Heather Knight feared England had dropped the Women’s World Cup moments before their stunning triumph over India.
In one of the most dramatic climaxes played out at Lord’s – in any form of the game – India had gone from needing 38 to win with seven wickets in hand to the verge of defeat.
But when Jenny Gunn spilled the most straightforward catch of the match, and probably even the tournament, to let India number 10 Rajeshwari Gayakwad off the hook, England’s heads were in their hands.
They need not have worried, though. India’s collapse was concluded the very next ball, with the player of the match Anya Shrubsole clean-bowling Gayakwad to complete her six-wicket haul and seal a memorable nine-run victory.
“It felt like she dropped the World Cup to be honest,” said England captain Knight.
“It was a hard one to deal with. We were on top at that stage, it was a big ask for their 10 and 11 to get those last few runs. I thought we’d won it, and then that drop went down...
“But we got over the line and at the end of the day that’s the main thing.”
England’s total of 228-7, boosted by 51 from their talisman Natalie Sciver, always seemed a modest target, not least after India cruised 190-3.
Poonam Raut’s 86 looked destined to be a match-winning innings even after she fell lbw to Shrubsole.
But when Alex Hartley accounted for Sushma Verma for a duck and Shrubsole removed Veda Krishnamurthy and Jhulan Goswami in successive balls, England had a lifeline and suddenly Lord’s was hosting a thriller.
Sarah Taylor thought she had Deepthi Sharma stumped but an agonisingly drawn-out replay could not prove her foot was off the floor at the point of impact.
Yet moments later Shikha Pandey was run out, and when Sharma picked out Sciver off Shrubsole India were nine down.
Unbelievably, Gunn’s butterfingers cranked up the tension yet further, but Shrubsole got the job done with her fifth wicket in 19 balls sparking celebrations on the pitch and bedlam in the packed stands.
“It’s what we have talked about for a long time,” added Knight.
“It’s been outstanding, it’s what we set out to do. We knew we were in with a chance, although I guess we have done it the hard way.
“Cricket’s a funny game, and pressure’s a funny thing. It’s a World Cup final, we knew if we held our nerve we would be in with a chance but it did feel like it was slipping away at 190 for three.
“But we fought like hell in this tournament and today was no different.”
The match felt like a milestone occasion for the game, and for women’s sport in this country, even before the late theatre.
England had lost to India in their opening game but impressive victories in the next six made them favourites to add to the cups they won in 1973, 1993 – both before women were admitted to the MCC – and 2009.
The home of cricket was sold out while the worldwide television audience was expected to top 100million – even the ticket touts were out in force all the way from St John’s Wood station to the Grace Gate.
Coach Mark Robinson remained confident England could win despite the lack of early wickets.
“I always thought we were in the game,” he said. “Obviously they (India) played really well and full credit to them.
“It was always about getting that one wicket. If we get the one wicket, we try and get two and three, and we did.
“I’m so proud of them.
“We’ve got a lot of heart and a lot of courage in this team and we just need that break every now and again and once we got the break we were right in this game.”
Defeat was tough on India, who had earned many admirers for their performances at the tournament.
Their captain, Mithali Raj, said: “The last four or five batters probably – at this platform, in the final – could not handle the pressure.
“At one point the game was in the balance and that’s when we didn’t hold our nerve.”