England win a thrilling World Cup Final – and I was there!

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What a day!  I know thousands of words have already been published on the Women’s Cricket World Cup Final which, in itself, is a miracle, but it won’t stop me adding my few hundred.  But if you’re looking for a straight up-and-down account of the match you will be out of luck.  My little Joe Friday voice keeps saying “just the facts ma’am, just the facts”, but if I stuck the facts it would only be half the story.  So, read on for my account of one of the best days of my sporting life.

The day dawned bright and clear.  Actually it was largely mucky and grey and the threat of prolonged rain was a real one.  I did wonder whether I was about to make it four from four washouts (see previous blog entries), but someone somewhere was obviously not going to let that happen and we got through relatively unscathed.

Top marks for the organisation skills of Lord’s – I suppose they have been doing it for a while (!), but although there were queues the staff and cricketeers were helpful, polite and largely smiling.  The queues moved at a pace and everything seemed to go like clockwork.  Not like Edgbaston, I might add, which seemed understaffed and underprepared in comparison.

Anyway, we were in and seated before the toss.  And that’s when it got a little bit much for me.  Either I had multiple pieces of grit in my eye or I found myself crying.  The crowds of people, the atmosphere, the very occasion just got to me.  I should have realised what sort of crowd it was going to be with the size of the cheer greeting Heather Knight winning the toss!

My occasional tear developed into full-blown sobbing when Eileen Ash (Whelan) was revealed as the ringer of the five-minute bell.  This small, wiry 105-year-old woman stood there with composure and grace as her list of achievements was read out and the sense of history being made was palpable throughout the ground.

And then to business.

I thought it was vital that Heather won the toss and that England batted.  England are, generally, not good at chasing.  I thought the batters would settle the side down, calm heads and all that.  But it was not to be.  In truth the batting performance was not good.  After Winfield and Beaumont were out there were a series of poor shot selections as England proceeded to lose wickets regularly.  Jhulan Goswami was pounding in with purpose and venom, scaring the life out of me and I was not 22 yards away.

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Nat Sciver was the pick of the batters, with a good 51.  Sarah Taylor probably deserved more – my but she looks fabulous when she strokes that ball!  But it was only a late flourish from former opener Laura Marsh and Jenny Gunn that saw them reach a half-decent total.  Even then I thought they were 30 or so light.

The wonderful Goswami took 3/23 off her 10 overs and didn’t deserve to be on the losing side.

At the break I ventured out to answer a call of nature (as you do).  The queue for the ladies’ was beyond imagining.  I tweeted that I would have taken a photo of the queue but would have needed a panoramic lens!  The facilities at Lord’s are good, but I don’t suppose they’d ever seen this many women at one game before.  Still, the atmosphere was good-natured – I feel sometimes I may be overstating it – but it really seemed that everyone was aware they were part of something special.

Then it was time for tears again as Rachael Heyhoe-Flint’s son, Ben, rang the bell for the second innings.  There were nerves aplenty, at least in our stand, as the Indian innings began.

These lessened somewhat as England made the perfect start when Smriti Mandhana was lbw to Anya Shrubsole for a duck.  But Raut and Raj rallied beautifully until the captain was run out unnecessarily for 17.  In came Harmanpreet Kaur.  Could she repeat her performance of the semi-final?  For a while it seemed she could as she hit three fours and two sixes (there wasn’t a six in the whole of the England innings), but all at once she tried one big shot too many as she swept Alex Hartley and was caught by Tammy Beaumont on the boundary.  A big wicket.   Shall I say it again – a big wicket.

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But we all knew there was more to come with Raut still playing beautifully, now joined by Krishnamurthy.  India were always just behind the rate, but never out of the game.

When Raut went there were murmurs around the ground as England fans dared to hope.  Then three more wickets went in quick succession.  The last of these was Goswami and with Deepti Sharma the only recognised bat left England sniffed victory.  Pandey was then run out.  England needed two wickets but India only needed 11 off 12 balls to win.

Enter Anya Shrubsole bowling the penultimate over.  Ball one and Sharma has gone, caught beautifully by Sciver.  Five wickets to Shrubsole.

But it’s not over.  Ball three, Poonam Yadav spoons it straight to Jenny Gunn at mid-off.  The crowd is on its feet roaring with delight (and relief) and Gunn – drops it!

But it’s not over.  Ball four and Shrubsole steams in.  Gayakwad is bowled.  Full and straight and the tail-ender plays down the wrong line.

Now it’s over.

And, to coin a phrase, the crowd goes wild.

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All the way through it had been India’s to lose – what a game they played.  And at the last minute Anya Shrubsole had taken it from them.  A great match and a fitting finale to a fine tournament.  As I said at the beginning, many words have already been written – some going into ridiculous hyperbole.  Will this tournament change the face, the perception, of women’s cricket?  I don’t know.  But if that crowd, the TV and radio audience are anything to go by, it will.   Already we now know that there will be new honours boards for women at Lord’s.  What else is to come?

0 out of 10 for the MCC Members, by the way, who couldn’t be bothered to turn out – so startlingly obvious in a full ground.  Where were you “chaps”?

We stayed for quite a while afterwards to watch the celebrations and to see the team greet friends and family in the stands.  The joy is something I will never forget.

And finally, many congratulations to England’s Lacrosse team who won a brilliant bronze medal at the Lacrosse World Cup at the weekend, beating Australia in overtime through a golden goal from Megan Whittle.

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