England will go into the Women’s World Cup final with a line-up unchanged (unless bad weather forces a rethink) from the previous few games.
England will go into the Women’s World Cup final with a vastly different team to the side that slumped out of the Women’s World T20 last April.
For the road to Lord’s didn’t start with England’s first match loss to India, it began in the throes of a defeat in Delhi, when Australia beat England by five runs. Their inability to chase down Australia’s score of 136 led to a scathing judgment of their fitness by coach Mark Robinson and the ensuing shake up saw the forced retirement of captain Charlotte Edwards. Lydia Greenway followed and, while others remained, they were left in no doubt that expectations would rise under the new regime.
It’s not that the team is unrecognizable on paper from the line-up that took to the field in Delhi. Five of the players are batting in the same position while Nat Sciver and captain Heather Knight have swapped batting at four and five.
Robinson has brought opener Lauren Winfield and, more recently, Fran Wilson and Alex Hartley into to the side and all three have repaid his trust.
Perhaps most significantly, Knight has embraced the new standards and improved on her own form in what she describes as a “manic 18 months.”
“It wasn’t a nice day, that semi-final back in Delhi, but I feel it’s helped us as a team to be better equipped to deal with days like that,” said Knight, on the eve of the final.
“The improvement the girls have made is testament to them and the work they have put in. The coaches have pushed us hard at times and challenged us but I think that’s really helped us develop.”
The players have undoubtedly improved their fitness but it is the dynamic within the squad that has changed most dramatically, according to Knight and Robinson, with a more level playing field in the dressing room.
“I just didn’t really know we were going to respond,” said Robinson. “I had great belief in the team and the potential and the feeling to grow, but it was handling the occasion.
“The bowling attack was reasonably experienced but the batting, they’re all fresh and green to a degree. Watching Nat Sciver announce herself as a world class player, not just an international player, with two hundreds. It makes me feel really proud, proud of them all, such as young Alex Hartley who has only played a handful of games.
“We’re probably ahead of schedule if we’re really honest but when the teams are as honest as they are and they play together and fight together, it’s always a good point. We’ve got some real talent there and it’s just beginning to blossom now.”
In Delhi England couldn’t turn ones into twos and accelerate the run rate under pressure. But the difference in this new-look England can be seen in the two tight matches they won leading into the final; holding off a late charge from Australia and then chasing down South Africa’s total in the first semi-final with just three balls remaining. Knight believes the honesty Robinson speaks of has driven this change.
“It’s been really pleasing, I think, that we’ve shown that sort of fight over the tournament and got over the line in those really tight games that have been great to watch as a neutral I guess but quite hard to watch as a captain and I’m sure a coach,” said Knight.
“We’re a lot more honest as a squad in terms of how we approach games, how we deal with international cricket and also we’re better at telling team-mates when something is not quite right.
“That’s been quite key. We’re a tight group and that means we enjoy spending time with each other but it also means we can challenge each other and pull someone up when it’s not quite going right.
“It’s something that I think has made us tough and in general we are a tougher team. I think you’ve seen that throughout the competition. We haven’t been perfect, we’ve never said we are the finished article. We’re definitely not that. We’re not the perfect team. But we are a team that functions really well and plays for each other.”
Ahead of schedule and not the finished article, perhaps. But the turnaround from Feroz Shah Kotla to Lord’s has been a significant one. And, win or lose on Sunday, there is a feeling within the England camp that this side’s rise has just begun.