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England's women continue to fly the flag for the country as they made short work of South Africa to set up another clash with Australia
Alan Gardner in Mirpur
April 4, 2014
Most would say the last few months have been unremittingly bleak for English cricket but that would be to overlook entirely the continued excellence of the women's team. Having beaten Australia in their own backyard earlier this year, England have now reached a third World T20 final. The manner in which they cantered past South Africa offered a signal of intent for their next opponents: Australia again.
Was it a canter, or maybe a prance? Whichever, Anya Shrubsole, known to her team-mates as "Hoof" in part due to the way she carries herself, had a tight hold on the reins. Shrubsole's inswinger is a thing of mesmerising beauty and twice in her opening two overs she struck timber to remove Lizelle Lee and Trisha Shetty (albeit you could probably have driven a coach and horses through the gap on each occasion).
Shrubsole now has 12 wickets in the competition, the most by any bowler at a women's World T20. This has been an expanded competition, with two more teams involved, but Shrubsole has taken on greater personal responsibility in the absence of the injured Katherine Brunt. Another thoroughbred performance set the tone at the top of the innings, bowling her four overs straight, as England extended their record of never having lost a T20 against South Africa.
A capacity to make the ball swing, even in Mirpur where it has been rarely sighted, is Shrubsole's main weapon. Bowling in the mid to high 60s mph, she was almost unerring in attacking the stumps, a seductive inward curve always threatening the front pad. Her front-on action and canny wrist position underpin the skill; although it was an inability to bowl the outswinger that led to her discovering it.
"The conditions have been really good, the ball has swung," she said. "Probably due to the humidity here, because of the lights while we were in Sylhet. Just keeping it simple, that's pretty much what I try to do, get enough balls in the right area and at the moment it's working.
"I've just tried to bowl as straight as possible on pitches that are maybe a bit slower. I think bowling gun-barrel straight is the way to go. It's something that has worked for me and for our entire bowling attack throughout the tournament."
The other factor that swung it for England was a typically consummate fielding performance. Shrubsole's powerful arm was behind one of five run-outs and it took a belligerent innings from Chloe Tryon - including the only two sixes of the match - to lift South Africa to three figures. In chasing down the target, England continued to eschew rope-clearing (their sixes tally in the tournament stands at zero) but they give themselves extra yardage with such zealotry in the field.
"It's hugely important, we got five run-outs, which we were really pleased with," Shrubsole said. "It's something that we work really hard on, our fielding, and today it really showed. We were excellent in the field and that contributed to keeping them down to a total we were able to chase."
Success should not be taken for granted, even if it is expected, and Shrubsole's on-message responses about taking each game at a time and controlling the controlables demonstrate England's fibre even if they lack flavour. In the semi-final of a major tournament, this was a crushing win, but she said South Africa's first appearance at this stage of the World T20 augured well for the future of the women's game.
"People are being challenged all the time, I think it would be unfair to say that England and Australia are dominating," she said. "The last 50-over World Cup in 2013, West Indies got into the final. We're probably a little bit further on than some of the teams but the standard of women's cricket across the board is improving hugely. This is South Africa's first semi-final and they gave a really good account of themselves, as they have done throughout the tournament and I'm sure we'll see them in semi-finals and finals for years to come."
A few short months ago, Shrubsole was again at the heart of victory, taking seven wickets as England claimed the Perth Test and set themselves on the way to retaining the Ashes in Australia. Their old opponents came back to win both of the limited-overs series 2-1 and the fact that Australia have won the last two World T20s - the most recent in a tight finish against England - could give them an edge.
"Potentially Australia go in as favourites, as defending champions, but I think it will be a really good match, we're two evenly matched teams, as we've shown over past series against them," Shrubsole said. "We've played so much cricket against them lately that there's nothing we don't know about each other, there's not going to be any surprises, it's just going to be who comes out and performs best on the day."
The runners and riders are familiar, it will come down to who clears the fences. In Shrubsole, England have a performer who may just run straight through them.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Alan Gardner
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala