“Keep calm and carry on” I wrote after England’s tournament-opening loss to Australia, arguing that England were still “the best team in the world that aren’t called ‘Australia'”.
South Africa’s results in this World Cup, on the way to a second-placed finish in the group stages, might have made us doubt that, not least their Kapp-inspired win over England; but cometh the crunch, cometh the England juggernaut, and South Africa were the roadkill.
Remarkably, we are reliably informed by Hypocaust that only 4 centuries have ever been scored in the knockout stages of a Women’s World Cup* and half of them have been scored in the last two days. Yesterday it was Alyssa Healy; today it was Danni Wyatt’s turn to bask in the late-summer New Zealand sun.
Wyatt started watchfully in the first 5 overs, during which time she was joined by Heather Knight, playing her now customary role as “de facto opener” after Tammy Beaumont was dismissed early; but she picked up the pace to a run-a-ball at the back-end of the powerplay, and never looked back. Though Knight, Sciver and Jones came and went, she maintained her Strike Rate throughout her innings, powering through the “Nervous Nineties” with three 4s, and going on to make 129 off 125 balls. It wasn’t a flawless innings – she was dropped 5 times – but it did the business for England.
It wouldn’t have happened though without the support of Sophia Dunkley, who made a second consecutive under-pressure half-century. England were 126-4 when Dunkley came in, with 25 overs left to bat, and only the tail behind her. In a World Cup semi-final. Many have cracked under that kind of pressure; but Dunkley again defied her “Resting ‘Rabbit In The Headlights’ Expression” to calmly play the perfect supporting role, turning over the strike to Wyatt and hitting just 3 boundaries in a 116-run partnership.
It left England in a position where they could pursue the “Big Finish”, with Sophie Ecclestone popping the cherries on top with 3 consecutive 4s off Ismail in the final over.
If it wasn’t already won at that point (and history says that it was – no one has ever successfully chased 293 in a Women’s ODI) then it was within 5 overs, as Anya Shrubsole rolled back the years to take the early wickets of Wolvaardt and Lee – the number 1 ranked batter at this World Cup, and the leading ODI run-scorer in 2021. South Africa quickly started to fall behind the run-rate, which had climbed to well over 7 by the end of the 20th over.
With South Africa desperately chasing the game, Sophie Ecclestone came into the attack and began to hunt them down one by one: de Preez, bowled Ecclestone; Kapp, bowled Ecclestone; Tryon, caught Sciver bowled Ecclestone… and so it went on, until it felt like the entire scorecard could just be replaced with: South Africa, bowled Ecclestone.
Ecclestone looked jaded at the tail-end of the English summer last year. Whether she was injured or just tired, we won’t ever know… at least not until her autobiography comes out in 15 years time… but she had a poor Hundred and against New Zealand there was just a hint that she might be slipping from the pedestal. But in probably the biggest game of her career (at least until the one on Saturday) she brought home the best figures of her career, and you can’t ask any more than that.
Wyatt set ’em up, Ecclestone knocked ’em down… and now England are in the final.
* Enid Bakewell scored one in the final game of the 1973 tournament but that wasn’t technically a knockout match – there was no “final” in the initial tournaments.