THE BRIT OVAL
Australia 163-5, England 165-2
England won by 8 wickets
ENGLAND women, the ICC Twenty20 tournament favourites, came through a tense semi-final against Australia in a good advertisement for the female craft. Women's cricket has a character all of its own.
By all accounts the girls are not above making lewd double entendres during matches to embarrass male umpires. And then there is the clothing. During the 1993 World Cup in England the mother of an Ireland seam bowler noticed the red stains on so many white skirts and sewed on a square of towelling to save on washing. It was a good idea, though the hated skirts did disappear with the advent of coloured clothing, and it is surprising that skirts still remain in hockey.
Ebony Rainford-Brent, a London University chemistry graduate in the current England squad, says she used to cut the finger ends off her batting gloves to save her nails before she started playing regularly for Surrey. So practical.
These are gender quirks that add so much to life, but the women's game has to be taken seriously. Their cricket has advanced by huge strides since 1993, and it was regrettable that the Oval was much less than half full to watch England's best player Claire Taylor to dominate a splendid match.
Australia, suffering their own recession talent-wise, fought hard -- brilliantly in fact -- to extend the last days of Karen Rolton's captaincy. The margin might sound like a heavy defeat, but it wasn't. Taylor and Beth Morgan had to bat at their very best to take England to the Lord's final with three balls to spare.
Unfortunately from the competition point of view England, Australia and New Zealand have remained super-dominant, with India occasionally intervening. Other countries such as South Africa, West Indies and Ireland, are improving fast while still lagging well behind. The next ICC Twenty20 is scheduled for the Caribbean in 2010. The locals will love it.
After the early loss of Sarah Taylor and the captain Charlotte Edwards much depended on the unrelated Claire Taylor, and she delivered an undefeated 76 in 53 balls in those intimidating wide open spaces at the Oval. The boundary size contrasted sharply with Somerset's compact little ground at Taunton, the venue for all the group games. The rope was not brought in for the women, and Australia's 163 would normally have been enough - in fact far too much for any side except England.
Australia, put in to bat, lost their two openers in two balls after they had jolted England with a stand of 78 in only nine overs. Shelley Nitschke -- she of five consecutive consonants -- snicked a cut at left-armer Holly Colvin, and Leah Poulton was bowled through a drive by off-spinner Laura Marsh. The rest of the order followed through well enough, including the powerful Rolton, but to me this was a turning point of the match.
England's reply was no more than adequate until Taylor and Morgan unzipped some impressive all-round strokeplay, and they extended their stand right through 13 overs for 122 runs. Both used the dink sweep very effectively, a stroke clearly well rehearsed, though one sweetly timed effort off Kirsten Pike clonked against Morgan's helmet grille. Any club cricketer would fear this result, and Morgan proved that accidents could happen despite hours of practice. She continued after taking a minute to recover her composure.
One of Taylor's dinked boundaries was pursued by Lauren Ebsary with maddened ferocity, and a steward plucked his chair out of the way in nick of time as the Australian dived over the boundary rope. Intensity was always present, and the best two sides -- England and New Zealand -- would be contesting the final at Lord's on June 21.
Taylor made history of sorts in the spring by becoming the first woman to be named as a cricketer of the year in the Wisden Almanack. As a batsman she is a seriously good.