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'No fear' Ecclestone dreaming of her first World Cup title

Tournament's leading wicket-taker says if England play their best they can beat Australia in the final on Sunday

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Clinching five must-win games to earn the right to defend the World Cup is one thing. Beating Australia - the undefeated, overwhelming favourites who recently thrashed you in a bilateral series - is quite another. But Sophie Ecclestone believes doing just that would be the "perfect end to the season" for England and that her team is capable of pulling off such an upset.
"Beating the Aussies in the final, I can't really put it into words after the Ashes we had," she said. "I really believe in this group and on our day we can definitely beat the Aussies - we've got a great chance.
"I know if we play our best cricket and our batters bat the way they can and the bowlers bowl the way they can, we've got such a great unit as a team, so we'll just focus on ourselves and do the best we can."
Ecclestone, the left-arm spinner, went wicketless and conceded 77 runs off her 10 overs when England lost by 12 runs to Australia in the group stage. But she has been instrumental in a remarkable turnaround that saw England qualify for the World Cup final having lost their first three matches.
Her career-best 6 for 36 against South Africa - which included her maiden international five-for - has Ecclestone sitting atop the tournament's leading wicket-takers' list with 20 at an average of 12.85 and economy rate of 3.40.
Still just 22 years old, Ecclestone's team-mates often say they forget how young she is, given how long she has been a mainstay of the England side. She has already played nearly 100 white-ball matches for her country and four Tests and was first named as the ICC's No. 1 T20I bowler at the age of 20. During this World Cup she overtook Jess Jonassen, her opposite number in the Australian camp, as No. 1 ODI bowler.
But a global title has eluded her. A member of the England side which finished runners-up to Australia at the 2018 T20 World Cup and the side which watched India advance at the T20 World Cup when their semi-final was washed out in Sydney two years ago, this is Ecclestone's first appearance at a 50-over World Cup.
"It's absolutely massive for me personally," Ecclestone said of reaching Sunday's final in Christchurch. "I haven't won a major trophy yet since I started playing for England and I'd really love to win that sooner rather than later. It's also massive for the group - we've shown how good we can be and the girls showed in the 2017 World Cup how good we are. Hopefully we can go out and play our best cricket to prove the side we are."
Ecclestone is a fierce competitor, enjoying a battle with formidable South Africa seamer Shabnim Ismail during the semi-final. It started when Ecclestone hit Ismail for three consecutive fours in the final over of England's innings, apparently turned verbal when Ismail bowled her with the last ball and ended with a cheeky finger-to-lips "shush" gesture from Ecclestone when Ismail became one of her six wickets.
"There were a few verbals when I got out, it was all fun and games on the pitch," Ecclestone said. "I wanted to get even, so it was quite nice off the pitch afterwards, it's all fine now. It's great to have that battle on the pitch and to be fine off the pitch.
"To get that first five-for and to bowl as well as I am at the minute, I feel great and have a lot of rhythm, it's a great feeling for me. I didn't have a great day out against the Aussies, I think it's fair to say. To come back the way I did, I'm really proud of myself. The team has fought back as well, it's been amazing to witness that."
England will likely field five members of their 2017 champion side against Australia, against whom they failed to register a win during their multi-format Ashes series immediately before travelling to New Zealand.
Ecclestone put England's turnaround after that and their poor start to the World Cup down to adopting a fearless attitude when they had nothing to lose.
"When we lost three from three, there were a few tears in the changing room after the game, everyone was very disappointed with how we'd gone," she said. "But I think the turning point was having a few meetings to just say that we had nothing to lose now, so just put what we do in training out into a game and go out with no fear. We still haven't played our best cricket, so to get through to the final without playing our best cricket is obviously so good to see from this group."
Now, with the World Cup to lose, England will need "no fear" more than ever.

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo