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June 20, 2009
If you would have told a 16-year-old Charlotte Edwards, when she was making her international debut for England in 1996, that one day she would be leading the side out in a world final at Lord's as part of an ICC-organised double-header with the men, she would have laughed. And then laughed some more.
Edwards began her career in the amateur era of women's cricket, the days of cream skirts and knee-high socks, when little old ladies ran the Women's Cricket Association. Edwards had to pay for her own blazer and contribute to touring India.
Today, while technically the England team are amateurs, their approach is even more professional, you could argue, than the men. Not for them a late-night pedalo or any other high-jinxed misdemeanour. Their athleticism and diet is better than ever before, and the night they won the semi-final against Australia in glorious style at The Oval, the England girls were tucked up in bed early.
They were, of course, dreaming of success at Lord's - and the chance to run up two ICC World titles in the space of three months. England men haven't managed one yet, and they have been trying for years.
Asked if she could have ever envisaged playing a World Cup final at Lord's ahead of the men, Edwards was emphatic: "No, not at all. It's been amazing what we've part of and I had to pinch myself this morning."
England started favourites and have continued unbeaten throughout this tournament, although there have been some wobbles along the way. Their batting was brittle against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, though Edwards explained it away.
"It's difficult against the minnow teams because there's no pace on the ball," said Edwards. "When we play New Zealand we know what they're about and we're much more prepared."
Coach Mark Lane admitted that, although the batting fired well against Australia, he wasn't happy with the bowling. "I know we can bowl better. I want the girls to perform all three disciplines well on the day and Sunday would be a good day to start. We didn't bowl very well and our catching was ordinary but you're always in the game in Twenty20 until the last ball is bowled and I thought our ground fielding and batting was exceptional."
Both England and New Zealand head into the final unbeaten, but England have had much the better of the sides' encounters in the last year, with wins in the World Cup and the final, and in a World Twenty20 warm-up. New Zealand, however, have learned from the nerves which saw them subside in the World Cup final.
Captain Aimee Watkins - whose 89 not out against India at Trent Bridge blasted them into the final - said: "We've got that experience under our belt and everyone's a lot more relaxed this time round. If we can go out there and play without fear of getting out, without fear of what might happen with the result - which is what we have been doing - we are going to be hard to beat."
The final begins at 10.30am which may put off a few Saturday night revellers, but Edwards is not worrying about that right now. "We can't do much about it. It's a World Cup final and whether it's 7 o'clock in the morning, or 7 o'clock at night, I'll play in it."
England and New Zealand, as the two best teams in the tournament, have the chance to put on another glorious show as with the semi-final between Australia and England. The World Twenty20 has been a superb opportunity for the women's game and a quality, tight final would be a fitting finale.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.