Australia might have entered the game as reigning champion but India proved you should never write off the underdog after booking its place in the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 final with an emphatic 36-run victory.
India will now play host England on Sunday in front of a sell-out crowd at Lord’s – it’s first ICC Women’s World Cup final appearance since 2005.
After heavy rain delayed the start of play, the game was reduced to 42 overs, and despite an early wicket of Smriti Mandhana, India wasted little time in racking up the runs.
Captain Mithali Raj (36) lay a solid foundation for her team, before Harmanpreet Kaur came into her own with a ruthless knock of 171 – the joint-fifth highest innings recorded in ODI cricket – to reach 281 for four.
Australia saw its chase rocked early in its innings by three quick wickets, including returning captain Meg Lanning, as India continued its ascendancy over the Southern Stars.
And despite an impressive partnership between Ellyse Perry and Elyse Villani giving a glimmer of hope to Australia, India quickly blew away its middle order to book its date with destiny in the capital.
“I’m really proud of my whole team, it was a really great effort,” said Kaur. “I’m really looking forward to the final now.
“It’s always good when you score some runs for your team to win. I’m feeling really good now.
“When we started in Bombay, we wanted to reach the semi-final, then reach the final.”
Once play eventually got underway, India – who made just one to change to the side that lost to Australia earlier in the tournament – won the toss and elected to bat, but suffered its first casualty in the final ball of the first over.
Having already plundered six from two, Mandhana looped Megan Schutt’s ball to cover for an easy catch for Villani – the Indian opener departing for her fifth consecutive sub-15 score.
In came Raj who, alongside Poonam Raut, looked to be building a steady partnership, until a drive to midwicket fell into the hands of Beth Mooney – a wicket for Ashleigh Gardner with only her second ball.
But it was undoubtedly a pivotal moment in the game as Kaur joined her skipper in the middle, and India once again started to build with the duo bringing up their 50-partnership from 75 balls, including four boundaries.
Just a ball after India’s score hit triple figures, Raj saw her middle stump sent cartwheeling by Kristen Beams, her knock of 36 enough to overtake England’s Tammy Beaumont as the tournament’s leading scorer – a record that later switched into Perry’s hands.
Kaur hammered the ball through midwicket to bring up her second half-century in successive games, as she and Deepti Sharma tore Australia’s bowling apart with a spell in which they hit 50 runs from 4.4 overs.
Her ton soon followed in dramatic fashion, a mix-up in the middle almost seeing her dismissed, before their 100 partnership came up with back-to-back sixes from Kaur.
More remarkable batting followed but their 137-run partnership was ended with four overs remaining, Sharma bowled for 25 by Villani. Kaur hit the 150-run mark having taken her previous 50 from just 17 balls.
Australia’s innings didn’t get off to the best start, however, when Shikha Pandey struck with her second ball to dispatch Mooney for a single.
It didn’t get much better when captain Lanning was bowled for an eight-ball duck by Jhulan Goswami, before Nicole Bolton was caught and bowled by Sharma to leave Australia facing a steep climb at 21 for three.
Perry and Villani started to steady the ship, however, and brought up their 50 partnership from 50 balls, before the latter reached her half-century with a delicious strike away for a boundary.
Villani’s cameo at the crease came to an end when she was caught for 75 by Mandhana, and Perry soon followed, touching the ball into Sushma Verma’s gloves.
Australia were eventually bowled out with 1.5 overs remaining, and that was despite a late push from Alex Blackwell with her contribution of 90 runs.
“The innings for Kaur was incredible, we couldn’t stop her so well done to her and congratulations to India,” said Lanning.
“[Blackwell] was hitting them really well towards the end there, but we didn’t get off to the start we wanted. I thought her number was outstanding.”
Scores in brief:
India beat Australia by 36 runs at The County Ground, Derby
India 281-4, in 42 overs (Harmanpreet Kaur 171 not out, Mithali Raj 36; Elyse Villani 1-19, Ashleigh Gardner 1-43)
Australia 245, in 40.1 overs (Alex Blackwell 90, Elyse Villani 75; Deepti Sharma 3-59, Shikha Pandey 2-17, Jhulan Goswami 2-35)
Player of the match - Harmanpreet Kaur (India)