London - India have the chance to alter the course of
cricket history when they face hosts England in the Women's World Cup final at
Lord's on Sunday.
Since the tournament's inception in 1973 - two years before
the men's World Cup started - it has been dominated by England and Australia,
with New Zealand, in 2000, the only other country to have won the event.
The final sees this year's edition come full circle, with
India having upset the form book to beat England by 35 runs in the tournament
opener in Derby on June 24.
"It isn't going to be easy for England," promised
India captain Mithali Raj after her side's stunning semi-final win over
six-times champions Australia in Derby on Thursday.
A 36-run victory over the title-holders was built on
Harmanpreet Kaur's stunning 171 not out.
An innings full of correct yet powerful shots ought to have
banished any remaining stereotypes about 'demure' women's cricket in general
and the India team in particular.
Certainly there was nothing 'ladylike' about the fiercely
competitive Kaur's angry reaction towards batting partner Deepti Sharma after
almost being run out on 98.
For Raj and India pace bowler Jhulan Goswami, the leading
run-scorer and wicket-taker in women's one-day international history
respectively, this could be the last chance the two 34-year-olds have to win
the World Cup.
But the significance of the day goes far beyond what it
means to their cricket careers.
India's win in the 1983 men's World Cup final at Lord's
turned the country on to limited overs cricket and led the world's second-most
populous nation to become the sport's financial powerhouse.
An India win on Sunday could have equally far-reaching
consequences, as Raj acknowledged.
"It's an opportunity for the Indian team to make it big
in India," Raj, appearing in her second World Cup final 12 years after her
first, told ESPNCricinfo.
"Everybody will be glued to the television on
Sunday," she added while recalling how India's 98-run defeat by Australia
in the 2005 final at Centurion, South Africa, was not even broadcast.
"If we can pull it off, there will be nothing like it.
It will help the future of women's cricket."
One pleasing aspect for India of this World Cup is that they
have not been over-reliant on Raj and Goswami, who nevertheless produced the
delivery of the tournament to bowl Australia captain Meg Lanning for nought in
The likes of Smriti Mandhana, Punam Raut and Sharma have
also stepped up when needed.
England, since their opening defeat by India, have had the
potentially useful experience of winning two close games, defeating Australia
by three runs in pool play before seeing off South Africa by just two wickets
in a semi-final where they stumbled chasing a modest target of 219 in Bristol
England captain Heather Knight is one of several seasoned
campaigners along with bowlers Jenny Gunn and Katherine Brunt.
But Sarah Taylor, who took heart from the way England had
scrapped hard for wins, has arguably been the team's star performer.
"We can take a lot of pride into this game regardless
of what's going to happen," Taylor said.
"We've worked really hard to get here and we've fought
Taylor underlined her standing as the best wicket-keeper in
the women's game with a superb stumping in a semi-final where she also made 54.
Her performances have been all the more impressive given
Taylor spent 12 months out of the game with anxiety issues.
"A year ago I wasn't even thinking that I could
potentially play cricket again, so this is massive," Taylor said, adding
she now relished the prospect of appearing in a final in front of a sold-out
crowd of more than 26,000 at 'the home of cricket'.
"You want to play at Lord's, you want to play in a
World Cup final and you want to play in front of a packed house - that's the
situation you want and we've got it."