Source: Stephen Pond/Getty Images for the ECB

England hold their nerve to make ICC Women’s World Cup Final

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England survived a nervy spell to seal victory with three balls remaining against South Africa and book their place in Sunday’s ICC Women’s World Cup Final at Lord’s.

South African captain Dane van Niekerk won the toss and opted to bat, with opener Laura Wolvaardt (66) and Mignon du Preez (76) taking their side towards a competitive 218-6.

England seemed to be heading towards their target quite comfortably before a flurry of late wickets saw them up against it. Fran Wilson, Katherine Brunt, Jenny Gunn, Laura Marsh and Anya Shrubsole – who hit the winning boundary – combined to inch the hosts over the line by two wickets. They will play India or Australia at Lord’s on Sunday.

England bowled and fielded extremely well on that pitch. There were no dropped catches, the ground fielding was sharp enough to spark two crucial run-outs, and Anya Shrubsole showed the England bowlers the way with a combination of discipline and devilment. In fact, they had chased with relative ease until a mid-innings hiccup set nerves jangling and triggered a dramatic finale.

Lizelle Lee was the first wicket to fall in South Africa’s innings, comprehensively bowled in the sixth over by Shrubsole, just two balls after successfully overturning an LBW decision. Trisha Chetty was brilliantly stumped by Sarah Taylor six overs later, and the Proteas were in a precarious position at 48/2.

Teenage superstar-in-the-making Laura Wolvaardt was the galvanising influence, with a calming innings of 66 that belied her age. She teamed up well with the more experienced Mignon du Preez to build a solid partnership and right the ship; they put on 77 in two balls less than twenty overs before Heather Knight removed Wolvaardt’s leg stump bail with her second ball of the game.

Knight’s introduction came after Laura Marsh and Alex Hartley had proven difficult to get away and, though neither took a wicket, they proved a more economical option than Natalie Sciver or Gunn. However, Wolvaardt was the only wicket to fall to England’s spinners: instead, it would be two run-outs of key figures that swung the pendulum to the hosts.

Marizanne Kapp was the first of those, called through unwisely by du Preez and undone by Shrubsole’s pinpoint throw and Taylor’s reliably quick hands. Then, van Niekerk, who had muscled her way to 27 from 39 balls, wanted a single, but was sent back to the non-striker’s end, again by du Preez. Sciver’s throw to the bowler, Hartley, was good again and the South African skipper was unlucky, her bat popping up into the air just as it crossed the crease.

Chloe Tryon, who had scored a 25-ball half-century in the group match, went very tamely. She lobbed a leading edge to be caught and bowled by Jenny Gunn for just one run, and from 170/6, the Proteas lost no further wickets but rather limped to the end of their fifty overs, barely getting above a run a ball at any stage.

Du Preez finished unbeaten on 76, with Sune Luus 21 not out, and van Niekerk confessed afterwards that she felt the final score was 30 shy of a competitive total.

England, chasing 219 to win, started well with Lauren Winfield getting the lion’s share of the strike and playing aggressively in an opening partnership of 42 from just eight and a half overs. Unfortunately, having made it to 20 she played one shot too many and hit the ball straight up in the air off Ayabonga Khaka, the pick of the South African attack with two for 28 from ten consecutive overs.

Tammy Beaumont was Khaka’s other wicket, bowled playing across the line with the score on 61, and Sarah Taylor was joined by Heather Knight to begin the march home. They added 78, seemingly with no major discomfort, but there was an air of nervousness growing in the crowd throughout their partnership, and eventually this reached the players in the middle.

At 139 for three, with Taylor just having passed 50, a devastating spell of three wickets for six runs in 11 balls made sure this would be no cake-walk. Taylor was run out by a direct hit from van Niekerk before Knight hit a Sune Luus full toss to Wolvaardt at square leg and Sciver’s wicket, bowled around her legs by Luus four balls later, sent a real gasp around the ground.

Fran Wilson and Katherine Brunt came in to repair the damage, which they did with a nerve-shredding partnership of 28. It took them 50 balls, below the required rate at the time, but was a vital passage of play as England looked to wrestle the momentum from a buzzing South Africa.

When Brunt was unluckily bowled off her pads things still looked shaky for England, who needed another 46 to win at a run a ball, but Gunn came in to help Wilson along and they seemed to be suffering from none of the nerves that had the crowd on the edges of their seats.

Forty runs came from 28 balls, Wilson playing her innovative sweeps and nurdles, while Gunn worked her way through the gears into hitting mode; two fours in three balls in the 48th over, bowled by Ismail, put England into a winning position.

There was still time for Wilson to try a ramp-shot, only to loop the ball into Chetty’s gloves, and Laura Marsh had her leg stump removed by Ismail. But, halfway through the final over, with just two needed to win, or one to force a tie and the dreaded Super Over, Shrubsole hammered Ismail through the covers for four and glory.

Heather Knight greeted the news that Lord’s is sold out for the final with delight: “It’s special. I’ve been trying not to think about it too much, to be honest, but everything we’ve done in the last 18 months has been working towards that, and to play in front of a full house there will be amazing.”

We’ll find out who their opponents will be on Thursday, when India take on Australia at Derby. Whatever happens there, it’s sure to be a great match-up and a terrific occasion at HQ.