The Lord’s Stadium in London, England, has always been a happy hunting ground for Indian cricketers. Kapil Dev lifting the country’s first world cup in 1983, Sourav Ganguly taking off his jersey and waving it in jubilation in 2002 — all transpired at what is known as the Mecca of cricket. Come this Sunday, Mithali Raj and her gang of girls might just do the unthinkable: become a part of Lord’s glittering history. Unthinkable, because nobody thought they will reach the finals of the World Cup. Yes, India plays England in the finals of the ICC Women’s World Cup, and are just a step away from laying their hands on the trophy. The journey to the finals has seen the team grow with every single match; players have stepped up whenever the team was in need. Of the eight matches the Indian team has played so far, it has won six and lost two. The victories came on either side of the two consecutive losses — against South Africa and Australia. Individual performances by the players have paved the way for the team till now. The one that stands out is skipper Mithali Raj eclipsing England’s Charlotte Edwards’ tally of 5,992 runs to become the highest run-getter in ODIs for women. She became the first woman cricketer to score 6,000 runs as well.
Harmanpreet Kaur’s scintillating 171 off 115 balls in the semi-finals was a treat to watch. Her innings, packed with 20 fours and seven sixes, took off after Raj’s dismissal. What followed was some intense power hitting that decimated the spin troika of Kristen Beams, Ashleigh Gardner and Jess Jonassen. After reaching her century, Kaur unleashed a scathing attack on the Aussie bowlers, scoring the next 71 runs in 25 balls. Veteran pacer Jhulan Goswami has led the bowling attack from the front, lending stability to the team. She has been more than ably supported by Deepti Sharma, Poonam Yadav, Ekta Bisht and Rajeshwari Gayakwad. While Sharma is the leading wicket taker for the women in blue, Yadav has been the most miserly among the lot. Bisht and Gayakwad have both returned with a five-wicket haul in the tournament.
The team is firing all cylinders across all the departments and a victory for the hosts is not something that will be served on a platter. A fight is on the cards, as Raj said while addressing the media before the final. “It definitely isn’t going to be easy for England. But, it will come down to how we perform on that day. We really have to work on our planning and strategy because England have also peaked after being defeated by us in the first game,” Raj had said. The captain was all praise for her team, saying, “We knew this tournament wasn’t going to be easy, but the way the girls have delivered when the team needed it, whether it was the batters or bowlers, this win has definitely changed the scenario in terms of how the girls will look up to the final.” But England can prove to be a tricky opponent to overcome.
They have made ample use of their home advantage, winning seven of the eight games they have played. Their batters are in sublime form. Tammy Beaumont, wicket-keeper batswoman, is third on the list of highest run takers with 387 runs. She is closely followed by skipper Heather Knight, who has an average of 52. Another important factor that might come into play is the close-knit environment within the English dressing room. The side is less of a cricket team and more a group of friends. It will be a battle of the nerves in the final. The Indian team will be riding high on momentum after outclassing defending champions Australia in the semi-finals. But they know what it is like to come so close yet not make it to the finishing line after their defeat in the 2005 World Cup final. Meanwhile, the English team will have the burden of playing at home on their minds. Temperament will be key in deciding the outcome, but we would love to see the women in blue bring the cup home.