Five years ago, Meg Lanning sat in a press conference in the media centre at Derby, barely able to hold back the tears after Australia’s elimination from the 2017 World Cup at the hands of the Harman Monster.
They seemed not to be tears of sadness so much as of disbelief: a woman for whom everything had always gone so right, could barely understand where it had gone so wrong.
A thousand journalist have written a thousand pieces about how Lanning and Australia used that moment to pivot to another level, but it wasn’t clear until today just how high that level was.
Australia’s 356-5 is not the highest total ever made – not by a long stretch – but of the 15 games above it in the all-time list, almost all are horrendous mismatches between a top side and a minnow – England’s own 373-5, against South Africa in the group stages of the 2017 World Cup, being the most glaring exception to prove that particular rule.
But to have made that total in a final, with all the weight of expectation and history upon them, was the pinnacle of all this side has achieved since that day in 2017, including two T20 World Cup wins, and two Ashes triumphs.
No one doubted going into this World Cup that Australia were the best team on the planet, but others had ambition to match them, at least on their day, as India had done when they broke their record 26-match winning streak last September, or New Zealand did in the warm-ups.
But once the competition-proper started, Australia never looked even remotely vulnerable. Their victory against India was a fascinating case-study in how in cricket there can be lies, damned lies, and scorecards. It looks close in the book – Australia winning by 6 wickets with 3 balls remaining – but in reality it was a cakewalk. They might have cut it a little fine, but the end result was never in doubt. Then in the semi-final, they carved up the West Indies – lest we forget, the team that beat them in the World T20 final as recently as 2016.
But still there was hope for England, after they steamrollered South Africa in their semi-final. Their Ashes defeat was ancient history, and they were on a roll with 5 wins on the bounce. It was a long shot… but it was, at least, a shot.
Winning the toss was a bonus for England – they were in control, and they chose to insert Australia. It was a brave decision, but it won’t have been a spur-of-the-moment one – Heather Knight, Lisa Keightley, and the rest of the management team will have given it careful thought and concluded that bowling Australia out and then chasing maybe 250 represented their best chance of winning the game.
It was a gamble, but it didn’t come off as England’s opening bowlers went wicketless in the powerplay once again. Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole have been such a formidable opening partnership for so long now, pulling so may rabbits from so many hats, that it’s hard to remember there was ever any alternative; but the Australians know them too well now. The rabbits have fled the hat, and Alyssa Healy and Rachael Haynes navigated the remaining empty hats with ease. Nat Sciver, who has taken Healy’s wicket 5 times since the last World Cup, was brought on, then Charlie Dean and Sophie Ecclestone had a go… but none could break the opening partnership until very-nearly the 30-over mark, when Haynes finally played a rash shot off Ecclestone and was caught by Tammy Beaumont.
It was a chink of light for England – Australia were only 160, and England could still have wrapped them up for 250 and gone on to win the game. It was the next partnership that killed them. Employing the “left-right-left” tactic, they sent in Beth Mooney ahead of Meg Lanning, and her and Healy proceeded to put on another 156, while England were reduced to the roll of mourners at their own funeral.
Healy’s dismissal with 5 overs remaining was largely academic, as were the 3 additional wickets that fell – Australia could have declared* on 316-2 and England still wouldn’t have won.
And though I’ve been quick to criticise England in the recent past, it wasn’t because they batted particularly badly – they came out and gave it a go. Tammy Beaumont, who has been starting out quite circumspectly of late, hit the gas from the off, as did Heather Knight. Five of England’s top 6 finished with Strike Rates of 100 or more. England were ahead of the worm for almost their entire innings, and the 285 runs they made would have won every other World Cup final in the competition’s history by a country-mile.
On any other day, against any other team, Nat Sciver’s century would have resulted in a winners medal and the Player of the Match award.
Just not on this day, against this Australian team, in this mood.
Because today wasn’t really about England – it was about Australia.
Two years ago at the MCG, in front of 80-thousand people, Alyssa Healy’s 75 off 39 balls blasted Australia into the stratosphere in the T20 World Cup final against India. How do you top that? By scoring 170 off 138 balls in a 50-over World Cup final – that’s how! If Healy’s innings was not the greatest of all time (and I don’t think it quite bettered the Harman Monster, played under more pressure given the match situation when Harmanpreet came in that day in 2017) then it was certainly a close second, and guaranteed her not only Player of the Match, but also Player of the Tournament, after also making a century in the semi-final.
Mooney we’ve already mentioned, but Megan Schutt with two early wickets, and Alana King who broke through Sophia Dunkley and Katherine Brunt to expose England’s tail, both played vital roles; as did Jess Jonassen who cleaned up the tail – catching Charlie Dean, and taking the wickets of Kate Cross and Anya Shrubsole to close-out the game. Australia’s bowling attack has perhaps partly surfed in the wake of their formidable batting line-up recently, but like Bob the Builder, working together they get the job done, and there is no better example of that than the 10 wickets they took today.
Meg Lanning has longed for her Australian team to be considered a “great” team, but there has always been a question mark. Because for all the winning streaks and Ashes and T20 World Cups, they hadn’t won a “proper” 50-over World Cup. Now they have, and no one can argue any more. Australia joined the greats today, and there wasn’t anything England, or anyone else, could have done about it.
* Obviously they couldn’t “legally” have declared, despite what that dog on those ads keeps seeming to suggest! (I’ve no idea what the ads were for, but… cute dog!)
Sobering winter for England and England A in Australia. England A lost all three 50 overs matches and 2 of the 3 20 overs matches (other washed out). England lost all three 50 overs matches and 1 of the 3 20 overs matches (others washed out). England then proceeded to lost two 50 overs matches against Australia in the World Cup. So not a single victory across both teams against Australia.
England may claim they were 2nd in the World Cup but in reality thin air was 2nd, such is the gap between Australia and anyone else. Impressive.
So where do England Cricket go from here – well the good news they don’t need to go all the way to Australia to find out the secret of success. All they need to do is take a trip to the RFU.. England rugby are the ‘Australia’ of women’s rugby. They are a machine and will go into the world cup later this year as as hot favourites as Australia were for this WC.
Well done, both teams. Quite some hitting
It was probably England’s best performance of the Cup, even better than their semi against Sth Africa, just a pity it was up against Australia’s best game of the tournament (and possibly even Aus’s best of their current reign, in all the 40 or so wins?)
Australia clearly the best women’s team ever – and hopefully the best there will *ever* be as the world now catches up and makes it a contest. Its not great if the gap remains.
The best World Cup ever, despite being dominated from start to finish by one team? Seems a fair call, the rest of the tournament was a tight tussle, results in doubt to last overs and last rounds. The pitches seemed to be top notch despite it being (late) March in a wet season. The overall standard seems higher. First innings scores a new record.
Such a paradox – the best tournament so far, with the least surprising and most expected final result.
(Interesting thought experiment – seems generally agreed this NZ team would defeat the 2000 NZ World Champ team handily. So that’s an idea of how far Women’s cricket has come – NZ have improved, but the rest of the world has improved much further).
No surprises with the result then, but England have done about as well as they might have realistically hoped in this WC. The recovery they made to reach the final saves some blushes, but won’t hide the need for a root and branch review, as they say. How Australia managed one of their highest recent scores in the final, I don’t think I’ll ever understand- finals are supposed to be attritional affairs, but this was the WC that kept on giving and churning out records!
It’s hard to admit it but England’s bowling wasn’t even that bad (although I’d like to think they could have done better, apparently Healy was dropped in the 40s but I didn’t see it). Even with Sciver’s brilliance, no other England player even managed to get into the 30s. Sciver scored over half our runs. That’s just not good enough against a side like Australia.
Could this be the last WC swansong for greats like Healy and Haynes who will be 36 and 39 if they do play another WC? For some of the Aussie players this could be their last WC and I think that added a bit of desperation to their efforts to win it.
It was the wrong decision to bowl first, all told. It was putting massive pressure both on the bowlers to restrict on a bit of a road, and batters to then chase a huge score. It was going away from how we won the last WC. It was just too good a track to bowl first on. It played into Australia’s hands. You say that “bowling Australia out and then chasing maybe 250 represented (England’s) best chance of winning the game.” And that it was a “brave gamble”. But the fact is England have grown quite fond of all sorts of gambles within matches and perhaps forgotten how to just do the simple things well.
Of course there are always going to be little risks taken here and there but this England side only seem to remember they only have 10 wickets when 8 or 9 have already been lost. This innings was a bit of an example – a few more wickets in hand might have come good near the end as the run-rate was, somehow, not as much of an issue. The healthy position of the worm should have meant we could be a bit more careful. Sciver’s innings was pure brilliance though, and one of the best if not the best I’ve seen from her. Lanning was getting a bit worried when Sciver and Dean were piling on a few runs near the end, and the Aussie bowlers struggling to finish England off. But that didn’t last too long!
I haven’t been Alana King’s biggest fan so far but she was very good in this game. Dunkley hadn’t learned from the first match, being bowled around her legs again, and Knight stayed back to a full ball that skipped on and kept maybe a little bit low. Brunt neatly stumped too, and a good catch to dismiss Jones.
“Because today wasn’t really about England – it was about Australia.” Spot on this time. Australia were taking it to another level. They were making up for the massive mess-up that was their 2017 campaign. A campaign that the last 5 years has gradually revealed (with their increased dominance and the background revelations) was even more of a mess-up than we thought it was at the time. Just as much as this was the culmination of a 5 year masterplan, it was redemption for a side who knew they’d dropped the ball big time on the last outing.
Great Comp overall. It has really showcased how the women’s game has moved on even within the last 5 years.
It will be interesting to discuss the fallout and England’s future plans in the upcoming weeks.