The pressure of playing a World Cup Final, irrespective of the sport, is often decided by key players stepping up when needed most. And when Australia and India will play the seventh ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Final on Sunday, it could well come down to which of the individuals have a better day even if the cliche goes that cricket is a team game.
The hosts are aiming for their fifth title while India will feature in the showpiece for the first time at the MCG. India beat Australia in the opening match of the tournament in Sydney
But out of the teams in this year’s line-up, one is more used to doing that than the other.
Australia are vying for their fifth title in six editions, with Meg Lanning hoping to become the third captain from her country to lift a world title on home soil.
Meanwhile, India are already making history by being the first to reach the Women’s T20 World Cup Final.
Everyone wants to be the game-changer in the Final and these two teams certainly aren’t short of match-winners — but who can step up to the challenge in Melbourne?
Jess Jonassen v Shafali Verma
Shutting out Shafali Verma will no doubt be the first task on the Australia bowlers’ to-do list.
The 16-year-old batter has lit up the tournament with her big-hitting displays, scoring 161 runs from four innings.
Her fearless brand of batting has proved crucial in helping India put up good totals in the powerplay - she’s not scared to go for those early boundaries.
She smashed back-to-back sixes against New Zealand to steer India to 49/1 against New Zealand and five boundaries and a six to take her side to the same total by the end of the Powerplay against Sri Lanka.
Australia have also experienced her antics first-hand, just ask Megan Schutt.
The opening bowler bore the brunt of her attacking force in the very first over of last month’s tri-series, being crashed for four by the teenager off the first ball before conceding four boundaries to the youngster in her opening spell of the tournament.
“I just hate playing India - they’ve got the wood over me,” she said. “There are obviously some plans we’re going to revisit as bowlers. Clearly, I’m not the best match-up to those two in the Powerplay. They find me quite easy to play.”
With Verma’s force in mind, Australia will have a plan up their sleeves and Jess Jonassen’s name might be on the new blueprint.
Schutt may not be able to bewitch the big-hitter with her spin, but throwing in a left-armer could leave Verma in quite the twist.
She has five wickets to her name this tournament which include those of Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur. Could this be the time for her to tear through the remainder of the top order?
Another option for Lanning is Molly Strano, a last-minute addition to the squad and she has had the better of Verma during the side’s A tours Down Under.
Beth Mooney v Shikha Pandey
She’s not the star of the billboards or TV advertisements but there’s no doubting Beth Mooney’s importance to this Australia team.
The super-stars have more often than not fallen short, but Mooney has been reliable at the top of the order throughout.
With 181 runs at an average of 45.25 in her five innings, the opener sits third in the run-scoring charts.
She may not get the same attention as Alyssa Healy or Meg Lanning but without Mooney’s vital contributions, Australia might not have made it to the MCG.
Her 60 off 50 balls was the difference as Australia beat New Zealand to a semi-final spot but Sunday’s final will serve up a different sort of pressure.
She’ll need to hold her nerve and she has shown in the past she can do that and then some.
Shikha Pandey has emerged as India’s go-to player when under the pump, the experienced pacer having brilliantly held her nerve to combat Amelia Kerr’s late attempt at a White Ferns comeback in Melbourne.
Her contributions have somewhat been shadowed by the spin contingent of Poonam and Radha Yadav, but her expertise could prove crucial in keeping Mooney at bay on the big occasion.
Meg Lanning v Poonam Yadav
Meg Lanning loves performing under pressure but Poonam Yadav is the bowler she’ll least like to see 22 yards away.
In the nine knockout games she has been a part of since the 2012 tournament, Lanning has smacked 322 runs, putting her top of the scoring charts ahead of England legend Charlotte Edwards.
Her unbeaten 49 against South Africa in Sydney set the Aussies on their way to Sunday’s Final, and her side will be crying out for their captain to step up again.
There are few batters more reliable than Lanning to steady the ship when needed but the presence is Poonam Yadav has already proved quite the threat.
She may not have dismissed the skipper, but Yadav showed her power when she tore through Australia’s middle-order on the opening night of the tournament, removing Alyssa Healy, Rachael Haynes, Jess Jonassen and even Ellyse Perry for a duck.
As joint highest wicket-taker of the tournament so far with Megan Schutt, Yadav will not only be keen to help India to victory - she’ll also want to come out on top herself.
And removing Lanning would certainly be a good start to achieving either of those feats.
Other potential match-winners
For India, on her 31st birthday, Harmanpreet Kaur will look to play one of her special big-game knocks while her deputy Smriti Mandhana is also due a big one in the tournament. For Australia, Ash Gardner was the player of the match in the last final, can she make it two in two editions? Alyssa Healy, who has been kept quiet by India, can change the match in the wink of an eye and while she might not win the MVP award for the tournament, can still play a telling role in the final.
With ICC inputs