match-winning contributions.
While it’s hard to pick one standout performer from the Australian line-up, it’s harder to look beyond Sophie Ecclestone as far as England are concerned. The top-ranked white-ball bowler, Ecclestone took a career-best 6 for 36 in the semi-final to become the highest wicket-taker for England in a single edition of a World Cup. The 22-year-old, a nets bowler in the 2017 equivalent, with a hundred caps across formats already just five years into her international career, is three strikes shy of equaling another left-arm spinner, former Australia international Lyn Fullston, on the all-time wicket-takers list in a single edition.

Team news

England have a full squad at their disposal while Australia will wait on Perry’s fitness to decide their final XI. If picked, she will slot in as a specialist batter, Lanning said on Saturday, given she hadn’t bowled since back spasms forced her off the field in the league fixture on March 29. Averaging over 50 in the format with the bat, with two successive Player-of-the-Match awards in this World Cup to boot, Perry’s reintegration into the XI might have to come at the expense of pace-bowling allrounder Annabel Sutherland, who had filled in for her against Bangladesh and in the semi-final.

Australia (possible): 1 Alyssa Healy (wk), 2 Rachael Haynes, 3 Meg Lanning (capt), 4 Beth Mooney, 5 Tahlia McGrath, 6 Ellyse Perry/Annabel Sutherland, 7 Ashleigh Gardner, 8 Jess Jonassen, 9 Alana King, 10 Megan Schutt, 11 Darcie Brown

England had left out the 21-year-old offspinner Charlie Dean for their tournament opener against Australia. But they are unlikely to go down that route for the final considering Dean’s 11 wickets in five outings have parachuted her into the top five of the wicket-takers’ chart in this World Cup.

England (possible): 1 Tammy Beaumont, 2 Danielle Wyatt, 3 Heather Knight (capt), 4 Natalie Sciver, 5 Amy Jones (wk), 6 Sophia Dunkley, 7 Katherine Brunt, 8 Sophie Ecclestone, 9 Kate Cross, 10 Charlie Dean, 11 Anya Shrubsole

Pitch and conditions

Australia haven’t played at the Hagley Oval since the 2000 World Cup, whereas England played two alone in their last three games ahead of Sunday’s day-night fixture. On a fresh surface, the quicks are expected to have a major say early in both innings. Anya Shrubsole, the heroine of the 2017 World Cup final who dealt two debilitating blows in her first two overs in the semi-final on Thursday, could reap healthy movement on what have so far been batting-friendly conditions for the best part in Christchurch.

Under lights, the ball is likely to skid on a tad more, and dew, Lanning said, could be a factor in the latter half of what is expected to be a (mostly) rain-less encounter.

Stats and trivia

  • Meg Lanning is set to play her 100th ODI and will become only the seventh Australian woman to do so. Among her current team-mates only Perry, who has 127 appearances to her name in the format, has crossed the 100-ODI milestone
  • Heather Knight is on the threshold of becoming the first England captain to win two back-to-back 50-over world titles, having lifted the trophy at Lord’s in 2017
  • England (122) and Australia (109) occupy the first and third positions on the list of teams to have conceded the most extras in this World Cup, with semi-finalists South Africa (121) ranked second
  • Quotes

    “[It was] just [about] trying to keep everyone happy really, everyone positive. And I think the girls did that brilliantly. Sometimes you have to force it a little bit when, obviously, you’re in a bad situation. But I think that we are very close as a group, I’m very proud that we really stuck together.”
    Heather Knight on what triggered her team’s phenomenal turnaround

    “[There is] a bit of everything, to be honest. Some nerves around. I think it’d be crazy if you weren’t nervous heading into a World Cup final, so it’s a good thing. But there’s a lot of excitement. It’s a great opportunity for our team to go out on a big stage and play really good cricket. We know that it’s going to be tough. England always provide a great contest.”
    Captain Meg Lanning on the mood in the Australian camp on match eve

    Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha

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