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Cricket - 15. July 2017.

England outclass West Indies to take top spot and set up epic rematch

The English summer wore a more familiar face than it has of late as England stuttered with the bat before dominating with the ball. A 92-run win confirmed England's place at the top of the final group table and, coupled with India's huge win over New Zealand and Australia's defeat of South Africa, set up a semi-final clash with South Africa back at Bristol on Tuesday 18th July, a rematch of their epic 678-run group game at the same venue.

On a gloomy, drizzly morning in Bristol, England captain Heather Knight lost the toss and was asked to bat by Stafanie Taylor. As the ball swung prodigiously in the opening overs, it seemed to be the right choice, yet the used pitch offered little bounce and Knight insisted she would have batted anyway.

Lauren Winfield and Tammy Beaumont negotiated the tricky initial spell fairly comfortably, and it wasn't long before they were rewarded with some ill disciplined bowling, building a fair head of steam with the help of several extras. But, Lauren Winfield's teen-angst reared its head again in the eleventh over. Having shared a 54-run partnership with Beaumont, she was unlucky to pick out the lone figure of Hayley Matthews at deep square off Qiana Joseph to depart for 11.

Sarah Taylor suffered the ignominy of a first-ball dismissal, playing carelessly at Deandra Dottin's away swing, and it was up to the resolute pairing of Beaumont and Heather Knight to settle things down. They did that with a stand of 47 from 66 balls but, just when things were looking up, Tammy Beaumont top-edged a full toss playing the sweep shot to leg-spinner Afy Fletcher, the pick of the West Indian bowlers on the day.

Fletcher's purple patch saw her pick up her second wicket in three balls when she bowled Natalie Sciver, and four overs later she had a third with Fran Wilson caught behind for 5. At 105/5, this was now a real pickle, and even Katherine's Brunt's biggest fan would have considered Heather Knight the crucial wicket. With that in mind, it was more than a little surprising to see no appeal from Afy Fletcher and her teammates when Knight was struck on the pad, seemingly in front.

Brunt was furious after getting herself stumped off Anissa Mohammed, but Knight passed fifty soon after and had another trusty sidekick in the shape of Jenny Gunn. The seventh wicket pair put on 31 in 6.5 overs before the final push came from Gunn and Laura Marsh, the latter in innovative mood.

Marsh swept for four, then reverse swept the same, inspiring Gunn to free her arms. Gunn's four-six combo made the 48th over, bowled by Hayley Matthews, the most expensive of the ininings as it yielded 15 runs.

In reply, the West Indies innings never got going. Hayley Matthews looked the biggest threat despite picking up what looked like a twisted knee bowling the last over of England's innings. When she lofted Laura Marsh back over the off-spinner's head for a nonchalant six, it was the only moment even approaching anxiety for Knight and co.

A spell of three wickets for two runs in four overs put paid to any realistic chance of a West Indies win; Natalie Sciver took the opportunity to make amends for her batting disappointment with the remarkable figures of three for three from her four overs.

Regular wickets, including an abnormally high proportion of LBW dismissals, was the ultimate story of the run-chase. Two of those; Stafanie Taylor's twelve-ball duck (lbw b Marsh) and Deandra Dottin's cameo of seven runs (lbw b Knight), looked a little harsh on a turning track but England's superior use of the DRS was partly responsible too. Taylor could have reviewed her decision, but chose not to, while Dottin had no choice as Hayley Matthews had used up the West Indie's appeal with a frivolous challenge of her own dismissal (lbw b Hartley 29).

In contrast, Katherine Brunt correctly challenged the not-out decision of Akeira Peters as the innings set a new Women's ODI record for LBW dismissals, seven in all.

After Dottin's wicket, there followed a rather anti-climactic period, not helped by the returning gloom which saw the floodlights switched on again. England's bowlers did their economy rates no harm and took another five wickets before the inevitable result was confirmed, but they also became frustrated by the Windies' lower order's refusal to mount a tilt at the total.

Results elsewhere became the main focus of attention. At the halfway stage, India's sudden-death match with New Zealand and Australia's game against South Africa looked close enough, but India and Australia both came out firing with the ball to ensure the sem-final line-up was decided long before the scheduled finish.

So, England will return to Bristol for the fourth time in this tournament, when they will face a rematch of their outstanding match with South Africa. On a fresh pitch, with good weather, we'll certainly have a great game in store, and the prize of a Lord's final against India or Australia will be motivation aplenty; Heather Knight certainly thinks so, and she was in confident mood at the post-match press conference.

 

Captain, Heather Knight, on topping the World Cup group: "With that first defeat against India, we made it hard for ourselves, but we've been brilliant since then. Winning is a habit, so we're really happy to take some momentum into that semi-final [against South Africa]"

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