The year is 2016. The tournament is the Women’s T20 World Cup and England have once again been bundled out of a semi-final by arch-rival Australia. To make matters worse, England have faltered from an unlosable position. Requiring 45 from 42 balls with nine wickets in hands, they somehow go on to lose by five runs. Sitting in the pavilion of the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi, former England captain Charlotte Edwards is so despondent that she struggles to walk down the steps for the post-match presentation.
The calamity of the collapse in Delhi that evening was the turning point for England’s cricket team. Reflecting on that dark evening in Delhi, England captain Heather Knight described it as the ‘making of the team’.
It was termed as the line-in-the-sand moment for England women’s cricket. Edwards, the most prolific run scorer in the women’s game at the time and the captain of England stepped aside after the loss. Knight took over the leadership duties. As Edwards departed her last words were "It was not meant to be for us today".
The semi-final loss meant England had failed to win any silverware at an ICC event since they won the 50-over and T20 World Cups in 2009. For eight long years, the cupboards had been empty. It was a lean spell given that England, Australia and to an extent New Zealand were the only powerhouses in the women’s game. Add to all this, the miserable record of the men’s cricket team in the limited over format, winning a cricket tournament remained a distant hope for a passionate England cricket fan.
The start of June had brought hopes of a revival with the men starting the Champions Trophy at home as favourites, only to be crushed by Pakistan in the semi-final.
All the expectation now lay solely on the women’s cricketers. Playing a tournament at home has its advantages, but it can work against you as well. The external pressures such as the media or simply carrying the burden on the nation can take its toll. Beaten soundly in the opening game of the World Cup by India, it seemed like England were bogged down by the significance of the tournament. Perhaps it was the loss they needed to have to wake them up or even fly slightly under the radar.
In the next two matches, they played with more freedom and expressed themselves with the bat to pulverise Sri Lanka and Pakistan, before putting on a clinical batting display against South Africa by scoring 373/5, to once again stamp their authority in the tournament.
But it was their nail-biting win over Australia that instilled the belief and started to wash away those horrible memories of that dark night in Delhi. More importantly, the way England fought with the bat to post a competitive total of 256 from a precarious position of 174/6, and then restricted Australia when it seemed like the women in yellow would cruise to victory was the changing of the guard.
The confidence was well and truly restored.
The nerves were still there as evident in the semi-final against South Africa, when a middle order collapse threatened to mirror that game in Delhi in 2016. But England cricket had changed. They believed, they had faith in their teammates and also had players with nerves of steel. No player summed up that sentiment more, than fast bowler Anya Shrubsole. As a kid, she came to watch her father play in the club national knockout stages at Lord's and dreamed of winning a match for England at the historic venue.
To give herself a shot at achieving that dream, she struck the winning boundary in the semi-final against South Africa and then on the day of destiny, she not only fulfilled her dream of winning 'a match', but washed away any dour memories of English cricket by winning the World Cup for her nation. For a large period of the second innings in the final, it looked a lost cause for the hosts with India cruising towards a memorable victory.
But England had learnt from their mistakes. The core of the team had remained the same over the past year and they knew from those harsh days that pressure can do funny things in sport.
They had seen it happen to Australia in the pool game and the semi-final, so until the last wicket was claimed, they persisted and persisted. It is the mental side of the game that separates the winners from the grinners. All those murky days were beyond England and they had turned the corner on the biggest stage. It was a reflection of their positive attitude and trust. India will live to tell the tale of about their heartbreak. Under those dark and gloomy clouds, they came within a whisker of their dreams. The agonising loss will crush them, similar to what had transpired in the England’s dressing room just over a year ago. England capitalised on that moment.
A win for India would have been a fairytale that would have galvanised a nation of over a billion. But it was not to be and at the end, England was the best team when it mattered — in those crunch situations. Those situations that only arise and can be tackled by the virtue of match situations along with experience. India needs to learn from it just like England had done in the past year. To invert Edwards’ statement from Delhi, "It was meant to be for England on Sunday".
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Updated Date: Jul 24, 2017 12:42:34 IST