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Captain Heather Knight paid tribute to the progress England have made after a tense win over South Africa booked their place in Sunday’s World Cup final at a sold-out Lord’s.
They will face Australia or India, who meet in Thursday’s second semi-final.
“Everything we’ve done in the last 18 months has gone towards getting there,” Knight said.
“There’s nothing better than a sold-out Lord’s in a home World Cup, it’s been hard not to think about it.”
A crowd of more than 26,500 is expected at the final – swelled by the ranks of MCC members, who will be the only people able to attend if they do not already possess a ticket.
It will be a record attendance for an International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup match – with the ICC also announcing that the group stage matches have had a global reach of more than 50 million people – with a global TV audience anticipated to be 80% higher than the last World Cup in 2013.
Tuesday’s tense two-wicket win at Bristol was sealed with just two balls to spare when Anya Shrubsole came in and hit her first ball for four.
Knight, whose side have now won seven successive games after losing their opening match against India, said: “We’ve not put the perfect performance together yet, but we just keep finding ways to win.
“We were quite smart with our bowling and we probably stopped a few extra runs in the field, and Jenny Gunn had nerves of steel at the end.
“We’ve known this final would be at Lord’s for a long time, it’s special and well done to the ECB [England and Wales Cricket Board] and ICC for selling it out.
“There have been some outstanding games at this tournament and the standard just keeps going up and up.”
Defeated Proteas earn praise
England all-rounder Jenny Gunn, who was at the crease for Shrubsole’s winning hit, was quick to console the South African players as a few tears flowed at the conclusion of such a gripping game.
The Proteas have never made a World Cup final, and Gunn said: “I just told them they made their country proud.
“It’s a huge achievement for them as it’s horrible to lose when you get that close.”
Knight said: “South Africa have been brilliant – I said to their captain Dane van Niekerk afterwards ‘just keep getting better’.
“They’re quite a young team and have some really good players so potentially will be a force to be reckoned with on the world stage.”
Van Niekerk conceded: “We thought we were 30 runs short but we went out there believing. Credit to England, it was a great game of cricket and we hope we made everyone proud.”
Calm heads win it for England
Having been set 219 to win, England looked to be coasting when Knight and player of the match Sarah Taylor were together at 139-2 – but a flurry of wickets soon made it 145-5.
However, Fran Wilson anchored the lower-middle order with a measured 30 from 38 balls, and although she was caught behind with two overs left, the experienced Gunn (27 from 27 balls) shepherded the tail home.
“Fran was really calm throughout, we had a clear plan and we knew we could hit boundaries if they bowled it in the wrong areas,” Gunn explained.
“As soon as you get the runs down, it puts the pressure back on the fielding side.”
Wilson said: “We were ahead of the rate for a long time, it was just resisting the urge to tee off, staying in the game for a long time and hitting the bad ball.”
Knight conceded: “It probably wasn’t my most fluent 30. Sarah and I felt we’d done the hard work, until I made an error of judgement and ran her out. I’m a dreadful watcher, but we back the depth in our side.”
Shrubsole told BBC Test Match Special: “We’ve worked very hard on being a bit tougher as a team.
“Jenny and Fran’s partnership was brilliant as it settled things down and we made it over the line. Jenny was really calm, I thought I’d chance my luck and thankfully it was in the one area I can hit the ball!
“I hadn’t realised Lord’s would be a sell-out, but it’s a huge thing for this team.”
What the Test Match Special pundits said
Former England seamer Isa Guha: “An incredible game of cricket. What incredible handling of pressure by the lower order. Fran Wilson played beautifully until she got out, but because of her fearless attitude, she got England back into the game. I’m proud of how Jenny Gunn has played in this tournament, she’s taken every opportunity she’s had.
“The way England have that depth and believe in each other has kept them in good stead. This was perhaps the toughest game when the pressure is on to make it to a sellout final at Lord’s.”
Ex-England batter Ebony Rainford-Brent: “I’m looking forward to Australia-India on Thursday – India have turned Derby into their little fortress.”
South African commentator Natalie Germanos: “A few years back, nine times out of 10, South Africa would never have come back into that game. But now, the coaches are speechless as no-one expected to come that close to the final and have it ripped away from them.”
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