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June 19, 2009
England and Australia women served up a treat of a semi-final at The Oval on Friday in front of crowds of around 10,000, more than those who witnessed New Zealand beat India at Trent Bridge the day before. The hard-hitting display made for a fitting curtain-raiser* for the West Indies-Sri Lanka men's semi, with the women proving they can more than cut it on the big stage.
Hopefully the women won new fans today during another crucial opportunity to impress. They certainly came in for some barracking - the England women even receiving sledging from their home fans. Among the more publishable items, they were shouted at to bowl faster, hit it harder, and get the runs faster.
Claire Taylor's silken 76 and a stylish 46 for Beth Morgan, both batsmen unbeaten, proved a fitting riposte, giving the spectators a lesson in just how to pace an innings. England women continue to fly the flag for the whole of the country - Gordon Brown even muscled in on the act, sending congratulations immediately after the game - and they will not be told how to play.
A packed press box was not quite sure what to expect before the match. "Can the women hit it hard?" they asked.
"Just wait and see."
For many journalists it was their first exposure to women's cricket and they were suitably impressed. They watched in awe as Karen Rolton stroked 38, including a six smoked over square, and Lisa Sthalekar improvised with a four tucked right round past the keeper Sarah Taylor.
Then came the classiest of innings with Claire Taylor - no stranger to the big stage - showing just why she is the world's no 1 batsman and why Wisden editor Scyld Berry had no hesitation, or apologies, in selecting her as a Cricketer of the Year. Her 53-ball innings was exquisitely paced and she showed her full array of shots.
Both sides certainly managed to put on a great show on the big stage, and England's impressive passage to the final will have certainly inspired more people to turn up early at Lord's on Sunday to see them take on New Zealand.
The 10.30am start could deter Saturday night party people, but at least nobody will have had to have taken a full day off work to make full use of their double-header ticket. England reaching the final will ensure plenty of column inches, but almost more important to the game will be a good display from both sides.
*Not that 'curtain-raiser' is a term widely accepted, with some women's commentators calling for the games to be recognised as 'double-headers.' Semantics, perhaps, but also an interesting point.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.