The positive way of looking at England’s World Cup is that they’ve suffered one real “defeat”, to the West Indies, and two losses to once-in-a-lifetime performances – Rachael Haynes 130, the highest score in her long career; and Marizanne Kapp’s 5-45, the best figures in her even longer career. They came into this tournament as the second-best side in the world, and one bad result wasn’t going to change that.
Nonetheless, they came into this match with their lives on the line, needing a win to stay realistically in the hunt for a semi-final spot. There was still a mathematical opportunity for them to qualify with just 3 wins, but the stars would have had to align perfectly in terms of other results going their way for them to do so. To put some numbers on it, if they’d lost they would have qualified in just 2% of the possible remaining scenarios where they won their remaining games; but having won, they now make the semi-finals in 83% of possible outcomes where they win their last 3 matches, though some of these are quite implausible (e.g. every other game being rained off).
All it took was three moments of magic in the first 10 overs to put them in a position to win this game.
MAGIC MOMENT 1: Anya Shrubsole has lost none of her ability to swing the ball over the years, but it was all becoming a bit samey. Opposing sides have much more access to analytics than they had even 5 years ago, and so batters have known exactly what to expect from her – the fast ball that swings in sharply, or the slower one… that swings in sharply. But to the left-handed Yastika Bhatia today, she got one to shape away and then come back in just enough to slip through Yastika’s defences and take out middle stump.
MAGIC MOMENT 2: Last summer in the RHF Trophy we watched Sophia Dunkley drop two sitters in two balls on the boundary at Beckenham against Vipers. And we just shrugged: that’s our Dunks! So when she appealed for a spectacular catch diving forwards at cover to dismiss Mithali Raj, the on-field officials were probably right to just double-check with the third umpire. But the TV replay showed no doubt – she’d grasped the opportunity literally with both hands.
MAGIC MOMENT 3: After losing two early wickets, the last thing India needed was someone trying to run a suicidal single; but that’s exactly what Deepti did, presumably thinking that she was safe going to Kate Cross’s weaker hand, to her left at mid off. But Cross angled her run perfectly to intersect with the ball on her right hand and hurl it in for a direct hit.
At 28-3 it was always going to be uphill for India from there, and they limped to 134 all out, giving England a fantastic opportunity to not only win the game but also massively boost their Net Run Rate.
And somehow they still nearly stuffed it up!
The loss of two early wickets wasn’t great, but… it happens. Nat Sciver and Heather Knight rebuilt and looked to be cruising, until Sciver lost her concentration for a moment, getting a top-edge off Vastrakar which ballooned up for Jhulan Goswami to take the catch. Amy Jones then came in, and immediately went into her shell – she was on 4 off 26 balls – a Strike Rate of 15 – when she finally decided to hit one, and for a moment the Amy Jones of domestic cricket was unleashed as she smashed Gayakwad back over her head for a huge maximum. But the Amy Jones of more recent international cricket returned two balls later, trying to play the same shot again, but barely clearing the circle to be well taken by Harmanpreet.
Enter Sophia Dunkley, looking sharp at the crease, but she couldn’t see it through either… and nor could Katherine Brunt, who lasted just 2 balls. It was left to Sophie Ecclestone to bring it home and hit the winning boundary in the 32nd over.
Nonetheless, a win is a win. Net Run Rate doesn’t care about wickets, luckily enough, and England’s NRR is remarkably now better than South Africa’s, even though South Africa have won 3 games and England lost 3.
So England are back in with a shout – they still need things to fall their way, but their chances are much better than they were 24 hours ago. As ex Head Coach Mark Robinson pointed out on the radio yesterday, if the results fall the way England hope, they can make the semis, and then we know they can win a one-off game against anyone, even Australia. It could still happen!