The 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup was the eleventh time a women’s championship had been held, but the 2017 tournament was a very different affair from the earliest ones.
At the time of the first tournament, in 1973, women’s cricket had been entirely amateur, with most of the players themselves paying for overseas travel and kit. The spread of the game was relatively limited at the time and with South Africa disbarred due to the apartheid laws of its government, West Indies were represented by both Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago while a Young England side made up the numbers.
By the turn of the 21st century, professionalism had arrived in women’s cricket. The merging of the old Women’s Cricket Association into the new ECB had given the women’s game a huge boost in funding and profile, while the rise of Twenty20 leagues around the world had attracted greater interest from media and fans alike. The previous tournament to be held in England, in 1993, had been a quiet affair. The final at Lord’s, won by England, had been played out before largely empty stands. But the buzz around the 2017 tournament was huge, and as spectators flocked to the venues in unprecedented numbers, viewers on television and the internet made it a truly global event.
Sometimes a tournament final can end disappointingly; one team might be overwhelmed by the occasion, or both might be wary of giving the initiative away early on and produce cautious, dull performances. But the 2017 final was played out in a tremendous atmosphere before a packed house at Lord’s, and the players of both sides responded. India’s bowlers, led by Jhulan Goswami, managed to restrict England to 228 for 7 from their 50 overs and as the Indian run-chase neared the end of the 43rd over, they were well placed on 191 for 3 with opener Punam Raut still going strong on 86. But when Raut was trapped lbw by Anya Shrubsole; it was the start of a serious wobble.
Four wickets fell in just 13 balls, Shrubsole claiming three of them. India were nervously perched on 201 for 7. Deepti Sharma and Shikha Pandey managed to stabilise things, adding 17 before Pandey was run out by a swift return from Shrubsole at point to wicket-keeper Sarah Taylor.
In the next over Sharma was caught off Shrubsole’s bowling and India were down to their last pair. The whole of Lord’s thought Shrubsole had claimed her fifth wicket in 18 balls when Rajeshwari Gayakwad lofted a simple catch to Jenny Gunn at mid-off, but Gunn spilled the straightforward chance. It didn’t matter as Shrubsole made it five from 19 instead and sealed a nine-wicket win for England by clean bowling Gayakwad with her next delivery.
It was a fitting end to a wonderful tournament, amid an atmosphere as jubilant as Lord’s has ever known. The thrilling end to a game was simply a great advertisement for women’s cricket.