England vs Australia: Ashes rivals to contest in ultimate arm-wrestle

Heather Knight and Meg Lanning posing with the World Cup trophy © Getty Images

After almost a month-long roller coaster ride, arguably the biggest spectacle in the cricketing world has reached its crescendo. With the oldest and perhaps the greatest rivalry taking centre stage, the finale of the World Cup 2022 couldn’t have been better. Defending champions England are all set to lock horns with their Ashes rivals Australia in the summit clash on Sunday (April 3) and the fixture promises to be a mouth-watering one.

What’s at stake

The invaluable opportunity to bag the silverware. But that’s not all. The team that lifts the title on Sunday will drive home the bragging rights of being the better unit as well.

Australia eased past all the seven teams during the round-robin stage without conceding a game. They made mincemeat of West Indies in the first semi-final and are now within touching distance from silverware – their seventh (if they win). One of the two teams that made them stretch was England as the margin that separated the two sides was only 12 runs.

The three tormentors

Australia are looking formidable as ever. Three of their batters are a part of the top-ten highest run-getters in the ongoing tournament. With 429 runs in her kitty, Opener Rachael Haynes is the second-highest run-scorer in the event.

She trails South Africa opener Laura Wolvaardt by four runs at the top of the chart. Haynes is followed by her skipper Meg Lanning, who is third on the list with 384 runs. And the last Aussie in the top-ten list is the wicketkeeper-batter Alyssa Healy. Healy who is known for her swashbuckling strokeplay has amassed 339 runs and occupies the fourth slot.

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Australia have certainly benefitted from the number of runs these batters have scored at the top. But the rate at which they have scored these runs stands out. While Haynes has aggregated her runs at a strike rate of 84.28, Lanning has put together her tally of runs at 87.47 and Healy leads the trio in this regard. Healy has the best strike for all the batters in the top ten. She has aggregated her runs at 96.03.

What does this stat tell you? Well, it shows that the Aussie top order is going all hammer and tongs and is making life easier for the middle order. The top-order applies unrelenting pressure on the opposition bowlers right from the start that they run for cover, let alone thinking of a counterpunch.

The Haynes and Healy Hurricane

The debonair duo has shown yet again why they are so highly spoken about. In eight innings thus far the pair has amassed 511 runs at an astonishing average of 63.87. They have been a part of two hundred plus and one fifty-plus stand. If your opening pair is as effective as Australia’s then everything is hunky-dory.

If we are talking about the Australia batters, it’s impossible to look past Beth Mooney. While there is a lot of razzmatazz when the likes of Healy, Haynes, and Lanning are in the middle, Mooney gets the job done in the simplest but most effective of ways.

She is not a part of the top-ten club but could easily make it during the course of the Final as she only needs one run. The reason why it’s paramount to mention Mooney is because her numbers in the ongoing event are stupefying. She is averaging an eye-popping 134.00. And has scored her 268 runs at a stupendous strike rate of 95.71. She is, in true terms, the engine room of the Aussie batting order. She gleefully goes about her business and doesn’t make any fuss about it either.

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Courageous England

England had their hearts in their mouths with the way their campaign had started. And at one stage they were staring at an early and unceremonious exit. With three straight losses, it was all looking haywire for the defending champions. But they turned it around and did it nonchalantly.

England have shown a lot of character and that’s what expected out of the defending champions. They had their backs against the wall. But rather than panicking and making a plethora of changes they were meaningful in their approach.

They gave their opener Lauren Winfield-Hill opportunities in the warm-up fixtures. They persisted with her in the game against West Indies despite her bagging a duck in their tournament opener. But after she failed to get a good score against them, they decide to look beyond her.

Had Sophie Ecclestone been playing for some other side and bowling the way she has been bowling in the tournament, then that team wouldn’t have bothered to play an extra spinner. They would have rather played an extra batter. But England played Charlie Dean. And she utilised the opportunity to its fullest. In five games she has picked up 11 scalps including a four-wicket haul against India.

Effective Ecclestone

Ecclestone entered the ongoing tournament as the second-ranked ODI bowler in the world. But a number of phenomenal performances saw her grab the world number one crown. She had the worst possible start to her World Cup campaign. She was taken for 77 runs in her ten overs and was superbly dealt with by the Aussie batters. They used their feet adroitly and picked up boundaries off her bowling by taking the balls on the full. And the moment she pulled her length back they leant back and scored square off the wicket.

But there is a thing about champion players, they know how to fight back. And that’s what she did. She picked up a three-fer in the next game and didn’t look back from there. With 20 wickets in the tournament, Ecclestone is miles ahead of the rest and is the leading wicket-taker. She raised her game when the stakes were extremely high and picked up a six-fer to help England vanquish South Africa in the semi-finals.

What has stood out about the world number one is her ability to find wickets regardless of the conditions. Her job becomes easier when the wicket has a lot of purchase for her. But even when there isn’t any help she manages to grab wickets and that’s what we saw in the game against Pakistan. On a wicket that had plenty of assistance for the seamers, the world number one varied her trajectory and pace and showed how you need to acclimatise yourself if you want to succeed.

Even in the semi-final against the Proteas, there wasn’t much help from the wicket and hence she targetted the stumps and forced the batters to take unnecessary risks.

Battle within the battle

Although the battle that will draw most eyeballs will be who bags the silverware in Sunday’s clash. But within that, there is yet another battle brewing and will garner a lot of traction. If England decide to go ahead with Dean then that will set the cat among the pigeons. Dean will look to target the two southpaws in the Aussie batting order in Haynes and Mooney and will be bolstered by the presence of Ecclestone operating from the other end. For Ecclestone, the summit clash will be an opportunity to redeem herself and prove to the world that she is good against the best team in the world too regardless of the magnitude of the event.

What they said:

“Not really. I mean it’s obviously a huge honour to play that many games for your country. I feel very lucky to be able to do it and for it to be on a World Cup final is great. But ultimately it comes down to the game tomorrow and trying to win that game. And I’ll certainly be doing my best to try and contribute to that win.”

– Meg Lanning on the final being her 100th ODI appearance for Australia.

“Definitely, I think is a slight advantage potentially. We obviously know the conditions, we played a few games here last year as well. We managed to play here before the World Cup. So yeah, we would definitely use that to our advantage hopefully it’s obviously going to be a fresh wicket, though. So both team have to assess quite quickly how it’s playing.”

– Heather Knight on the advantage of playing more in Christchurch.

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Players to watch out for:

Meg Lanning: Skipper Lanning has looked in red-hot form throughout the course of the tournament for Australia. She can be the aggressor if the situation demands her to do so. And she can also play the defensive game if the opposition bowlers are dictating terms. There can’t be a bigger motivation if you are playing in a World Cup final but if that game happens to be your 100th ODI then you find that extra motivation and Lanning will be driven to deliver her best.

Natalie Sciver: England’s premier allrounder had an amazing game when England faced Aussies in their opening fixture. Sciver scored a magnificent century and had almost won what was looking as nearly unwinnable for England. Since then she has only struck one half-century which came against New Zealand. She has scored 579 runs against the six-time champions at an average of 41.35, including one century and three half-centuries. The 29-year old looks due for a big one and England will be hoping that it comes in the final.

Numbers:

Head to head: Played 82 matches, England 22 – 56 Australia1 Tie, 3 No Result

  • Australia skipper Meg Lanning has scored 748 runs in 16 ODIs against England at an impressive average of 53.42.

Predicted XI:

Australia: Alyssa Healy (wk), Rachael Haynes, Meg Lanning (c), Beth Mooney, Tahlia McGrath, Ellyse Perry, Ashleigh Gardner, Jess Jonassen, Alana King, Megan Schutt, Darcie Brown

England: Tammy Beaumont, Danielle Wyatt, Heather Knight (c), Natalie Sciver, Amy Jones (wk), Sophia Dunkley, Charlie Dean, Katherine Brunt, Sophie Ecclestone, Kate Cross, Anya Shrubsole