There were high hopes for England ahead of this year’s women’s World Cup. With the team firing on all cylinders prior to the event, it was felt that now was as good a chance as they’d ever have to finally topple Australia bring an end to their dynasty.
Alas, they were unsuccessful as they succumbed to an inspired South Africa in the semifinal. Australia then somewhat inevitably swept the hosts aside in the final to clinch their sixth T20 World Cup. Although there was a rather familiar feeling by the end with England falling just short and Australia ultimately prevailing, there was something different about this one.
England’s mantra ahead of the World Cup was one of wanting to entertaining the fans. Coach John Lewis and captain Heather Knight were consistent with that message in the build up to the tournament. “Go out there and express yourselves” was the crux of the message.
More than winning the event, the group aspired to inspire the younger generation with the brand of cricket the play and they certainly achieved that over the course of their two week stay in South Africa.
The signs were there even before the tournament had started. The under 19’s side displayed a similarly fearless style when they partook in the U19’s World Cup earlier this year.
The senior side stamped down their marker in the opening game as they chased down Ireland’s meagre 106 in a frenetic manner. They could have cruised to a win in 17 or 18 overs and little would have been made of it. Instead, they went gung ho from ball one and although they lost a few wickets along the way, they had entertained spectators in the ground and viewers at home.
That style continued throughout the tournament, culminating in a trouncing of Pakistan in their final group game. England registered a record 2013, comfortably the best score in a women’s T20 World Cup. They then bowled out Pakistan for 199, winning by a margin of 114, also a record.
Even though they went in as heavy favourites against South Africa, they hardly disgraced themselves in defeat. The hosts had the whole of Newlands behind them, playing almost faultlessly to upset the odds. But for a couple of near misses, England could well have pulled off the victory, indeed for large parts it looked like they would.
Last summer, we saw how the Lionesses inspired the nation in their victory in the European Championships. Since that triumph, the number of girls participating in football at school level has increased in huge number. WSL attendances and viewing figures are far greater than they were previously and the financial benefit hasn’t been insignificant either.
The cricket team will be devastated that they haven’t been able to replicate the glory of their footballing peers, but make no mistake, the inspiring effect they will have had on watchers will be seismic.
No women’s team has ever played like this. Indeed, one of the most common criticisms of the women’s game has been that the scoring pace is so inferior to that of the men’s, thus diminishing the spectacle.
Heather Knight and her players certainly put paid to all of those claims with their refreshing approach. Girls up and down the country will endeavour to play in a similar manner. The under 19s demonstrated that this isn’t simply something that this generation is doing and it will almost certainly be being replicated across age groups.
Couple this with the financial shot in the arm the recent women’s IPL auction has provided, not least for the English players, and there’s no doubting its been an incredibly positive month or so for the women’s game in this country.
So when we look back upon the World Cup, there will be a feeling of disappointment for not achieving the crowning glory, but the overwhelming emotion will be one of hope and inspiration.