There are many paths to the Home of Victory, but India were unfortunate to choose the one guarded by Anya Shrubsole.
Like a sniper in the bushes who finds some extra bullets after fearing she has run out of ammunition, the England medium pace bowler, who was named (wo)man of the match, picked off five of her opponents in a stunning 3.2-over spell. An Indian victory, which looked a nailed-on certainty an hour earlier, was snatched from their grasp. Shrubsole, whose figures at one point were 6.2-0-34-1, finished with 9.4-0-46-6.
But even when England appeared to have completed an incredible comeback, there was a moment when the trophy might have slipped from their hold. With nine to win and one wicket required, Rajeshiya Gayakwad, the India No 11, scooped the third ball of Shrubsole’s final over low to Jenny Gunn at mid-off. Gunn had only to stoop to take a simple catch; her team-mates were already celebrating a remarkable victory; but, somehow, agonisingly, it spilled from her hands.
While observers adapted the phrase aimed at Herschelle Gibbs by Steve Waugh when he was Australia captain in a men’s tournament: “She’s dropped the World Cup,” Shrubsole simply turned at the top of her run for the next ball, chased in and ripped out Gayakwad’s off stump. Cue delirium among a Lord’s full house.
In fairness, the opening bowler was on a roll by then, having already dismissed the impressive Punam Raut and Veda Krishnamurty, the dangerous Deepti Sharma and India’s own inspirational bowler Jhulan Goswami, yorked first ball. Her first spell had brought her the wicket of left-handed opener Smriti Mandhana, but she had had no other success until she removed Raut leg-before in the 42nd over of the innings. Then there was no stopping her
Add in the unnecessay run out of Shikha Pandey – Shrubsole’s excellence in the field at cover also proving key in this incident – and India, from 191 for three, lost their last seven wickets for 28.
Raut may have been the fourth wicket to fall, out for 86 in a well-paced innings in which she faced 115 balls, but the most important was probably that of the mighty Harmanpreet Kaur. Fresh from her momentous match-winning 171 against Australia in the semi-finals, she had struck another fine half-century, reining in her attacking instincts in the team cause but picking off the bad balls and manipulating the strike in the smooth manner we have been accustomed to witnessing. She remains a couple of classes above the rest of the batting in this tournament.
However, and inexplicably in the context of the game, temptation got the better of her, and after an innings lasting 80 balls and including three fours and two sixes, she tried to sweep another boundary, the ball falling short and into the hands of Tammy Beaumont at deep square leg. Alex Hartley was the beneficial bowler and her slow left-arm also accounted for Sushma Verma, the wicketkeeper, bowled round her legs trying to sweep as England started to sniff an unlikely outcome.
Earlier, Goswami had put the brakes on England in the middle overs with the quickfire wickets of Sarah Taylor, Natalie Sciver and Fran Wilson. Taylor got a thin edge down the leg-side to be well-taken by Verma and Sciver and Wilson were trapped leg-before, the latter first ball.
Sciver and Taylor had steadied England with a partnership of 83 after they had been wobbling on 60 for three. That Taylor, England’s finest strokeplayer, didn’t even hit a boundary in her 45 was a measure of the rebuilding they had to do. Sciver went on to reach a-half-century, which included five fours.
It needed the skills of Katherine Brunt, Jenny Gunn and Laura Marsh in the lower order to get England to 228 for seven by the end of their innings – something to bowl at if short of par.
That seemed out of the question with an hour to play but then Shrubsole picked up her rifle, lined up her targets and put her finger on the trigger. The 2017 World Cup was about to become England’s.