A wiser person than me once said the sun doesn’t set on the British Empire because God doesn’t trust the English in the dark.
Perhaps they really had the coming final of the Women’s Cricket World Cup in mind. Australia look assured of victory, but…
It is always really pleasurable to watch a group of skilled sportspeople playing as a well drilled unit, whatever the code, whatever the nationality.
In this case it is Australia. I have most enjoyed watching them do the smaller things really well – in this case, ground fielding, catching and running between wickets.
The comment about fielding being a real point of difference is spot on. As Bob Simpson showed in the mid to late 1980s when he took over a sloppy Australian men’s side, if you get the smaller things right, you can apply a lot of pressure and also relieve pressure. Then, if you apply genuine talent in bowling and batting, you can build a very potent team.
Australia have been awesome, in the true sense of the word, but beware the stealthy way ‘perfidious Albion’ are building their work.
I have found myself taking precious time out of my legal work to watch these games live and then I have watched many of the Australian games on replay several times.
I was a bowler, so watching batsmen being dismissed is a real pleasure, but I have been seduced at times by the character, discipline and skills of Alyssa Healy, Rachael Haynes, Meg Lanning, Ellyse Perry and Beth Mooney, who have all faced periods of sustained bowling excellence and weathered pressure to either post or chase down big scores.
I don’t want to underrate the important contributions of Tahlia McGrath and Ashleigh Gardner, but it has been the more classical style of the top five that has been thrilling.
Perhaps my favourite was watching them chase a big score against South Africa and weathering the storm of the impressive opening bowlers before applying the screws, partly through aggressive but intelligent running between the wickets, as the wheels really started to fall off South Africa’s always brittle and variable fielding.
The performance against South Africa may be important because Australia’s template tends to be to bat first.
Statistically, they are about 48 per cent ahead of their nearest rivals (India) in runs per wicket since the disappointment of the 2017 World Cup.
In run rate, they also have a comfortable lead over their rivals. In both, they are well ahead of England.
The bowling is a little underrated, but they still have two bowlers in the top ten bowling averages: the unassuming Jess Jonassen and Megan Schutt of the jaunty run-up. The statistics come courtesy of the BBC.
What the statistics don’t measure are England’s momentum. Having had three spiritually crushing losses, they managed to crest the waves and have won five straight.
There is a quality to momentum that is hard to measure. Australia might say they have a little of that, too, winning 37 out of their last 38 internationals (where a result has been possible) and being unbeaten and unbroken in this tournament.
England have the capacity to really take the game up to Australia. They pushed Australia very hard in the pool game and their batting did start to apply pressure with Australia making some errors in their usually impeccable fielding.
The bowling is strong and a player like Katherine Brunt (her back allowing) is likely to rise to the big-game occasion. Sophie Ecclestone is bowling impressively. Her flight and bounce may prove quite challenging.
Anya Shrubsole has also shown that she isn’t done with making big contributions – and not just with the ball, as her small but critical role with the bat in the win over NZ showed.
Like the bowling, England’s batting is coming together with two truly world-class batters: the classicists Heather Knight and Nat Sciver.
And it should be worthy of note that they made nearly 300 against SA, arguably the strongest bowling attack in the competition, without a contribution from their two batting stars.
Danni Wyatt is a compelling and engaging story and Sophia Dunkley a joy to watch. Both represent the more improvised style of the shorter form of this wonderful game.
This is a side that is building and they look like they are growing in confidence.
That takes us to an important issue – do England really believe, when the pressure comes on, that they are better than Australia?
Only those players really know. The prospect that there is scarring from the Ashes tour and the first-up loss (where they looked absolutely shattered by the defeat) and at that moment when the ball is flying your way, or the bowling is threatening to get on top, will that fraction of doubt play its part in a poor shot, a dropped catch or a misfield?
Fielding remains an area where England, though improving, seem well short of their opponents. There were more dropped catches against South Africa in the semi-final.
Many, if not most who have played the game, will agree that no catch in cricket is truly easy, although there are many catches that should be taken and some that if taken can turn a game.
Spilled catches, especially ones that fall into the ‘should be taken’ category, apart from being missed opportunities, are a challenge for the bowler to overcome and they can have a domino effect on others. They also relieve pressure.
Australia’s superb batting does produce regular catching opportunities in most games, but it feels like about half of these are spilled.
If England hold their catches, the game could take an interesting direction. If they don’t, they have quite narrow paths to victory.
It is hard not to feel that this is Australia’s game to lose, but it would be very unwise to think England won’t push hard and create the chance for Australia to lose.
Over the tournament, Australia have been comfortably the best side and they have withstood quite stern challenges from England, India and South Africa.
Each of those wins featured moments when the game was in the balance and that each produced wins suggests this team won’t crack under the pressure of a final.
But do take a moment to review the last ten overs of the pool game against England and you will see there were some jittery moments, and no team is immune to pressure.
A surprise if England won? Yes. A shock? No.
It is fantastic to see that the final is going to be broadcast free-to-air television in England. This promises to be a wonderful sporting event. As many as possible should watch it.
If, like me, you are relatively new to the women’s game, dig into the biographies before the match, because there are some impressive stories behind some of these athletes and it will add to your pleasure in watching the performances of the likes of Wyatt, Brunt, Kate Cross and Alana King to name but some.
Few of these players, especially the older ones, have had a comfortable path financially through their careers. This is a chance to watch great sportspeople playing the game in a wonderful spirit.