England will play Australia in Sunday’s World Cup final in Christchurch after career-best displays from opener Danni Wyatt and spinner Sophie Ecclestone made short work of South Africa. And a crushing 137-run win for Heather Knight’s team continued their stunning turnaround at the tournament, with three group-stage defeats – including a last-over loss to the South Africans – now followed by five victories.
If England beat Australia, who start as favourites after winning eight out of eight en route to the final, they will retain the trophy they won at Lord’s in 2017. Remarkably, given Australia have lifted six of the 11 women’s World Cups and England four, it will be the first time the old enemies have met in the final since 1988, when the Australians won in Melbourne.
The tone for a dominant display at Christchurch’s Hagley Oval was set by Wyatt, who survived five drops to batter 129 from 125 balls and put on a crucial 116 for the fifth wicket with Sophia Dunkley after England had slipped to 126 for four. They eventually managed an imposing 293 for eight.
Veteran seamer Anya Shrubsole then removed both South African openers with just eight on the board, and it was 67 for four when 21-year-old off-spinner Charlie Dean bowled Lara Goodall.
After that, it was the Ecclestone show, as her left-arm spin ran through South Africa’s batting to finish with six for 36. They were England’s best figures at a World Cup, beating Shrubsole’s six for 46 in the final against India five years ago.
‘It was a complete performance,’ said Knight. ‘The girls brought their best cricket when all was on the line. I’m really chuffed and excited for the final.’
For Ecclestone, it was simply the continuation of the form that has taken her to the top of both the ODI and T20 world rankings. And though she began the competition with figures of none for 77 in the defeat by Australia, in the seven games since has picked up 20 wickets at nine apiece while conceding just 2.75 an over.
‘She’s an absolute GOAT,’ said Wyatt. ‘She was unplayable today, especially with that pace and dip, and a bit of turn. I said to Nat [Sciver] on the pitch, how would she go in men’s international cricket? She’s not fun to face in the nets at all.’
Wyatt’s speculation follows a question posed by Alex Hartley in her Daily Telegraph column: ‘Who is better, Jack Leach or Sophie Ecclestone? It is a debate we have been having a lot. You would not often compare men’s and women’s cricketers, but I genuinely believe Ecclestone could play first-class cricket for a men’s side, because she is just so good. In this World Cup, I have seen a whole new level from her in terms of her mindset.’
Hartley, a left-arm spinner herself, was part of England’s trophy-winning side five years ago, when Ecclestone – then 18 – was no more than a net bowler for Knight’s team.
- England beat South Africa in Christchurch to reach Women’s World Cup final
- They posted 293 for eight from their 50 overs batting first after losing the toss
- Danni Wyatt top-scored with 129 while Sophia Dunkley made 60 off 72 balls
- Sophie Ecclestone then tormented South Africa, who lost regular wickets
- England will take on Australia in Sunday’s tournament final in Christchurch
By then, though, she had already played club men’s cricket alongside brother James for Alvanley, near her home city of Chester, starting with an analysis of four for 10 in the Village Cup against Corwen, who were dismissed for 61.
The only surprise about Thursday’s performance was that she had never taken more than four wickets in an innings for England in any format. As Wyatt put it: ‘It’s the first of many five-fors.’
Her demolition of South Africa began when she bowled the dangerous all-rounder Marizanne Kapp with a bail-trimmer, and continued when Chloe Tryon was caught at short midwicket by Sciver in Ecclestone’s next over.
Mignon du Preez, the last of the recognised batters, was bowled round her legs for 30, Shabnim Ismail caught at mid-off, and Masabata Klaas at point. Ecclestone’s match-winning sixth came when Trisha Chetty was stumped on the charge. Wicket to wicket, she collected six for 29 in 40 balls.
Only Jo Chamberlain, who took seven for eight against Denmark in 1991, has returned a better ODI analysis for England. And if Ecclestone, now comfortably the tournament’s leading wicket-taker, can sparkle one last time against the Australians, England have a chance of upsetting the odds.