The home of cricket will be at full capacity on Sunday to witness India take on England in the final of ICC Women’s World Cup 2017. Live coverage of the event at Lord's Cricket Ground will be available in 139 countries on television and millions will tune in from cricket’s largest economy to cheer on Mithali Raj’s women.
While England have won the World Cup thrice, India have only made it to the final once — in 2005 where they lost to Australia.
While Heather Knight’s women are surely the favourites going into the final, they will do well to remember the reality check they got in their opening fixture. India produced a grand exhibition of clean ball-striking and vanquished the hosts by 35 runs in their seemingly adopted home ground at Derby. Chasing an unprecedented seventh World Cup, Australia too were stunned by a similar display as they lost to India in the semi-final by 36 runs.
The semi-finals made for two sensational spectacles — first with the England-South Africa nail-biter and then the India-Australia run-feast. As we look forward to the climax of the month-long tournament, let’s examine six players who are most likely to make an impact in the final.
Harmanpreet has become a household name in India after her exploits on Thursday. In what was easily one of the most extraordinary innings in cricket history, Harmanpreet hit a belligerent 171 from 115 balls with power, placement and panache. And what made the innings all the more significant was the context — against Australia and in the semi-final.
Harmanpreet was the first Indian cricketer —male or female — to be signed by an overseas Twenty20 franchise when Sydney Thunder signed her for the 2016/17 season of Women's Big Bash League. And the experience gained from the Australian women's domestic Twenty20 tournament was visibly clear when she scored her last 121 runs from a mere 51 balls.
Other than her big-hitting skills, she’s more than a handy off-spinner and might be required to keep the England batswomen quiet in the middle overs in the final.
Raj was just 23 years old when she captained India to the 2005 World Cup final in South Africa. But they were daunted by a dominant Australia.
Now, 12 years later, the older and wiser Raj seeks to make things right in her efforts to win India its first women’s World Cup. Like always, she has led from the front with the bat and is the tournament’s second leading run-scorer (after Ellyse Perry) having amassed 392 runs at an average of 49 with a century and three fifties. What she would like to improve upon is her middling strike-rate of 71 and there’s no better stage than the World Cup final to do it.
Pandey has been India's standout fast bowler this tournament outshining even the warhorse Jhulan Goswami. In the semi-final, she provided India the first breakthrough castling Beth Mooney with a full delivery that seamed away from the left-hander at the last moment. In a match where 526 runs were scored in less than 83 overs, she bowled at an economy rate of 2.83 building pressure with tight lines and lengths never allowing the Australian top order to get away.
Pandey has been miserly throughout the tournament and will first have her eyes on the in-form England opener Tammy Beaumont in the final.
After taking an extended break from the game to deal with an anxiety-related illness, Taylor seems to have come back hungrier and more self-assured.
Hoping to make up for lost time, she has got back to her old self driving, sweeping, pulling and ramping as exquisitely as ever.
Her sublime 147 against South Africa in the league stage included some of the most breath-taking strokes as England put up a total of 373 on a true pitch against some hapless bowlers. Proteas pacer Shabnim Ismail bore the brunt of Taylor’s audacious flair as she struck five consecutive fours in the 40th over.
A super stumping that's so good it's worth watching again, and again, and again!
— ICC (@ICC) July 19, 2017
In the semi-final, on a pitch that required a bit of fortitude, she was still able to produce a match-winning effort as England edged past Proteas in a last over thriller. And don’t forget, she is arguably the best wicketkeeper in the women’s game. Her incredible stumping of Trisha Chetty in the semi-final was effected at warp speed despite being deterred by the awkward angle. Natalie Sciver
“Natmeg” was one of the buzzwords of the tournament this year. It originated when Sciver, cramped for room, deliberately deflected an inswinging leg-stump yorker to fine leg for a couple.
Every time Sciver comes out to bat, you never know in what new way she is going to knock us for six. When the team loses quick wickets, she has the ability to accumulate steadily with supreme placement and strike rotation.
Sciver has the highest strike rate (minimum 100 runs) in the tournament — 115.6. She has already scored two enterprising centuries and India will be wary of her dynamic stroke play.
In a tournament with several high-scoring games, Hartley has bowled superbly at an economy rate under 4.
Her left-arm orthodox could be England’s best bet to stop another blitz from Harmanpreet, who is also her Surrey Stars teammate in Women's Cricket Super League.
Her eight wickets in the tournament include batting powerhouses like Meg Lanning and Suzie Bates. And as the only bowler in the team who can turn the ball away from right-handed batswomen, she could be Heather Knight’s go-to bowler to stop Raj and Co.