MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Having won a slew of major trophies on foreign shores, champions Australia will look to triumph in front of home fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday when they meet maiden finalists India in the Women’s Twenty20 World Cup decider.
Meg Lanning’s Australia, long the benchmark in women’s cricket, will bid for a record-extending fifth T20 World Cup title after a rocky ride to their sixth final.
Beaten by India in their tournament-opener, Australia lost talismanic all-rounder Ellyse Perry to injury in the quarter-finals and prayed for the rain to clear in Sydney on Thursday before completing their semi-final win over South Africa.
Harmanpreet Kaur-captained India arrive at the MCG undefeated and without having bowled a ball in the rained-out semi-final against England.
For organisers, the final is a dream matchup promising a big crowd at the 100,000-capacity stadium and a TV audience of millions tuning in from cricket-crazy India.
Only about 3,000 fans turned up the last time Australia’s women played a global final on home soil, when the hosts beat England for the 1988 one-day World Cup at the MCG.
Former England stalwart Jan Brittin, who played in the match, described the hulking, virtually empty stadium as a “very large and a very lonely place”.
Times have changed, and organisers hope Sunday’s crowd might better the 90,185 that saw the United States beat China on penalties in the 1999 final of the soccer World Cup at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
The Rose Bowl attendance is regarded the biggest ever for a women’s sporting event, though the unofficial 1971 Women’s World Cup final between Mexico and Denmark in Mexico City has long been credited with an apocryphal crowd estimate of 110,000.
Record or not, cheap tickets for general admission, a favourable weather forecast and entertainment by American pop star Katy Perry will at least ensure a buzzing atmosphere for a decider scheduled on International Women’s Day.
The global spread of the coronavirus has seen sports events cancelled or postponed in a slew of countries to try to contain the disease but Australian health authorities are yet to take such measures.
Australia will hope the MCG curator has prepared a pitch to blunt India’s spin bowling, especially after the home batswomen were bamboozled by legspinner Poonam Yadav who took 4-19 in the tournament opener at the Sydney Showgrounds.
“Hopefully they’ve prepared something (at the MCG) that will suit us a bit more,” Australia opener Beth Mooney said.
“The Showground probably wasn’t ideal for our batting and bowling.
“But that game is done now. The slate is wiped clean ... it’s about who comes to the party on the day.”
India have proved a thorn in Australia’s side at global tournaments, knocking them out of the semi-finals of the 2017 one-day World Cup and inflicting their only loss during their run to the 2018 T20 World Cup title in the Caribbean.
Inspired by the lead-off firepower of 16-year-old batting sensation Shafali Verma, India may be poised to step out of the shadow of the nation’s idolised men’s team in a country which has been slow to embrace the women’s game.
“We are hoping that we should (win) it because everybody’s looking very positive about women’s cricket at this moment,” said captain Kaur.
Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman