London: India captain Mithali Raj has urged her side to embrace the challenge of playing hosts England in the World Cup final at a sold-out Lord’s on Sunday.
Raj’s side won through to the final with a stunning 36-run win over reigning champions Australia, with Harmanpreet Kaur making a stunning 171 not out.
India have never won the Women’s World Cup, having lost to the Aussies in a final 12 years ago—a match in which senior batsman Raj played.
“We need to keep it as simple as we have been throughout the tournament and see where it takes us in the final," said Raj, whose side beat England by 35 runs in the tournament opener at Derby on 24 June.
“Looking at the wicket, it looks full of runs and any venue where you’ve scored runs previously always gives you confidence," Raj added as India looked to follow Kapil Dev’s celebrated 1983 men’s team by winning a World Cup final at Lord’s.
Since the tournament’s inception in 1973 —two years before the men’s World Cup started —it has been dominated by England and Australia, with New Zealand, in 2000, the only other country to have won the event.
For Raj and India pace bowler Jhulan Goswami, the leading run-scorer and wicket-taker in women’s one-day international history respectively, this could be the last chance the two 34-year-olds have to win the World Cup.
But the significance of the day goes far beyond what it means to their cricket careers.
India’s 1983 win turned the country on to limited overs cricket and led the world’s second-most populous nation to become the sport’s financial powerhouse.
An India win on Sunday could have equally far-reaching consequences, as Raj acknowledged.
“It’s an opportunity for the Indian team to make it big in India," Raj told ESPNCricinfo. “If we can pull it off, there will be nothing like it. It will help the future of women’s cricket."
England, since their opening defeat by India, have had the potentially useful experience of winning two close games, defeating Australia by three runs in pool play before seeing off South Africa by just two wickets in a semi-final where they stumbled chasing a modest target of 219 in Bristol on Tuesday.
Spinners have been among the leading bowlers this tournament but with quicker bowlers such as Katherine Brunt, Anya Shrubsole and Natalie Sciver in England’s side, coach Mark Robinson hopes the pitch at Lord’s offers some seam movement.
“We’ve seen the wicket and it’s got a nice little bit of grass which will hopefully give it a little bit of pace," said Robinson.
Sarah Taylor, who took heart from the way England had scrapped hard for wins, has arguably been the team’s star performer this World Cup.
“We’ve worked really hard to get here and we’ve fought like anything," said Taylor, who underlined her standing as the best wicket-keeper in the women’s game with a superb stumping in a semi-final where she also made 54.
Her performances have been all the more impressive given Taylor spent 12 months out of the game with anxiety issues.
“A year ago I wasn’t even thinking that I could potentially play cricket again, so this is massive," Taylor said, adding she now relished the prospect of appearing in a final in front of a crowd of more than 26,000 at ‘the home of cricket’.
“You want to play at Lord’s, you want to play in a World Cup final and you want to play in front of a packed house—that’s the situation you want and we’ve got it.