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'Disappointed' but 'proud of the fight' - centurion Sciver, captain Knight reflect on final loss

"The character and the resilience to turn it around after those first three games shows volumes about this group," Knight said

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Nat Sciver had carried the disappointment of scoring an unbeaten century in a losing cause against Australia throughout the World Cup. So, given the chance to put that right, she'd be damned if she was going to let it slip again.
That's how she played a remarkable innings in the final which might have left the most optimistic of England fans daring to dream and, by Meg Lanning's own admission, made the Australia captain "nervous". The problem was, just as in their first encounter on March 5, Sciver's knock was only the second-best of the day.
Upstaged by Alyssa Healy's record-breaking 170 off 138 balls, Sciver's unbeaten 148 from 121 could not stop the Australian juggernaut that succeeded in a five-year quest to take the trophy from England, winning by 71 runs after posting a mammoth total of 356 for 5.
Sciver was on a hiding to nothing after England's bowlers were toothless against Healy and fellow opener Rachael Haynes, with whom she shared a 160-run opening partnership, not to mention Beth Mooney's rapid half-century.
Then there was England's top-order collapse that reduced the defending champions to 38 for 2 and 86 for 3, leading to the inevitability that Sciver would run out of partners, notwithstanding a fifth-wicket stand with Sophia Dunkley worth 50 and the 65 she put on for the ninth wicket with rookie offspinner Charlie Dean.
"After the first match, getting so close, I guess the disappointment was something that stuck with me," Sciver said. "Getting a century against the top-ranked team was really special as well, so it's weird how it's worked out, how it's been against Australia.
"With my batting over this tournament, I felt pretty confident and I'd probably not done as well as I had expected having felt that way, so it's nice to end with a good score, but it would have been nicer to have the trophy."
Australia won their group game by 12 runs after Haynes' 130 put England's target of 311 just out of reach, despite Sciver's 109 not out. And Sciver was left wondering what might have been had those two half-century stands in the final - not to mention the 48 she shared with captain Heather Knight - gone bigger.
"When Charlie Dean was there, we had a really good chat," Sciver said. "If we were there with two or three overs to spare, we knew that it would be a big ask but there would be a chance we could get over the line.
"You could tell that the Australians were really keen on taking our wicket and changing the momentum again, because we did have a bit of momentum, I guess."
As it happened, Dunkley fell for a run-a-ball 22 and Dean for a confident 21 off 24 to Alana King and Jess Jonassen, respectively, as the Australian spinners claimed three wickets apiece.
And while Healy had hoped her innings would be seen as "brave" in that she played her way, regardless of the occasion, Sciver could perhaps take some solace from the fact that she had done the same.
"When you're chasing 350-odd, there's only really one way you can play it," Sciver said of her boundary-laden innings that featured the only six of the match, a pull off King over deep midwicket. "When you're chasing, the mentality of scoring runs takes care of itself. You know that you need to be out there for a long time but also pick up boundaries where you can. Luckily, that seemed to come naturally, but it just got a bit too much at the end."
Knight said it had been a "50-50" call when she put Australia in upon winning the toss but, in hindsight, she wouldn't have changed it.
"Something Australia do really well as a batting unit is when they get a partnership together they really make it a match-defining partnership," Knight said. "They're really ruthless with that and they extend those big partnerships, and I think it's something we can certainly do a little bit better as a side.
"Tonight, Nat had an outstanding innings, but we have someone else with her and with the potential of chasing that score - although we let them get a few too many with the ball.
"I'm very disappointed but really proud of Nat and the fight she put on to give us a chance of winning. We, unfortunately, didn't have anyone with her to be able to really maximise two set batters. We can take a lot of pride in what we've done as a group, the way we fought throughout the competition to be in this position and the way we fought tonight."
"It's nice to end with a good score, but it would have been nicer to have the trophy."
Nat Sciver
Lanning was also full of praise for Sciver.
"There were a few nervous moments, there's no doubt about that," Lanning said. "She also played an incredible innings, Nat Sciver, that was something really special, and on another day, that wins your team the game, so we always felt under the pump a little bit while she was at the crease in particular.
"But we were able to get wickets at the right time - whenever they were able to build a partnership we felt like we were able to break it. Chasing that total, you have to keep going the whole time, so we knew that if we could stick to our guns and just keep it really simple, it should have been enough, but absolutely, there were some nerves there."
The key feature of England's campaign was that they bounced back from a three-match losing streak at the start of the tournament to win their next five games and earn the right to defend their title against an Australian side building a reputation as the best in women's cricketing history. As a result, Knight said there were "a lot of positives" to take away.
"The character and the resilience in the group to turn it around after those first three games when obviously we were in a pretty tough situation shows volumes about this group and the people that we've got in it and the staff we've got as well to get here with a chance of winning," Knight said.
"In terms of things we need to do differently, it will take a little bit of time to digest what went wrong and I think also, it's fair to say, credit to Australia they've outplayed us tonight."

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo