Sunday, 31 December 2017

Highlights of 2017

Sunday, 31 December 2017
The title of this post is rather misleading. Really, there was only ever going to be one highlight. I was lucky enough to see England win a World Cup this year, lucky enough to be there at Lord's, to roar with every wicket, every run, and with 26,000 other people there for a game of women's cricket. When it came to choosing highlights for the year, there was never any contest.

But to get to that moment, there were other highlights. Sarah Taylor's century, a moment to bring happy tears to many eyes. Nat Sciver playing the 'Natmeg' as she made centuries of her own. Tammy Beaumont leading the way with the bat, the tournament's leading run scorer. Victory over Australia, and Alex Hartley dismissing Meg Lanning along the way. That semi-final against South Africa, one of the most tense games of cricket I've watched. Jenny Gunn's cool head under pressure, Anya Shrubsole coming out and hitting the boundary that sent England to the final. And those were just the moments with England, not even mentioning all the other brilliant performances throughout the tournament - centuries by Chamari Atapattu and Harmanpreet Kaur being ones that really stick in my memory.

Yet it was that one day, the 23rd July 2017, that still has to be the highlight. Queuing round the block just to get into Lord's, the tribute to Rachael Heyhoe-Flint before the start of play, Eileen Ash ringing the five-minute bell, Enid Bakewell presenting the trophy at the end. From the start it felt like a celebration, not just of the tournament, but of women's cricket and women's sport as a whole.

I won't do a full play-by-play of the match here, just those final moments. England had scored 228/7 - a total that would need India to pull off the highest-ever run chase in a World Cup final, yet one that looked well within reach in a high scoring tournament. India were well on their way, and though England's players might not have given up, victory certainly seemed a long way off. And then came Shrubsole, then Hartley in the next over, then Shrubsole again and again and again. A run out, of course with Shrubsole behind it. She was unstoppable, a force of nature. Out of almost nowhere, from the jaws of defeat, England were going to win.

But there was a stumping, that wasn't. A dropped catch, a roar swiftly silenced. Even as the match had swung dramatically in England's favour, India were still there, close to that total, close to their first World Cup title. The Indian fans were out in force, just as loud if not louder than the English support, willing their team past the line. But none of it mattered when Shrubsole had the ball in her hand. A dropped catch the ball before? No problem, she'd hit the stumps instead. Shrubsole had done it, England had done it. England had won the World Cup.

For me, no question, the highlight of 2017. The highlight, really, of all my cricket watching. Being there, being in the stadium when England won the World Cup. 23rd July, 2017. A day I'll remember forever.

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