England captain Heather Knight predicted her team’s historic world cup victory will transform the face of cricket in Britain after a pulsating finale at Lord’s in front of the largest crowd ever to watch a women’s game in this country.
More than 27,000 spectators piled into the home of cricket, many of them women and young girls, to witness one of the most remarkable comebacks ever seen at Lord’s, led by 25-year-old Anya Shrubsole.
With an estimated TV audience of more than 100 million watching as they capitalised on an India collapse, Knight, Shrubsole and their teammates will be propelled to new levels of fame and recognition, in the form of improved sponsorship and advertising deals.
As Knight lifted the trophy and thanked a boisterous crowd, still in place 20 minutes after the finish, there was a sense that this could be a groundbreaking summer for women’s sport. Johanna Konta’s rousing run to the Wimbledon semi-finals set the tone and England’s football team are among the favourites for Euro 2017, before the rugby World Cup takes centre stage next month.
Both Knight and Shrubsole said afterwards they had been inspired by visits to Lord’s while they were still in primary school. Many young girls were in attendance yesterday, including a team from New Hall school in Chelmsford who visited the commentary box. Knight said she hoped the spectacle would be a gamechanger.
“I really think it will be transformative,” she said, “There’s never been a better time to be a young girl in cricket and what a time to start playing. A lot of girls on the team took inspiration from men’s cricketers or older brothers or their dads, but what a spectacle today was. Hopefully it gets a few more girls inspired and playing the game. I know the England and Wales Cricket Board are in a great position to capitalise on our win and I’m sure they will.”
Shrubsole won it for England with a faultless performance. The 25-year-old took five wickets in 19 balls as England came back from the brink to beat India and claim the trophy for a fourth time.
“For a while it looked like we were out of it, but that’s the beauty of this team,” said Shrubsole, “We never give up. It’s been a brilliant World Cup.
“It’s a dream you never think comes true. To come back to a venue where I first came in 2001 and leave as a World Cup winner is amazing.”
There was devastation for India, who had been set 229 to win. Chasing runs and a historic first World Cup victory, they were cruising towards victory at 191-3 but Shrubsole pinned Poonam Raut lbw for 86 to spark a collapse of seven wickets for 28 runs.
India needed 11 runs from 12 balls as the match reached its nerve-shredding climax. But Shrubsole intervened with another emphatic wicket to send the England fans inside Lord’s wild.
By 9am the queue to enter the grounds was already beyond the perimeter fence and down to Wellington Road, abuzz with excitement as a ticket tout appealed for spares. As one spectator wryly observed: “A few years ago you couldn’t give tickets away to women’s cricket, now there’s touts outside. That’s the measure of how far it’s come.”
With the most expensive tickets priced at £30, there were more young families in attendance than the usual Lord’s crowd, many children experiencing this evocative sporting arena for the first time. Keen to capitalise on the hype, the International Cricket Council (ICC) were dispensing free plastic bats to children and there were opportunities to try out bowling in a tent beside the practice pitch.
At the on-site Lord’s museum there was a steady stream of visitors throughout the day. The Flamingos, an under-11 girls team from Buenos Aires, were shown a blue ball, designed specially for women in the late 19th century because it was believed they would be too scared by a red ball.
Before play began there was another reminder of how far the women’s game has come; a minute’s applause in memory of Rachael Heyhoe Flint, her face beamed onto the scoreboards. A former England captain and pioneer, Heyhoe Flint conceived the idea of a World Cup over a bottle of brandy with philanthropist Sir Jack Hayward.
On their way from the dressing room to the middle, Knight and her team passed under a picture of Heyhoe Flint in the Long Room. “I felt a bit emotional during the anthems when I saw her face,” said Knight.
Until 1999 women were not allowed to be MCC members and could not even go into the pavilion unaccompanied. Although attitudes have modernised, the women’s national team are still down the pecking order when it comes to playing at the home of cricket.
The final was only the 16th time the England women’s team have played here in 41 years, since their first appearance in 1976. The young spinner Alex Hartley, who has perhaps been the revelation of the tournament for England, plays for Middlesex – whose home is Lord’s – but has never actually played or even practised here.
The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army was booming around Lord’s as the teams made their way out, the only spare seats being in the members’ pavilion. England got an ideal start, winning the toss and opting to bat.
But England lost three for 16 with opener Lauren Winfield, Tamsin Beaumont and Knight going in quick succession. Sarah Taylor, possibly the most mercurial talent in the team and Nat Sciver helped England rebuild with a fourth wicket partnership of 83. It was a below par innings and India were favourites at the interval.
England’s dreams of victory looked to be ebbing away when Raut was batting brilliantly as India chased 229 to win. But when the 27-year-old opener fell lbw to Shrubsole for 86 the wheels came off.
There was a collective gasp around Lord’s as Jenny Gunn dropped a sitter at the death which looked to have ended England’s chances.
There was little sympathy for Gunn from captain Knight afterwards. “It felt like she’d dropped the World Cup,” she said, “but we managed to get over the line so that’s the main thing.”