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Blast from the past: Cricket's closest ever World Cup final

Roar Guru
26th December, 2017
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The 2017 Women’s World Cup final at Lord’s was unquestionably a nail-biter, but it lies second-best when it comes to the most exciting World Cup title matches.

The final of the 2000 edition was the closest final of any World Cup, men’s or women’s, and was fittingly contested between Trans-Tasman rivals Australia, the defending champions, and New Zealand, the hosts.

Australia had pouched their fourth World Cup title in 1997, and looked poised to defend it coming into the final. They were the only unbeaten team, winning all seven league matches, before dispatching South Africa with ease in the semi-final.

New Zealand had lost only to Australia by six wickets in the opening match of the tournament, at the Bert Sutcliffe Oval in Lincoln.

Since that defeat, the Kiwis went on an impressive winning spree. They beat England by 93 runs in their last league game, and thumped India by nine wickets in the semis.

The 1997 final had seen Australia prevail over the White Ferns by five wickets. Would there be a different result this time?

New Zealand captain Emily Drumm, who had enjoyed a productive tournament with the bat, won the toss and decided that her team would take first strike. Terry McGregor provided the Southern Stars with an early wicket, breaking through the defence of Anna O’Leary in her second over with the score at 17. This brought to the crease Drumm, who joined wicketkeeper Rebecca Rolls.

Rolls and Drumm assuredly shared in a second-wicket stand of 43 at a good clip, before the skipper became McGregor’s second victim, falling for 21 to finish the tournament with 339 runs at 67.80.

New Zealand were further pegged back when Rolls was out to first-change pacer Charmaine Mason for a stroke-filled 34 two balls later, making the score 3-60 in the 15th over.

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Veteran Debbie Hockley, aged 38 and playing in her final ODI, dug in for the next 23 overs to compile a gritty 24, patiently putting on 32 with Haidee Tiffin for the fourth wicket and 29 with Kathryn Ramel for the fifth. By the time she was dismissed leg before, by off-spinner Avril Fahey, New Zealand were 5-121 in the 38th over.

Having come in at 4-92, Ramel hit 41 from 63 balls to end up as the innings’ top-scorer. Her seventh-wicket alliance of 36 from 38 balls with Clare Nicholson was worth its weight in gold, as the last four wickets fell for 12 runs in ten balls.

The innings wound up at a sub-par 184, with eight balls still left. Cathryn Fitzpatrick took 3-52, while McGregor (2-26) and Mason (2-30) both bowled stingily.

Australia started woefully, losing two wickets inside three overs. Katrina Keenan began the damage, having Lisa Keightley caught behind for nought off the fourth ball of the innings. Two overs later, a bigger blow was dealt as star batswoman Karen Rolton was run out by Helen Watson, making the score 2-2. Rolton ended as the tournament’s highest run-getter, tallying 393 runs at 131.

At the other end, captain Belinda Clark, under whom Australia had won in 1997, was looking in fine fettle. She played the dominating partner in a third-wicket stand worth 73 with Cherie Bambury, the latter scoring only 14.

Zoe Goss was cleaned up by the off-spin of Catherine Campbell, and when Keenan returned to remove Olivia Magno, Australia were stuttering at 5-95 in the 29th over.

The steady loss of wickets did not hamper Clark though, as she single-handedly kept her team in the chase with one of the best innings seen at the World Cup.

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Having joined forces at 6-115, Clark and McGregor tilted the scales towards Australia with a rapid seventh-wicket partnership of 35, until off-spinner Clare Nicholson clinched perhaps the most significant wicket of the day.

With Australia requiring 35 from nine overs, Nicholson bowled Clark around her legs to reduce the score to 7-150. The captain struck a superb 91 from just 102 balls with eight fours – the standout performance in an otherwise tough match for batswomen of both teams.

McGregor was run out soon after, again by Watson, and her loss left Australia needing 26 from five overs with two wickets left.

Fitzpatrick and Mason refused to go down tamely, and had whittled down the target to ten runs from the last two overs when Ramel bowled the former to heighten the excitement.

Mason and Fahey negotiated the rest of the over, while adding five more runs, to take the game into the last over.

Australia needed five runs to win their fifth trophy, New Zealand had to take one wicket for their first.

Much to the hosts’ delight, Mason faintly edged the first ball from Nicholson to Rolls, thus giving New Zealand their first World Cup title. It was a case of so near, yet so far for Clark, who waged a lone battle against a buoyed bowling attack, not to mention a quality fielding unit.

Keenan bowled with grit to claim 2-19 in ten overs. Rachel Pullar (2-35) and Nicholson (2-38) were as impactful.

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The jubilant spectators invaded the field to celebrate the crowning moment in the history of women’s cricket in New Zealand. After finishing runners-up in 1993 and 1997, the White Ferns had finally broken the duck at home. Clark, whose runs accounted for more than two-thirds of those scored off the bat while she was at the crease, was named player of the match for her ultimately futile effort.

The Kiwis have since reached the World Cup final only once, when they lost to England in 2009. Australia went on to win the 2005 edition in South Africa, and added a sixth title in India in 2013. Neither of the teams made it to the final in 2017, which was the first time in the history of the tournament that two teams besides Australia and New Zealand played in the summit clash.