T20 WORLD CUP FINAL: History Made At The MCG – On The Shoulders of Giants

Six years ago – the last time I was at the MCG – an ODI took place in Melbourne, as part of the Women’s Ashes series. The match was due to get underway at 10am. When I arrived at the ground, I wandered around, trying to find a way in: none of the gates were open. You wouldn’t have known there was a game taking place.

MCG security, I later learned, had decided that they weren’t going to open up the gates to the ground until 9.30am – half an hour before play was due to start. Players’ families were queued up, trying to get in. And the couple of journalists who, like me, were trying to cover the match, were told we would be unable to enter until after the toss had already taken place. It took us a good while to work out who was batting first when we did get inside.

Skip forward six years, and here I am, back at the MCG for another women’s match. Only this time, every gate of this mammoth-sized ground is wide open, beckoning in the tens of thousands of fans who are gradually taking their seats. The place is crawling with photographers, journalists, ardent fans in “Australia” or “India” shirts. The ICC have advised that all fans should be seated by 5pm (an hour before the match is due to start).

It’s really quite the contrast.

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29 December 1997, Eden Gardens, Calcutta. Australia are playing New Zealand in a World Cup final. 80,000 people fill the ground: virtually all of them women and girls bussed in by the local Sports Minister. Before yesterday, it was the highest attendance ever at a women’s cricket match. Before yesterday, it was an anomaly.

Harmanpreet Kaur is asked about Eden Gardens 1997 in her press conference the day before the final. “I didn’t even know there was women’s cricket then,” she says. Last night’s match seems unlikely to go under the radar in the same kind of way.

It is not just about yet another Australian World Cup title. The world record for attendance at women’s sport may have remained intact, but this is women’s cricket’s big moment. When 86,000 people at the MCG paused during the 16th over of India’s chase to light up and wave their phones, you could almost hear the lyrics of Katy Perry’s “Firework” echoing through the ground:

“You just gotta ignite the light
And let it shine
Just own the night
Like the Fourth of July
‘Cause baby you’re a firework
Come on show ’em what you’re worth
Make ’em go “Oh, oh, oh!”
As you shoot across the sky-y-y”

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During the second ever women’s match at the MCG – a Test in January 1949 between England and Australia – England batsman Molly Hide drove the ball down the ground. It passed through the fence, and disappeared into a drain: the cover was not big enough to stop the passage of the smaller, five-ounce women’s ball. 

Fortunately, nowadays, the drains are fully covered: else the sixes slammed over long on by Alyssa Healy (one of them, at 83 metres, clocks in as the biggest six of the tournament) would have significantly lengthened yesterday’s game.

“Women have no power”, they have been saying since time immemorial. “They don’t hit sixes.” 1899: WG Grace declares that cricket is “not a game for women”. 2011: The Sun’s John Etheridge tweets that “Women’s cricket is a joke. The standard is truly appalling”.

The 80,000 people who watched Healy rack up a 30-ball fifty yesterday – the fastest ever hit in an ICC final, men’s or women’s – might beg to differ with Grace and Etheridge.

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6 April 2014, Shere Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur, Bangladesh. It’s just a few months after the farce at the MCG, when security didn’t even want to open the gates. England are playing against Australia in the final of the Women’s World Twenty20. It is Meg Lanning’s first tournament as captain; during the group stages she has racked up a record score of 126 against Ireland. Australia walk all over England in the final, winning by 6 wickets.

Six years later here we are on 8 March 2020, at the MCG, in Melbourne, Australia. The result is the same – Australia are triumphant – and the margin of victory is equally huge – 85 runs. The similarity between the two occasions, though, ends there. Beth Mooney’s unbeaten 78 in yesterday’s final took her officially past the record set by Lanning in 2014 for most runs made during a T20 World Cup: all 259 of Mooney’s were broadcast in glorious technicolour; Lanning’s went largely unnoticed. 

And in 2014 the official attendance at the final was 4,313. At the G, it’s 86,174. The roar around the ground when the final wicket falls and Australia are world champions once again is unimaginable in its volume.

How do the two occasions compare? Just ask Lanning: “They’re both special in their own ways, but this day today is incredible, and something we could only have dreamed of happening. It was something else. This day is the best of my career so far.”

How about 2020 vs 2018 in the Caribbean – in front of a crowd of 9,000? Here’s Alyssa Healy: “This is soooo much better. To sit here tonight with a medal around our neck at the MCG is going to be very hard to beat.”

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23 July 2017: Lord’s Cricket Ground. A full house watches England play India in the World Cup final. India, chasing just 228, collapse to 219 all out. “After the loss of two early wickets, we were cruising with two partnerships that Punam built with Harman and Veda [Krishnamurthy],” captain Mithali Raj says after the match. “But then we lost our way. I think it was the inexperience of playing on such a big stage on such a big occasion.”

2017 may have been big: 2020 is even bigger. 7 of that India team are playing again today. Once again, they are chasing; once again, they fall short. Same old story? Maybe, maybe not. “We enjoyed it,” says Harmanpreet Kaur after the match. “Winning and losing are a part of the game. You cannot convey your day with winning and losing because one team is going to win and one team is going to lose. I think, at the end of the day, it was a great tournament for us. Hopefully, in future, we’ll give our best and try to win for the country.”

Harmanpreet Kaur: the Captain of Hope.

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Shafali Verma doesn’t remember the loss in 2017. She is 16 years old: this is her first World Cup final. She has no real conception that this is the biggest match, ever, in the history of the women’s game.

Sometimes players drop catches. Shafali drops a big ‘un: putting down Healy in the very first over of the match. Sometimes players – especially those like Shafali, who live by the sword and die by the sword – get out cheaply: in this instance, she is out third ball, nicking it to Healy behind the stumps. She has been the mainstay of India’s batting all tournament: if anything, it’s surprising she hasn’t failed earlier. Was it nerves? I doubt it. To Shafali Verma, filled with the insouciance of youth, it’s just normal to play in front of a crowd of 80,000 people at the MCG. You might tell her that it isn’t, but since when did a teenager ever listen to anything someone tried to tell them?

My hopes for Shafali’s career are many, but here is one: that she retains that insouciance throughout her career. May 80,000 people never be just associated with a memory of the time she dropped a catch and got out in single figures. May it one day become the everyday occurrence that it seemed like to Shafali on 8 March 2020.

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Ever heard the expression: “On the shoulders of giants”? It means we couldn’t have done this without all those who went before. It means that every painful loss – at Lord’s for India in 2017 – and every glorious victory – for Australia in Bangladesh in 2014, or Antigua in 2018, or any of the others – was a precursor to this. It means that Meg Lanning and Harmanpreet Kaur couldn’t be playing in front of packed-out crowd at the MCG if Jill Powell, Betty Wilson, Belinda Clark and Betty Archdale hadn’t played in front of an empty one. It means that every day of international women’s cricket before 8 March 2020 – every day when no one showed up and the players and umpires weren’t paid a cent but they did it anyway – has all been leading up to yesterday.

Australia beat India by 85 runs on International Women’s Day, 2020. And it was all done on the shoulders of giants.

T20 WORLD CUP FINAL: Boom, Boom, Boom; Even Brighter Than The Moon, Moon, Mooney

In the 17th over of India’s innings, Richa Ghosh slogged a ball from Nicola Carey out towards Delissa Kimmince, patrolling the boundary at deep midwicket. If the game had been on the line, Kimmince might well have gone for the catch… and the way Australia were catching she would probably have made it too. But she didn’t bother – there was no point – the game was already won, and instead she hung back to take the ball on the bounce as the Indians ran an irrelevant single.

The play summed up the whole of the Indian reply to Australia’s mammoth 184, which was over almost as soon as it had begun, with Shafali Verma edging Megan Schutt to Alyssa Healy for 2 off the third ball. Without the Shafali “kick-start” the Indian innings quickly wilted. Taniya Bhatia retired hurt and Jemimah Rodrigues holed-out for a duck in the following over. While Harmanpreet remained, there was hope I guess, but her departure in the 6th over was not the beginning of the end… it was the end of the end.

From there, India played for survival, knocking out a steady 4 or 5-an-over when they needed 10… which quickly became 11… which quickly became the 25 they needed when Kimmince let that catch go by. Australia’s victory was a mere formality, as the crowd resorted to Mexican Waves to keep themselves entertained.

Proceedings at the MCG had begun a couple of hours previously with Katy Perry belting out the opening ceremony with her anthems to empowerment and inclusivity, Roar and Firework – two songs which could not have been more appropriate for this game on this International Women’s Day.

Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon

It felt like no one heard the lyrics to Firework as a call to arms more than Alyssa Healy, who smashed five 6s and seven 4s on her way to 75 off 39 balls, opening the innings with Beth Mooney. Mooney ended up scoring more runs (78 off 54) and was later elected Player of the Tournament by the distinguished panel of judges (which included CRICKETher editor Raf Nicholson) but today she was outshone by Healy nonetheless – she gave the Aussie’s the start that the Indians didn’t get from Shafali – boom, boom, boom; even brighter than the moon, moon, Moon…ey!

Could it have been any other way? Healy and Mooney were both dropped early on; but the thing with Australia’s batting line-up is that it is so long that even those two wickets might not have made any difference – those runs could just as easily have been scored by Lanning, Haynes and Gardner. Australia in this tournament have been a juggernaut with the bat, carrying a slightly weaker bowling lineup to yet another Twenty20 World Cup trophy.

Got a couple of bob to spare? Put it on the Aussies to win the next one too.

T20 WORLD CUP: 5 Gold Stars For England To Take Home

England won’t be taking any gold medals home from the T20 World Cup in Australia, but perhaps these gold stars will make up for them?

(I mean… they won’t… but I’m handing them out anyway – wear them with pride!)

They Achieved Their Goal

Going into the World Cup, England set themselves a goal of making the semi-finals. Realistically, that’s all you can do in these short, sharp tournaments – after that, it’s all a bit of a lottery, even if it doesn’t rain. And not only did England achieve their semi-final goal – they didn’t even lose their semi-final, technically, which means…

They Only Lost Once

Through the tournament, England only lost once – that’s exactly the same number of losses as the eventual champions Australia. (Because, let’s face it, they are going to win it, aren’t they?) Overall, they came away with three victories to one loss… and even that loss was a close one to eventual semi-finalists South Africa.

Ecclestone Soared

It was rather appropriate that it was during this tournament that Sophie Ecclestone clambered to the top of the greasy (and admittedly at times slightly unfathomable) pole of the ICC Rankings, because this was the tournament that confirmed that she is the best bowler in the world right now. Our own Bowling Rankings tell the story – 8 wickets at an economy rate of just 3.23 runs-per-over. The leading economy rate in these tournaments usually goes to the part-time spinner who bowls one over in a dead match; but Ecclestone bowled basically her full compliment of overs in four matches, and still had the best economy over everyone that bowled in the group stages.

Glenn Nailed It

Sarah Glenn came into the World Cup vying for a spot in the roster with seamer Freya Davies, with the expectation that England would pick one or the other according to tactics and conditions. But having been selected at the WACA on those terms, Glenn made herself impossible to drop with the consistency of her stump-to-stump leg-spin, consigning the unlucky Davies to the bench for the entire tournament. Glenn ended up 3rd in the Bowling Rankings, which for a twenty-year-old in her first big tournament under the spotlight of international scrutiny is very, very impressive.

Nat’s a Natural at 3

The retirement of Sarah Taylor last summer left a big hole at Number 3 in England’s batting order – the spot Taylor had made her own. Nat Sciver, who has spent 80-odd-percent of her career batting down the order at 4, 5 or 6, ended up landing in that role almost by default, but she has excelled in it during this tournament, scoring quickly and consistently, with a lowest score of a still-useful 36, so hopefully this is a major “problem position” solved for England going forwards.

T20 WORLD CUP: England Exit Harsh… But Fair

England were knocked out of the T20 World Cup at the semi-final stage, courtesy of the torrential rain which lashed Sydney all day, causing their match with India to be abandoned without a ball bowled. India, as group winners, therefore progress to the final.

There has been much talk about the unfairness of this system… and there will be even more if Australia exit the competition in the same manner later this evening. But the tournament Playing Conditions dictate that only the final should have a reserve day, and belated pleas from Cricket Australia for a last-minute change in the rules fell on deaf ears at the ICC.

And rightly so!

CRICKETher is the first to criticise the boards when they get stuff wrong, and it has earned us the ire of the ECB, Cricket Australia, the BCCI and the ICC themselves at times; but this time they didn’t get it wrong – they got it absolutely right.

One wonders whether the pleas of Cricket Australia would have been anything like as loud if they had been the ones in pole position at this stage?

Because the simple fact is that England and Australia were only in this situation because they lost their opening matches. If England had beaten South Africa, they’d have topped the group and would now being doing rain-dances in their hotel ahead of a semi with Australia. Ditto Australia, who lost to India on opening day.

England (and Australia, if that transpires) might not have lost this game “on the pitch” at the SCG, but they did lose it on a pitch – in England’s case, the one at the WACA in Perth.

As Heather Knight admitted when confronted with the weather forecast yesterday:

“It’s our own fault for losing that game against South Africa,” she said. “We didn’t top our group and only have ourselves to blame.”

Nor were the regulations “sexist” as some have suggested: the last men’s World Twenty20, in India in 2016, had exactly the same regulations.

The rules may be harsh – rules often are on those who fall the wrong side of them – but they were fair, and India deservedly go on to the final at the MCG on Sunday.

NEWS: Equal Prize Money For The Hundred

Six years on from the ECB’s Managing Director of Women’s Cricket Clare Connor describing the idea of equal prize money as “economically absurd”, the ECB have announced that the £600,000 prize pot for The Hundred will be split 50/50 between the men’s and women’s competitions.

 

The ECB received a lot of criticism in the media when the player salaries were revealed, with the best-paid women being paid £15,000 – half as much as the worst-paid men, who will trouser £30,000 for potentially six weeks of bench-warming.

In that light, Beth Barrett-Wild, head of The Hundred women’s competition admitted today: “We’re aware there is more to do in this space.”

However, this is nonetheless an important symbolic gesture and it certainly offers a genuine incentive for the players. Although the exact distribution of the prize pot within the women’s competition is yet to be revealed*, on the basis of the headline number it looks like some of the players on the winning team will likely have the opportunity to pretty-much double their tournament earnings, should they come out on top on Finals Day at Hove.

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* The Guardian are suggesting that the winners will get £150,000 and the runners-up £75,000, but it is likely not all of this will go directly to the players.

T20 WORLD CUP: Bowling Rankings

The T20 World Cup Bowling Rankings contain more good news for England, who have two of the top 3 ranked bowlers, as well as two of the top 3 batters.

Sophie Ecclestone has been quite remarkable once again. When a new bowler comes onto the scene and does well, as Ecclestone did on her ODI debut, taking 2-28 with 3 maidens against the West Indies in 2016, there’s always a nagging doubt that they may be “found out” and slip away as quickly as they’d arrived. But almost 4 years later, Ecclestone is bowling better than ever – she isn’t quite the leading wicket-taker, but no one else in the top 30 is even close on her tournament-leading economy of 3.23.

As with the Batting Rankings, there is an Indian sandwiched between the English players at 1 and 3. Leg-spinner Poonam Yadav missed the lead-up to this tournament with a broken finger on her left (i.e. non-bowling) hand, but she has come roaring back to take 9 wickets and help spin India to a semi-final spot.

Sarah Glenn at 3 is still a relative newbie. Having made her debut against Pakistan at the tail-end of last year, she continued to impress against more challenging opponents in the Tri-Series, and although she came into this World Cup in theory vying for her place with seamer Freya Davies, she has made it impossible for coach Lisa Keightly to consider leaving her out, by just doing her thing, bowling stump to stump, and doing it consistently. (For more on Glenn, read Raf’s interview with her in The Guardian.)

Though Australia remain favourites to win this tournament, the lack of Australian names near the top of the rankings has to be a worry for them going into the knockout stages, with only Megan Schutt scraping into the Top 10 at No. 10. Their batting order is immense, but one day it will fail, and when it does – perhaps in a semi against South Africa or a final against India – it isn’t certain that they’ve got the bowling to get them out of the hole. Some will point out that they’ve been unlucky with injuries, but others might reply that they’ve pushed some young bodies very hard and that’s what happens when you do! (Contrast with how England have held back Lauren Bell, in the hope that she’ll have a 10-year career, not a 10-month one.)

Player Played Wickets Economy
1. Sophie Ecclestone (ENG) 4 8 3.23
2. Poonam Yadav (IND) 4 9 5.56
3. Sarah Glenn (ENG) 4 6 4.25
4. Hayley Jensen (NZ) 4 7 5.21
5. Shikha Pandey (IND) 4 7 5.30
6. Anya Shrubsole (ENG) 4 8 6.07
7. Amelia Kerr (NZ) 4 6 4.62
8. Diana Baig (PAK) 4 6 5.31
9. Shabnim Ismail (SA) 3 5 4.56
10. Megan Schutt (AUS) 4 7 6.60
10. Shashikala Siriwardene (SL) 4 7 6.60
12. Jess Jonassen (AUS) 4 6 5.75
13. Salma Khatun (BD) 4 6 6.45
14. Ritu Moni (BD) 2 4 4.50
15. Dane van Niekerk (SA) 3 4 4.54
16. Rajeshwari Gayakwad (IND) 4 5 6.00
16. Radha Yadav (IND) 2 5 6.00
18. Nida Dar (PAK) 4 6 7.25
19. Udeshika Prabodhani (SL) 4 3 3.68
20. Stafanie Taylor (WI) 3 5 6.21
21. Leigh Kasperek (NZ) 4 5 6.31
22. Aiman Anwer (PAK) 3 6 8.75
23. Georgia Wareham (AUS) 2 3 4.57
24. Sune Luus (SA) 3 3 5.00
25. Afy Fletcher (WI) 3 3 6.10
26. Nicola Carey (AUS) 3 3 6.60
27. Anam Amin (PAK) 3 3 6.75
28. Sophie Devine (NZ) 4 3 6.81
29. Nonkululeko Mlaba (SA) 3 2 4.58
30. Anisa Mohammed (WI) 3 2 4.70

Bowling Ranking = Wickets / Economy

T20 WORLD CUP: Batting Rankings

If tournament cricket is about your in-form players peaking at the right time, then England are in a very healthy position going into the knockout stages of the T20 World Cup, with two of the top 3 ranked players in both batting and bowling.

With the bat, Heather Knight is the top-ranked player, after two match-winning contributions of 108* and 62 at the Manuka Oval in Canberra, against Thailand and Pakistan; whilst Nat Sciver is ranked third, having scored more runs but at a lower strike rate. Sciver has been Ms Consistent for England, with three 50s and a lowest score of 36 – still a significant innings in T20 cricket.

Wedged between them is Shafali “Did you know she’s only 16?” Verma – the sixteen-year-old teenage wonder-kid who is only sixteen. [Ed: Ok – you’ve made the point!]

Shafali has it all in her armoury – the big slog and the elegant drive, and she’s been getting India off to a series of flying starts, at a strike rate that puts the “power” in powerplay. And even though her strike rate dropped-off slightly in her two bigger innings, against New Zealand and Sri Lanka, it was still touching 150 on both occasions.

Ranked 4th is Chamari Atapattu, who has once again held Sri Lanaka together with the bat and kept them competitive against the bigger sides. With the retirement of Shashikala Siriwardene, Sri Lanka will be even more dependent on Atapattu going forwards, and that has to be a worry for a side who are already ranked bottom of the “Top 8”, though bringing Bangladesh and (probably – sorry Ireland) Thailand into the ICC Championship will help them to get some more competitive matches over the 2021-25 cycle.

Australia’s top-ranked batter is Alyssa Healy, who has rediscovered some form after a dismal Tri-Series, closely followed by Beth Mooney. Interestingly, Meg Lanning doesn’t make an appearance until No. 25 – only just ahead of much-criticised Amy Jones – though as @_hypocaust has observed, she tends to save it for the knockout stages in these big tournaments, so there could be more of her to come.

Player Played Runs Strike Rate
1. Heather Knight (ENG) 4 193 137
2. Shafali Verma (IND) 4 161 161
3. Nat Sciver (ENG) 4 202 113
4. Chamari Atapattu (SL) 4 154 135
5. Alyssa Healy (AUS) 4 143 144
6. Beth Mooney (AUS) 4 153 119
7. Lizelle Lee (SA) 3 109 143
8. Sophie Devine (NZ) 4 132 104
9. Rachael Haynes (AUS) 4 85 135
10. Maddy Green (NZ) 4 92 112
11. Sune Luus (SA) 3 74 137
12. Nigar Sultana (BD) 4 114 88
13. Aliya Riaz (PAK) 4 80 123
14. Katy Martin (NZ) 4 72 129
15. Javeria Khan (PAK) 4 82 106
16. Nattakan Chantam (THI) 4 103 84
17. Ashleigh Gardner (AUS) 4 78 107
18. Deepti Sharma (IND) 4 83 97
19. Laura Wolvaardt (SA) 3 53 147
20. Jemima Rodrigues (IND) 4 85 90
21. Marizanne Kapp (SA) 2 69 106
22. Chloe Tryon (SA) 3 46 153
23. Shemaine Campbelle (WI) 3 69 101
24. Stafanie Taylor (WI) 3 84 82
25. Meg Lanning (AUS) 4 67 97
26. Amy Jones (ENG) 4 48 123
27. Amelia Kerr (NZ) 4 41 137
28. Rachel Priest (NZ) 4 60 88
29. Nannapat Koncharoenkai (THI) 4 65 78
30. Danni Wyatt (ENG) 4 47 102

Batting Ranking = Runs * Strike Rate