The final of the 2022 ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup will be played between Australia and England. That, in itself, is not a surprising statement. They are the two best units in the world, when it comes to quality of cricketers on the field and the quality of support they receive off it. But incredibly enough, this is the first time since 1988 that they meet each other in the summit clash.

Around mid-way in the tournament, it did not seem likely. England were contemplating an early return home after three defeats out of three. It wasn’t just the results per se, it was the manner of heartbreaks combined with their run coming into the tournament with poor results in the Ashes. You worried for Heather Knight and Co. But they did not panic, stuck to their guns, rallied behind each other, realised it was a matter of doing the simple things right, and turned it around, to eventually put together a massive performance in the semi-final to cruise into this match.

The other half of the final though, was destined to be. It should come as absolutely no surprise that Meg Lanning and Co are here, and even that they are unbeaten so far in the tournament. The team that truly gave them a scare was England at the very beginning. There have been a few nervy moments since then, the team has been tested in different phases (by New Zealand and Bangladesh’s bowling and by India’s batting) but they have passed them all in flying yellow.

There is nothing much to say about this team other than marvel at their numbers. This team is truly already elite, their world record streak enough to put them in the discussion of the best sides the game has ever seen... but a World Cup trophy must be the reward they desire the most. It will be a fitting end to a sensational five-year cycle.

The Hagley Oval in Christchurch will play host to the showpiece event of the 2022 tournament as Australia go in search of a record-extending seventh title, while England look to defend their crown.

The two sides started their campaigns together almost a month ago in Hamilton and will end them together, one holding the trophy, the other looking on.

Australia have lost only one World Cup final but it was not too far away from the setting for Sunday’s finale. Back in 2000, just down the road from Christchurch at the Bert Sutcliffe Oval in Lincoln, Australia lost the closest final the tournament has ever seen, defeated by New Zealand by just four runs.

That year, England recorded their worst-ever World Cup finish of fifth before fighting back to take the trophy from Australia in 2009. In doing so, they would go on to have a remarkable year also claiming their first, and only, T20 World Cup as well as an Ashes victory.

It is something that Australia are hoping to match 13 years later, they already hold the T20 trophy having secured that on home soil in 2020 before the Ashes were wrapped up with two games to spare in February, but the one-day World Cup evades them.

Vice-captain Rachael Haynes already has a winner’s medal from 2013, and she is well on her way to a competition record, the opening batter sits on 429 runs for the tournament, 27 behind Debbie Hockley of New Zealand’s all-time best set in 1997.

That is not the only record that could be broken on Sunday, Sophie Ecclestone has the chance to surpass Australian Lyn Fullston, whose haul of 23 wickets in 1982 remains the mark to beat.

Ecclestone sits on 20 wickets having taken her maiden international five-wicket haul in the semi-final against South Africa ending on six for 36, the best figures by an England bowler in a World Cup as the 2022 edition continues to be bigger and better than anything we have seen before.

The left-arm spinner is emblematic of England’s journey throughout the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2022 in that she is peaking at exactly the right time.

The 22-year-old started with her worst-ever figures in ODI cricket with no wicket for 77 against the same opponents she will face on Sunday.

It highlighted just how shaky a start England had, dropped catches allowed Australia to put on 310 for three in the opening game before more fielding woes gave the West Indies a famous win.

South Africa defeated England for the first time in a World Cup for 22 years to leave the defending champions reeling with three defeats from their first three games as their four remaining clashes became must-win.

And win they did, defeating India, New Zealand, Pakistan and Bangladesh to book their place in the knockouts and set up a rematch of the 2017 semi-final with South Africa.

England saw off the Proteas comfortably to keep their hopes of a fifth title alive.

Knight has the chance to create history as the first England captain to guide her side to back-to-back trophies, that day at Lord’s in 2017 is still fresh in their minds, but Australia’s memories of five years ago are cloudier.

Meg Lanning’s team were knocked out of the semi-final thanks to some individual batting brilliance from India’s Harmanpreet Kaur.

For both sides, there is now one final step to take to achieve their destiny, after decades of rivalry and a month of world-class cricket, it all comes down to the third of April.

Captain’s corner: Meg Lanning

Australia have been the most consistent team in the tournament, winning all eight of their games, and Lanning is hoping for another complete performance in the showpiece.

“There are certainly some nerves around I think it would be crazy if you weren’t nervous heading into a World Cup final, so it’s a good thing. But there’s a lot of excitement,” the 2013 champion said.

“It’s a great opportunity for our team to go out on a big stage and play really good cricket and we feel like we’ve been building throughout the tournament. We’ve got a really good game plan and also the skill sets within the team to be able to deliver but it comes down to what happens tomorrow.

“We know that it’s going to be tough, England always provide a great contest. They’ve got some world-class players who can take the game away from you really quickly.

“It’s going to be a massive challenge for us and certainly not going to be easy but we feel confident that if we can put up as close to our best as possible, then that’ll give us a good chance.”

Lanning, who will play in her 100th ODI on Sunday, started the tournament by saying everyone was chasing England but, with one game left, the goal has changed.

She said: “We’re both chasing the same thing tomorrow, we both want to win just as much as the other.

“That’s the thing about World Cup finals, it’s all on the line on the day, it’s irrelevant what’s happened previously in the tournament.

“Both teams start on zero runs tomorrow and it’s about putting out a really good performance and that’s the challenge for our team.”

While Australia have produced strong team performances throughout the World Cup, there was one name on everyone’s lips, Ellyse Perry.

The star all-rounder is facing a race against time to recover from a back injury that has kept her out Australia’s last two games but Lanning was able to provide a positive update.

“Ellyse got through a pretty hard and high-intensity session yesterday and she’s trained again today and is feeling pretty good.

“It will just depend on how she pulls up sort of this afternoon, that will be the final hurdle she needs to get over. But at this stage, it is looking pretty good.

“She can definitely play as a specialist bat and that’s probably the most likely scenario. She hasn’t bowled for a couple of weeks now and it would be difficult for her to come out and bowl in a final.

“Ellyse is a world-class player and has shown that over a long period of time, particularly in this 50-over format. She averages 50 with the bat and has a great record with the ball as well.

“To have someone with that experience, someone who has performed on the big stage before hopefully to be part of our team is a huge boost.”

Captain’s corner: Heather Knight

England have never won back-to-back World Cups. More history will be made if they can beat their greatest rivals, as England bid to become the first team in ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup history to lose their opening three games and still claim the trophy.

It has been an incredible journey and Knight is determined to see the job through and complete a sensational turnaround.

“I think winning will mean more after the start we had in this competition and being able to turn it around will be remarkable really, so that would make it even more special if we can do it tomorrow,” the captain said.

“And back-to-back [titles], we have an opportunity to make history being the first England team to do that and that’s such an exciting thing.

“Just being involved in World Cup finals is what you set your stall out as a player, what you try so hard for, what you want to be involved in, so there’s huge excitement in the group.

“We won’t think too much about it, as we saw in 2017 it’s all on the day. It’s a brand-new day, a brand-new game and a chance for us to go out and show what we can do.”

Knight has emphasised how England’s calm approach helped them come through four must-win games to advance from the Group Stage but insisted no one will be too relaxed in Christchurch.

She said: “I don’t think anyone will not be fired up for a World Cup final. It is what you dream of playing in, the games that are the most important in your career and the games that you want to enjoy and bring your best.

“I don’t think anyone will need firing up any more, it’s just trying to make sure everyone has clarity when they are under pressure.

“That is one of the most important things, making sure that you go through the process and trying to execute what you do best as an individual.”

Despite the recent reversals against Australia, the belief is there.

“The games against Australia... I think, knowing the fact that we pushed them so close, I think is a really good sign. I think we did that at a point in the Ashes when we went harder than we definitely completed and pushed them close.

“We just weren’t quite able to finish off games. I think in that first group game we pushed really hard, batted remarkably and actually I think our bowling’s starting to peak towards the back end of the competition. I don’t think our bowling was quite on in that game, and the bowlers as a unit are working much better as a group now.

“So I don’t think it’s motivation [to look at those defeats and turn it around]. I think it’s just remembering that we’re really not that far away from them. We obviously haven’t got the results against them recently. But on the day we definitely believe that we can beat them.”

Stats that matter

  • It will be their 19th head-to-head ICC Women’s World Cup match; Australia have dominated the historical head-to-head match-up, winning 12 of those 18 contests, compared to England’s five (1 NR).
  • These two nations have faced each other twice in the finals (1982 and 1988), Australia won on both occasions. Australia have won a total of six titles so far, the most by any nation, followed by England (four).
  • Australia and England women have also competed against each other in 64 ODIs, excluding World Cups. Australia again have the upper hand, winning 44 of those matches, compared to England’s 18 (2 NR).
  • Their last meeting was in the opening round at this World Cup on the 5th of March, England fell short of the 311-run target by only 12 runs. In the Ashes series that preceded the World Cup, Australian won the ODIs 3-0.w
  • Both Australia and England advanced to the final through similar semi-final experiences. Australia put a dominate display against West Indies, winning by 157 runs. Alyssa Healy was the highlight of that match, scoring 129 runs from only 107 balls at the top. • On the other hand, England overwhelmed South Africa by 137 runs. Danni Wyatt claimed Player of the Match for her fine knock of 129 (125 balls).

Key match-up

  • Australia’s key to success so far has been their performances with the bat throughout the tournament. Australia have only lost more than five wickets once from their past eight batting innings. Their top four batters Alyssa Healy (Runs: 339; Avg: 42.37), Rachael Haynes (Runs: 429; Avg: 61.28), Meg Lanning (Runs: 384; Avg: 87.5) and Beth Mooney (Runs: 268; Avg: 134.0) have contributed to 74.85% of their total runs this tournament. Their batting unit is set to be strengthened too with the return of Ellyse Perry as a likely specialist batter. And then add to that the fireworks that Ash Gardner can provide at the backend of the innings, only England’s absolute best with the ball will do to contain them.
  • England, on the other hand have taken more wickets (66) than any other team in this competition; 65.15% of the total wickets have been taken between overs 11-40. A large part of their dominance has come from Sophie Ecclestone and Charlie Dean. Ecclestone on the back of her heroics in the semi-final (6/36) is atop of bowling charts with 20 wickets at an average of 12.8 and Dean is at fourth, with 11 wickets in just five innings. Ecclestone started the tournament with 0/77 against Australia, her worst ODI bowling figures but comes into the final on the back of a her best ODI bowling figures, top of the bowling charts at the tournament and as the world No 1 in this format. It is a stunning turnaround built on hardwork and sticking to her basics, and it is a turnaround that England will hope has one more chapter to it.
via Sportradar / ICC Business Corporation FZ LLC 2020

The captains’ press conference before the tournament started with Lanning saying all teams are chasing defending champions England while Knight said Australia are the obvious standout side that teams will be chasing. Either way, on Sunday, both sides are chasing just one thing... greatness.

The match starts at 6.30 am IST and will be broadcast in India on the Star Sports network / Disney+Hotstar.

With inputs from ICC Business Corporation FZ LLC 2020 and Sportradar. All statistics mentioned for women’s One Day Internationals unless otherwise stated.