Australia eye sixth World Cup title
England's heroic, but ultimately heartbreaking campaign. India's early exit. Sri Lanka's shocking wins. West Indies' dream run. Amid all this, Australia have been doing what many Australian sides have done at many World Cups. They won everything that came their way until they were assured of a place in the final. They labored to close games they were supposed to win easily. They won games they had no business winning. They then went ahead and lost a game that was dead for them, but altered the tournament as it catapulted the victors West Indies into their maiden World Cup final, and knocked England and New Zealand out.
They are led by a captain who at times has this half-hopeful, half-worried expression on her face, speaks mostly in diplomatic generalities but in the middle transforms into an almost compulsive setter of aggressive fields. Against Sri Lanka, the number of times Jodie Fields had the maximum permissible four fielders in the deep was probably in single digits. She didn't feel threatened by Deandra Dottin's reputation and kept mid-on and mid-off up when the powerful West Indies batsman walked in. When asked if she feels worried if the opposition batsmen have a partnership, she talks about her team developing "bowling partnerships". She does not seem to let edges to the third man boundary bother her - "you don't push the field back just for nicks."
Fields has been able to be so aggressive because her bowlers have kept running through opposition line-ups with unerring regularity. Have a look at the totals they have conceded in the tournament - 84, 188 for 9, 227 for 6, 145, 131 and 164. The latter three have come in the absence of the injured lead fast bowler Ellyse Perry.
Coming into the World Cup, Megan Schutt had played two ODIs, Julie Hunter nine, and the kid in the squad, 17-year old Holly Ferling, none. Schutt, all of 20, has responded with 13 wickets, the joint-highest in the tournament. Hunter has an economy-rate of 2.34. Ferling, with her energetic run-up and advice from her idol Perry to "hit the deck", has taken nine wickets at 3.65 runs an over in the four games she's got. The offspinners, Erin Osborne and Lisa Sthalekar, have seven wickets each at 2.68 and 2.84 runs an over. The useful and effective mediums of Sarah Coyte round off a high-quality attack.
"Megan Schutt has come in the side and she has been a revelation for us," Fields said. "So has youngster Holly Ferling. Very proud of how they played throughout the tournament. They have come in, they have been fielded and they just bowled to their strengths, which is good fast bowling."
It is the batting that has proved problematic in as many as four of Australia's six matches. The openers Rachael Haynes and Meg Lanning have made runs but even they have been inconsistent. The middle order has been rescued at times by the likes of the veteran allrounder Sthalekar. Fields herself has scores of 1, 21, 3 and 18.
Bat first and bat big is how sides have won all three day-night matches in the tournament played at Brabourne Stadium, the venue of the final which will also be played under lights. West Indies' best chance has to be to follow the trend, and put Australia's shaky batting under pressure in the chase.
Doing both will be a massive ask of a team playing their maiden final against a side that has won the title five times. Fields acknowledged Australia would be favourites to add a sixth World Cup trophy. "I guess the Australians have got a lot of advantage," Fields said. "We have been here before and we have managed to win the World Twenty20 trophy [in 2012 and 2010]."
"I feel a sense of history. The Australian team has won the World Cup five times and I was also part of the side in 2009 back in Sydney when we didn't have such a good tournament. So to be involved in a World Cup final is an amazing opportunity for me personally and also for the team. We're keen to get out there and have a good shot at the sixth."
The 2010 World Twenty20 win had come with the Australia men's team watching after losing their own final to England. This time, they are in Chennai playing a tour match ahead of their Test series against India. Fields said Michael Clarke and his men had a message for her team before the final. "They have said they are really proud of our team and proud to be watching alongside what we have achieved with the World Twenty20 and also that there is a big opportunity for us to walk away with our sixth title."
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo