Ahead of the Twenty20 World Cup final on Sunday, various of its participants described it as the “biggest game” that women’s cricket had seen. In literal terms that turned out to be true, with 86,174 spectators filling the Melbourne Cricket Ground to come remarkably close to the all-time crowd record for women’s sport of 90,185. The size of the occasion also decided the result: Australia rose to it, India were overwhelmed by it.
Australian openers Alyssa Healy and Beth Mooney lit up the MCG after winning the toss to score at 10 runs per over through a partnership of 115. Australia ended up with 184 at four wickets down, before India lost big-hitting opener Shafali Verma with the second ball of the innings before subsiding to 99 all out.
Mooney was the one to bat through the innings and top-score with 78, but it was Healy who grabbed the match for Australia in the space of 11.4 overs with her score of 75. Coming into the match, Healy’s form had been questioned for a run of low scores in a warm-up series. Those around the team backed her as a big-game player.
There could be no bigger game than this. Cricket’s coliseum, with the chance of a world-record crowd, for a global final, with the women’s game able to show itself off on centre stage. In front of the biggest crowd she would ever have known, with the noise rolling down in waves off the stands, Healy produced the innings of her life in the exact same fearless way that has become her standard.
India, to the contrary, were nervous from the start. Off-spinner Deepti Sharma started the match with three full tosses, though only one was punished. The fourth ball Healy steered immaculately through gully for four. Then as Deepti, landed the fifth Healy lashed it straight at cover, where Verma dropped a fast but straightforward catch.
Healy’s way is to shrug off close calls as a natural side-effect of her game. She drove the next delivery in the same direction along the ground for four, and sped on to 28 off 14 balls before Mooney hit her first boundary of the night in the fourth over. Consecutive sixes down the ground from Rajeshwari Gayakwad’s left-arm spin took Healy to the brink of a half-century, then she went one better in the 11th over with three sixes in a row from seamer Shikha Pandey.
The crowd was just about on its feet by the third: a clean lofted six over cover, to follow a pull shot over the leg side and a clout down the ground. Before Healy gave up a catch to long-on she was 75 from 38 balls, nearly maintaining the strike rate of 200 with which she had started the innings.
Her departure allowed left-arm spinner Radha Yadav to set a new record in the format, having taken a wicket in 24 consecutive matches. It also allowed India to pull back the scoring, having Lanning caught for 16 and Ash Gardner stumped for two from Deepti in the 17th over, then Rachael Haynes pulling Poonam Yadav into her own stumps for four.
At 115 for none with eight overs to come, Australia could have gone past 200. They still got close thanks to Mooney batting through the closing stages, finding boundaries with the scoop and sweep as well as her favoured cover drive on her way to 78 from 54.
India had made 177 to win a run chase against Australia only a few weeks earlier, so 185 was not impossible. Any chance though relied on Verma, and it didn’t look like her head was in the game. After she dropped that catch in the first over, Verma would drop her head at every Healy boundary, kicking at the ground or turning her back on the pitch entirely.
To start the reply she lofted a skyscraping ball down the ground that plugged just inside the boundary rope, then pushed at and nicked Megan Schutt from back of a length. Standing up to the stumps against the seamer to take a brilliant reflex catch was of course Healy.
India’s next blow was literal, with Taniya Bhatia retiring concussed after edging a sweep shot off Jess Jonassen into the side of her head. From there Australia swarmed, diving to cut off everything in the field, taking every catch that came. Jemimah Rodrigues, Smriti Mandhana, and Veda Krishnamurthy all fell trying to clear mid-off. Captain Harmanpreet Kaur nearly swept Jonassen out of the screws, but Gardner motored around and dodged an incoming teammate to save six and take the running catch.
Deepti top-scored with 33, while 16-year-old Richa Ghosh was not overawed as the concussion substitute in making 18 at a run a ball. But when Deepti was held by a diving Mooney at long-on, the catches kept coming. Schutt cleaned up with 4-18, Jonassen took 3 for 20. The Australians swarmed one another as the last wicket fell, the Indians formed a more sombre team huddle, and up in the stands the large bulk of that massive crowd stayed on to see the celebrations.