By Michael Stafford-Jones
- Sell-out crowd at Lord’s watches England beat India in thrilling final to win 2017 Women’s World Cup
- Record global TV audiences enjoy highest-quality women’s cricket ever
- Key figures in the sport talk about the importance of capitalising on this success
LORD’S, ENGLAND – Women’s cricket looks to the future after its best-ever World Cup ends with England beating India by nine runs in a fittingly engrossing final.
When Anya Shrubsole sneaked a delivery past Rajeshwari Gayakwad’s defence to seal the Women’s World Cup for England, a sell-out crowd of over 26,500 fans was watching from the stands at Lord’s. It was a true landmark moment in cricket history, especially considering the attendance for the Lord’s final the last time the competition was held in England in 1993 was just 5,000.
It was a brilliant final that featured two well-matched sides demonstrating their exceptional skills and admirable fighting qualities right up until the dramatic conclusion. And it was fitting that it took place at the home of cricket, as it gave the sport the showpiece occasion it deserved after a superb tournament.
The two teams that contested the final, England and India, also faced each other on the opening day of the competition, and the visitors were victorious by 35 runs in that encounter. At that point, few could have predicted the global reach the tournament would go on to achieve, as the high-quality cricket on show enticed spectators to turn on their TVs. Consequently, the group stage matches alone attracted a worldwide television audience of over 50 million, and the ICC expects the final statistics to reveal an 80% higher global viewership across the course of the event (compared to the 2013 edition).
Broadcasters deserve plenty of credit for these unprecedented viewing figures as, for the first time, all 31 matches of the Women’s World Cup were shown live. This was as crucial to the tournament’s success as the standard of the cricket itself, which statistics indicate was the best ever, with higher team and individual scores achieved than in previous editions.
Tournament Director Steve Elworthy, told icc-cricket.com: “We promised that this would be the best-ever ICC Women’s World Cup and I believe that the statistics – on and off the field – show that we have delivered on that pledge. The attendances have been outstanding and they have been treated to some exciting, exhilarating cricket.”
More Entertaining Than Ever Before
You cannot simply measure success in statistics. One of the best things about sport is its ability to make you feel as it takes you from the height of elation when the team you support is doing well to the depths of despair when they are struggling.
Great sport can thrill viewers like few other things in life, and there are several matches in the 2017 Women’s World Cup which deserve particular mention. The first of those is the final itself, which Michael Atherton described in The Times as ‘one of the great Lord’s finals’.
It was an extraordinary match. England started brightly as Tammy Beaumont and Lauren Winfield compiled an opening partnership of 47 runs. The home side then lost three quick wickets to slide to 63-3, before Sarah Taylor and Natalie Sciver rebuilt with a partnership of 83. However, after Taylor departed for 45, Sciver went for 51 and Fran Wilson was lbw first ball, England were struggling again on 164-6.
Thankfully for the hosts, their lower order stepped up for the third time in the tournament as Katherine Brunt scored 34, Jenny Gunn hit 25 and Laura Marsh contributed 14 to elevate England’s final score to 228-7 – which was still about 30 runs below par. And for a time it looked worse than that as partnerships between Punam Raut and first Harmanpreet Kaur then Veda Krishnamurthy propelled India to 191-3 and made them heavy favourites to reach their target.
Then Heather Knight brought Shrubsole back into the attack and the rest is history. First the seamer trapped Raut lbw, before watching as left-arm spinner Alex Hartley bowled Sushma Verma for a duck at the other end. Next, Shrubsole enticed Veda into a false shot and she hit to straight into the hands of Sciver at mid-wicket. And two balls later, the Somerset star knocked back the leg-stump of India’s bowling hero Jhulan Goswami.
At this stage it was impossible to keep Shrubsole out of the game, as she collected the ball and threw it to wicketkeeper Taylor to run out Shikha Pandey after she had set off for a crazy run. And the seamer took her fifth and sixth wickets in the next over to clinch victory. Deepti Sharma hit her first ball to Sciver at mid-wicket, then Poonam Yadav hit her third straight to Gunn at mid-off and the crowd started to celebrate, only to realise a split-second later that the Englishwoman had dropped a simple chance. Luckily for England, it did not matter, because Shrubsole bowled Gayakwad with her next ball to send to the delight of teammates and fans alike.
Four other matches in the tournament featured dramatic finishes: South Africa sneaked home by three wickets with six balls remaining against Pakistan, Australia beat New Zealand by five wickets with eight balls remaining, England held their nerve to beat Australia by three runs, and then the hosts won arguably the closest match of all when they triumphed over South Africa by two wickets with just two balls remaining in their semi-final (Shrubsole hit the winning stroke with a four to the cover boundary).
But it was not just the tight encounters that produced great entertainment. Sciver’s innings of 137 from 92 balls during an England total of 377/7 against Pakistan ignited the tournament, and she followed it with another century against New Zealand. Beaumont and Taylor blazed their way to the best partnership in Women’s World Cup history, 275 runs, against South Africa. And Kaur demonstrated her astonishing talent when she plundered 171 from 115 balls to power India to semi-final victory over Australia.
Speaking to ESPN Cricinfo after the final, Shrubsole explained what made the tournament so entertaining. She said, “One of the real strengths of this tournament and the women’s game in the last few years is there’s been so many teams all at a similar level. You had six teams who’d have thought they could have won, and that’s what the game needs: everyone being competitive. It’s no good having one or two teams who dominate.”
A Bright Future Beckons
Clare Connor, the head of women’s cricket at the ECB, told BBC Sport, “(This World Cup) gives us a huge platform in this country and globally to continue to drive the women’s game. We will probably look back on it as a game-changing tournament and it is incumbent upon us to make sure that it is.”
Connor continued, “We have to look back and know that we made the most of it. That’s very motivating for all of us, and we’re very privileged to have this opportunity. We’ve got a wonderful team of amazingly talented, humble young women who have lifted a trophy on home soil in front of 27,000 people in the stadium and goodness knows how many on TV.
“That gives us an amazing opportunity to cash in on that success and secure greater investment that will continue to drive the business case and the commercial viability of the sport.”
Financial support is vital to the future of women’s cricket, as those who remember the 1993 World Cup know only too well. That tournament was on the verge of being cancelled before a last-minute donation of £90,000 from the Foundation for Sport and Arts saved it. But the sport has come a long way since then, particularly since the Women’s Cricket Association merged with the ECB in 1998. That partnership gave the women’s game access to the ECB’s resources and eventually led to the awarding of fully professional contracts to the England Women in 2014.
The England players also realise the importance of this moment. Opening batter Beaumont said to ESPN Cricinfo, “Hopefully some young girl that’s watched yesterday will be walking out at Lord’s in 10-15 years’ time to play in a World Cup. Hopefully it will filter down to improving the Super League and getting more than just the 18 of us (in the England team) on contracts. If in ten years’ time everyone is more professional at the domestic level, I think it will raise the game in an even bigger way.
“But money alone is not enough to grow the sport, as you have to inspire others to follow in your footsteps to increase participation. Beaumont said, ‘None of us started playing cricket as a career. We did it because we loved the game and I think you see that on the pitch, we still love the game and being able to do it for a job is a dream come true. This is probably going to be a bit of a landmark moment for women’s cricket in England.”
Speaking to ESPN Cricinfo, teammate Sciver agreed. She said, ‘That was one of the goals of the tournament and I think it exceeded those expectations. Going on the lap of honour and seeing how many kids stayed around, with their mothers telling us how we had inspired their children, was brilliant to see. It is a brilliant opportunity for cricket to grow.”
— Paul Collingwood (@Colly622) July 23, 2017
The last word, as it did in the final itself, goes to Shrubsole. She told ESPN Cricinfo, “It’s amazing for the women’s game. To have the final out here (at Lord’s) in front of the crowd was a really fitting showpiece to what has been an amazing tournament, and just shows how far the game has come.”
The player of the match continued, “If the game keeps progressing around the world, and boards keep backing their players and making the game as professional as possible, everyone’s seen how good this tournament’s been, it can only really get better from here.”
The Kia Super League begins with Southern Vipers v Western Storm at 2.30pm UK time on Thursday 10th August.
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