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Wednesday, November 9, 2022

England ease past Bangladesh to book Women’s World Cup semi-finals berth | Women’s Cricket World Cup

England captain Heather Knight praised her side’s “character and skill” after the defending champions eased their way into the World Cup semi-finals with a 100-run win against Bangladesh. The win is England’s fourth on the trot – a remarkable run of form that has allowed them to atone for their three early losses in the tournament after being on the brink of elimination a fortnight ago.

“It shows a lot about this group, the way we’ve turned things around,” Knight said. “I would have bitten your hand off a couple of weeks ago to be in this position.”

England’s win came thanks to Sophia Dunkley’s 67 from 72 balls and three wickets apiece for spinners Sophie Ecclestone (three for 15) and Charlie Dean (three for 31). Crucially, the victory also took England to third in the table, meaning they will avoid Australia in the last four. Instead, England will play their semi-final against South Africa on Thursday in Christchurch. It will be a repeat of their knockout encounter in 2017, in which England scraped home by two wickets with just two balls remaining.

Elsewhere, there was heartbreak for India, who had their own semi-final berth cruelly snatched away from them at the 11th hour as they lost a final-ball thriller to South Africa. It means that, improbably, West Indies – captured on video at their hotel dancing and screaming with joy after South Africa scored the winning runs – progress at India’s expense, and will play the first semi-final against Australia in Wellington on Tuesday.

The India v South Africa result typified the competitive nature of this World Cup. Chasing 275, South Africa had got within touching distance thanks to Laura Wolvaardt’s 80 from 79 balls, but still needed three runs off the final two deliveries when Mignon du Preez (52) was caught at long-on. But the umpire adjusted that bowler, Deepti Sharma, had overstepped, and Du Preez returned to hit the winning run through midwicket.

Sneh Rana from India dives and misses a catch off Mignon du Preez.
Sneh Rana from India dives and misses a catch off Mignon du Preez. Photograph: Peter Meecham/Getty Images

Earlier in the day, after choosing to bat first against Bangladesh and subsiding to 96 for four, English nerves would have been jangling, but a cool-headed innings from Dunkley allowed them to set Bangladesh a target of 235, which proved well out of reach. Dunkley had said pre-tournament that she wanted to “play fearlessly”; this innings, filled with glorious lofted drives for four, lived up to that intent.

In reply, Bangladesh’s run chase never gained much impetus, with just 23 runs put on the board in the 10-over powerplay. Then, after Ecclestone picked up scalps in successive overs, clean-bowling Sharmin Akhter and having Shamima Sultana caught at mid-off, wickets continued to tumble at regular intervals. Dean added a further three to take her tournament tally to 10, despite having played only four of England’s seven matches, while Freya Davies, brought in for her first World Cup match after Anya Shrubsole was rested, also got in on the act, holding two sharp catches and wrapping up proceedings in the 48th over with the wicket of Ritu Moni.

Though Knight said afterwards that England would be happy to play “whoever we get given”, she conceded that she had kept “one eye on net run rate” during the match. As it transpired, any such calculations were moot after India stumbled at the last hurdle, with England already a point clear of West Indies in the table.

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The turnaround in England’s fortunes has been dramatic. Two weeks ago, after a third consecutive loss in as many tournament matches, coach Lisa Keightley looked on the verge of resigning on the spot as she faced down the media. “As the coach, I take a huge amount of responsibility. It’s up to me to drive the team and get the wins on the board,” she said. “We’ll keep fighting.”

And fight England have. It has been tooth-and-nail scrapping that has kept them in contention, with their one-wicket stagger against New Zealand a week ago ultimately proving crucial in allowing them to progress. “All the girls are really proud of ourselves,” Dunkley said. “We obviously didn’t play our best cricket in the first three games. We knew we could come out and put on better performances. We had a lot of belief in the group and a lot of positivity to get us through.”

Some will say England are peaking at the right time. Others might question whether this is a position England should ever have found themselves in in the first place, given the resources at their disposal compared with other teams in this World Cup. It says a lot that reaching the semi-finals is being celebrated by the players with relief, when pre-tournament it was the minimum expected of the defending champions.

The postmortems, though, can wait. For now, there is a semi-final against South Africa to prepare for, a team who defeated England by three wickets earlier in this tournament. With Katherine Brunt also absent from the field for two-thirds of the Bangladesh run chase due to a “tight back”, Knight will be hoping the new-ball pair of Brunt and Shrubsole can regain their mojo for Thursday’s crucial encounter, and top off the most dramatic pirouette in World Cup history.

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