Four-time champions Australia widen the gap further

Sidhanta Patnaik
25 Nov 2018
Four-time champions Australia widen the gap further

Australian Team. ©ICC

Almost 10,000 people turned up at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua expecting a thrilling World Twenty20 final between Australia and England on a Saturday night. The party mood was on, and just for the atmosphere over the last two weeks the tournament deserved a nail-biting end, but Meg Lanning’s Australia, who bring back memories of the men’s teams of the past led by Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, draw pleasure in killing contests.

They did exactly that despite not being at their full potential on the big night. There were misfields and dropped catches, but England were equally sloppy after opting to bat. Australia’s reserves were deep enough despite those lapses to beat their arch-rivals once again in a final. They were more switched on right from the early moments of the game when Lanning removed Sophie Molineux, the left-arm spinner who conceded 12 runs in the first over, from the attack and introduced pace from both ends to peg England back.

As many as eight England batters fell for single-digit scores as they were dismissed for 105 in 19.3 overs. With dew playing a major factor, the total was never going to be enough despite a rare failure for Alyssa Healy. Ashleigh Gardner gave flourish to the chase with some lusty hits and Lanning tapped and ran a single to usher the winning moment with eight wickets and 29 balls in the bank. As easy as it comes.

Considering how pioneering Australia have been in the women’s game over the last few years - think about Women’s Big Bash League, big leap in central contracts, state contracts and the investments in grassroots - it was a bit odd that Lanning had last lifted a global title in 2014.

They set the anomaly right in the first standalone Women’s World T20, once again leaving other teams to play catch up.

This is a big moment in Australian cricket in the middle of a difficult year. The sandpaper gate leading to the one year suspension of Steven Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, the change in the Cricket Australia management and the overall discontent among fans has not left a pleasant feeling, but now the girls have given a reason to cheer. It could be the first peg in the revival of Australian cricket.

Australia adapted the best to the conditions in Antigua - the venue for the knockout games - leaving little scope for speculation who the best team of the tournament were.

The tone in the final was set by Megan Schutt and Ellyse Perry. They cramped Tammy Beaumont for space, and it resulted in she frustratingly stepping out to force the pace of play but only succeeded in giving an easy catch to Elyse Villani at mid-off. England’s nerviness was exposed once again in the fifth over when Amy Jones played the ball to mid-on and ran only to be beaten by a direct hit from Georgia Wareham. Perry then beat Natalie Sciver with pace to have her leg before wicket for her 100th T20I wicket, becoming only the second bowler after Anisa Mohammed to achieve the feat. Sciver reviewed thinking the ball had first hit the bat, but evidences were inconclusive.

Danielle Wyatt did play some attractive shots to make a quick 43, but that was largely because of the dropped chances. Once Gardner dismissed her for her first of three wickets, it was Australia’s game to control.

Lanning’s alertness came to the fore in the 13th over bowled by Wareham when she opted to review a lbw decision against Laura Winfield. It turned out to be the correct call as the ball had flipped the pad and not the bat as the umpire thought. Wareham bowled Sophie Dunkley off the next delivery, and it was game, set, match.

Should England have bowled first to give their spinners a best chance and negate Australia’s slow bowlers? This is a question for their management to answer, but on a night were nerves were on display it was Australia who held it well.

Barring that one loss against India where Healy, the player of the tournament, did not bat because of concussion, Australia hardly put a foot wrong. It is a result of their structured preparedness, with WBBL playing a big role. Australia and England are way ahead of the rest when it comes to T20 cricket, but Lanning’s team are undoubtedly at the top of the pile because of the seriousness with which they have taken the task.

Even as England Cricket Board fight their battles to keep the sport relevant, Cricket Australia continues to march ahead with its visionary approach.

Australia’s win offers many lesson to every country, and only who smell the coffee right now will have a chance to challenge the four-time champions when they defend the title at home in less than two years from now. Or else, the gap is only going to widen and it is going to be devastating for the game.