#SJA2017: why England women’s world cup winners should be team of year

The voting has opened for Sportsman, Sportswoman and Sports Team of the Year at the SJA British Sports Awards sponsored by the National Lottery. As far as PHILIP BARKER is concerned, there is only one  team in contention.

It was less than 24 hours after England’s women had beaten India to win the cricket world cup at Lord’s.

If I’d had any doubt about voting for them as the SJA team of the year, the deal was sealed by a  retweet from The Sun’s respected cricket correspondent John Etheridge.

There they were, on the Nursery Ground coaching an adoring group of under 10s. This was a team genuinely concerned about promoting their sport.

Although they lost their opening match against India, England did beat all comers during the tournament, a sign of true champions.

Nat Sciver scored two centuries and wrote herself into tournament folklore. Back in the 19th century, old timers played a shot through the legs called ‘the draw’. This being the 21st century, it was re-christened the ‘Natmeg’.

The monumental stand of 275 by Sarah Taylor and Tammy Beaumont against South Africa had no cross-batted swipes, just beautiful clean hitting.

England had a tense victory against the Aussies and, in the semi-final, some in the dugout were afraid to watch before Anya Shrubsole hit the winning runs against South Africa.

The final was every bit as nerve shredding. Shrubsole produced with the ball when it mattered most. To be honest, many had written off an English victory. Think Edgbaston 1981 when Ian Botham did for the Aussies in one spell. This was every bit as destructive.

The great thing was the full house of paying customers at Lord’s. Sad that the members’ pavilion was by no means full.

It was poignant that pioneering former captain Rachael Heyhoe-Flint did not live to see the day. England walked out under her portrait to play and joined a minute of applause in appreciation.

“I felt quite emotional when I saw Rachael’s face on the screen. She paved the way for all this,” said Heather Knight.

As a journalist, Flint did more than just her bit to further the cause of women’s cricket.

Setting an example: Rachael Heyhoe Flint led the team, did the PR and sold the sponsorship for the first women’s world cup in 1973

I’d been there in 1976 when she led England out at Lord’s for the first time. The crowd was sparse and much of the media coverage was patronising in tone.

This time there was extensive coverage on SkySports and a full double page spread in the broadsheets before the final.

Since then Shrubsole and Beaumont have been on TMS, Knight on Question of Sport and SkySports where she admitted inadvertently leaving the trophy in the studio.

More seriously, the skipper added her support to calls for a women’s IPL.

”India being in the final has been the best result for cricket. The BCCI (Indian Cricket Board) will hopefully take note. A women’s IPL would be brilliant obviously, the women’s Big Bash and Kia Super League over here have been really popular and have been part of pushing international cricket forward,” said Knight.

There’s also every chance that, after the Ashes, some might also join the celebrity circuit.

Although Knight remained a proud ‘refusenik’ many of the squad were devoted viewers of Love Island in the summer. Few would begrudge them cashing in.

Voting closes on Wednesday November 8.


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