England's World Cup win at a sold-out Lord's in 2017 was a defining moment for the women's game. Every England player involved ranks it as the highlight of their career and administrators regularly cite it as the day they finally recognised that a small amount of investment would lead to exponential growth.But for a handful of the current England team, the memories are bittersweet. While the rest of the squad celebrated a historic win in the dressing room, they were joined by Kate Cross, Amy Jones and Tash Farrant, the three centrally-contracted players who had been left out of the squad for the tournament.They watched the final together, sat with the squad's family and friends in the stands, and each of them has expressed the bizarre cocktail of emotions they experienced throughout the day; a shot of joy and a chaser of anguish, garnished with a sprig of despair. "I had to take myself away and thought, 'You're not involved in this. It's not your day,'" Cross recalled earlier this year.
Four years later, Lord's hosts its next major women's final on Saturday. Southern Brave, ha ing won sevenb group games out of eight, were due to face the winner of Friday's eliminator: Oval Invincibles, playing at their home ground by happy coincidence, against a Birmingham Phoenix side that had snuck up on the blindside. It meant a chance to put right the disappointment of 2017 for Jones and Farrant, with Cross watching on from Sky Sports' commentary box.
For the first 149 balls, Jones was in the driving seat. She captained her side well in Invincibles' innings, stifled their scoring with spin and medium pace in the first half of the innings, and rightly recognised that slower bowlers would be more effective than her quicks at the death. Even without Shafali Verma at the top of Phoenix's batting order, a target of 115 looked straightforward.In the chase, Jones played with poise and calm at No. 3, despite the loss of both openers for ducks. Her paddle-sweep off a fired-up Shabnim Ismail was the pick of her shots, but she punched through cover and pulled square of the wicket with crisp timing.
But Farrant's intervention proved to be defining. First, she ended a partnership of 51 between Jones and the Australian Erin Burns, flinging herself to her left at mid-off to take a spectacular catch.
"I knew that we needed something special because they were building a really nice partnership and obviously Amy is a gun batter," she said afterwards. "I just threw my body at it."As soon as she had finished celebrating, Farrant was back into the attack for her second set of five, with Jones in her sights on 35 off 24 balls. Verma's absence meant Katie Mack have shuffled up to open, with the results that Phoenix had an inexperienced middle order; another wicket meant it would be exposed in the second half of the chase.
Jones had scored heavily through cover against Invincibles' seamers and Farrant went wide on the crease, bowling her left-arm seam from round the wicket. She rolled her fingers down the side of the ball, inducing a false shot with a 51mph/82kph offcutter. Jones was through the shot early, chipping to extra cover. Jones held her hand to her face as she stood in disbelief before trudging off; Farrant roared in celebration.It sparked a dramatic collapse of 28 for 8 in 45 balls as Phoenix's middle and lower order froze, caught in the headlights as Farrant rattled through the tail while Jones sat disconsolate in the dugout, forgetting to take her helmet off as though refusing to accept that another Lord's final was slipping away from her grasp.
Farrant ended with 4 for 10 from her 19 balls after Kirstie Gordon slapped a cut to Marizanne Kapp to seal Invincibles' win, taking her to the top of the wicket-taking charts for the competition - and crucially, taking her to Lord's on Saturday. She led the team on a lap of honour around the boundary ahead of the men's eliminator as the dust settled."I felt quite emotional actually after the game, knowing that I'm going to play a final at Lord's," she said. "I was at that game watching in the crowd and knew that it was somewhere I wanted to be and somewhere I wanted to play on the big stage. The atmosphere is going to be electric but we've already played in front of some really vibrant crowds and hopefully that's the same again tomorrow.
"I was potentially quite one-dimensional before: if the ball was swinging I was good, but if it stopped, I didn't have the tricks up my sleeve to deal with that. I've really worked on my death bowling - my slower balls and bowling yorkers - and I want to be one of the best death bowlers in the world. I'm also keeping it really simple and making sure I execute what I want to bowl every single ball."It has not been a smooth journey for Farrant since she made an England debut as a teenager, with the loss of her central contract in early 2019 a particularly low moment. She has forced her way back into the set-up through weight of performances in domestic cricket and now, four years after she had hoped, she has the chance to win the Lord's final she had dreamed of.