(Reuters) - England start as favourites to lift their fourth Women’s World Cup title at Lord’s on Sunday, but face an Indian side high on confidence after knocking out defending champions Australia in the semi-finals.
Indian middle order batsman Harmanpreet Kaur took centre stage with an unbeaten 171 and was backed by a disciplined performance by her bowlers as India pulled off a 36-run upset win over six-time world champions Australia.
England, captained by Heather Knight, edged out South Africa by two wickets in the other semi-final, and hold the head-to-head advantage over India in the 50-over format at World Cups, with six wins to the visitors’ four.
But the Indian squad’s ability to grind out results under pressure will not have gone unnoticed, least of all by the English, who were beaten by India by 35 runs in their first match of the tournament.
Since that defeat the hosts have won seven matches in a row to reach the final.
Knight and opening batsman Tammy Beaumont have been consistent at the top of the order, scoring 750 runs in the tournament so far, while the reliable Natalie Sciver at number four is the only player to have recorded two centuries.
India, skippered by Mithali Raj, are chasing their first World Cup title and are known for their strong batting lineup, but it is their spin bowling trio that has wreaked the most havoc during the tournament.
Off-spinner Deepti Sharma has been the key to their success in the middle overs, picking up 12 wickets on her World Cup debut.
Sharma has been backed by leg-spinner Poonam Yadav and left-arm spinner Ekta Bisht, who decimated Pakistan with a five-wicket haul earlier in the tournament.
Raj and veteran fast bowler Jhulan Goswami are the only two members from the last Indian side that reached a World Cup final -- when they lost to Australia in 2005.
“It seems like it’s going back to 2005, and I am just too happy that the girls have given us an opportunity to be a part of World Cup finals again,” Raj said after the semi-final victory.
“They have performed well throughout the tournament in the run-up to the finals. Playing the hosts is going to be a challenge but, having said that, this unit is up for it.”
Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru