Claire Taylor seals stunning chase
England 165 for 2 (Taylor 76*, Morgan 46*) beat Australia 163 for 5 (Poulton 39, Rolton 38) by eight wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Claire Taylor lived up to her billing as one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year with a brilliant 76 not out from 53 balls, as England chased down a formidable target of 164 to oust Australia at the semi-final stage of the Women's World Twenty20 at The Oval. Taylor, who was the Player of the Tournament when England won the 50-over World Cup back in March, cracked eight fours in a superb 122-run third-wicket stand with Beth Morgan, as England booked their place on the big ticket at Lord's on Sunday with eight wickets and three balls to spare.
Jack Birkenshaw, England's assistant coach, had said before the tournament that the public should be prepared for a surprise when the women joined the big stage, and he was not wrong. Australia's total of 163 for 5, built on a 78-run opening stand from Shelley Nitschke and Leah Poulton, was the second-highest of the tournament, and looked for all money to have overwhelmed the hosts, especially when they lost their captain, Charlotte Edwards at 43 for 2 in the seventh over. But Taylor and Morgan turned the tables with incredible resolve, and maintained an asking-rate of nearly 10 runs an over in a chase that could not have been paced more perfectly.
The victory was sealed, fittingly enough, by Taylor, who pierced the off-side field with a fierce square drive off Sarah Andrews, and leapt gleefully into the arms of her partner, Morgan, who finished unbeaten on 46 from 33 balls, just four runs shy of what would have been only her second half-century in 75 international appearances. Between them they ransacked an Australian attack that had looked set to complete their fourth consecutive victory in all matches against England. But cometh the hour, the big performances poured forth from the tournament favourites.
There was nothing that Karen Rolton, Australia's outgoing captain, could do to stem the tide. Runs came in all directions, with lofted drives over the infield, crashing cuts and latterly a succession of delicate paddle-sweeps behind square. The only moment of discomfort for either player came when Morgan, on 44, top-edged a sweep off Kirsten Pike into her visor. But after a quick drink she settled back into her stance, and maintained her resolve to the end.
England have been unbeaten throughout their campaign, but that record looked decidedly shaky at the three-quarter stage of this contest. Edwards began the pursuit in style with three fours in the second over of the chase, from Andrews, but her partner, Sarah Taylor, fell early to a loose chip to midwicket, before Edwards chased a wild bouncer from Ellyse Perry and was adjudged caught behind, after much deliberation, for 25 from 23 balls. That was England's nadir, however. Taylor moved coolly into her stride, and such was the momentum she generated, the match was in the bag with five overs to go.
It was tough luck on Australia, who could hardly have compiled a more imposing total. Charlotte Edwards won the toss and chose to bowl first, having omitted the seamer Isa Guha in favour of the extra pace of Katherine Brunt, but the plan backfired from the moment that Caroline Atkins dropped a howler off at mid-off to reprieve Nitschke on 3 in the third over of the game.
From that moment on, Australia's openers ruled the roost. Poulton took it upon herself to capitalise on England's despondency, clattering four fours from the next seven balls, and once Nitschke had recovered her own poise, she rapidly clicked through the gears with three fours in nine balls, including a full-toss from Nicky Shaw and a leg-side half-volley from Brunt, whose first three overs were carted for 30.
Having opened with the offspin of Laura Marsh, England turned back to the slow stuff as Holly Colvin entered the attack, but not with instant success as Nitschke clattered a brace of fours from consecutive balls, including a charge down the track and a sweetly-timed slog sweep. But Colvin responded one ball later with the breakthrough, as Nitschke took one liberty too many outside off, and was caught behind for 37 from 25.
From the very next delivery, England hauled themselves right back into contention as Marsh, the pick of the attack, tempted Poulton into a steepling top-edge that the keeper, Sarah Taylor, pocketed with ease. Nevertheless, with the Australian captain, Rolton, at the crease and determined to sign off her captaincy career with a place in the final, the prospect of an Aussie let-up was non-existent.
Sure enough, Rolton launched herself off the platform, mowing a boundary an over to keep the momentum ticking over. Her finest shot was a massive swipe over midwicket off Jenny Gunn that carried all the way for six, and it came as a shock when she holed out to deep extra cover for 38 from 32 balls, where Brunt took an excellent running catch to intercept another ball that was heading over the ropes.
To England's credit they battled back in the closing overs. Gunn's penultimate over went for just four runs, while Brunt atoned for her earlier treatment by bowling Sthalekar for 28 from 21 balls, and giving her a little send-off for good measure. Three balls later, and Gunn claimed a deserved wicket as Alex Blackwell slogged and missed. In the final analysis, that belated fightback proved utterly invaluable.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo