Australian captain Meg Lanning says her team are “pumped” for their defence of the women’s Twenty20 World Cup against India on Sunday with hopes high that more than 90,000 fans will cram the cavernous Melbourne Cricket Ground.
They go into the final as favourites, courtesy of being the sport’s dominant side, winning four of the six tournaments so far, in contrast to Harmanpreet Kaur’s India, who are in their first decider.
But with large numbers of Indian fans expected in the 100,000-capacity arena, there will be little in the way of home advantage.
Organisers have set their sights on beating the official world attendance record for a women’s sporting fixture on Sunday, to coincide with International Women’s Day.
That was set at the 1999 football World Cup final, when 90,185 watched the United States beat China at the Rose Bowl in California.
While widely accepted as the benchmark, an estimated 110,000 are said to have attended the Mexico-Denmark women’s World Cup Championships final in 1971, but it was not a sanctioned event.
Pop superstar Katy Perry, who this week revealed she is pregnant, has been recruited to help get punters through the turnstiles, performing before and after the game.
As of Friday, more than 75,000 tickets had been sold for a match that marks the culmination of a 17-day, 10-team, tournament that has proved both entertaining and competitive.
“It seems like it has sort of fallen into place a little bit, and Sunday is going to be massive,” said Lanning ahead of Australia playing their sixth successive final.
“So hopefully there is 90,000 people there. Everything’s been done that could possibly be done, and we’re just really pumped we get to be out in the middle and play in front of everyone.”
The final will be a repeat of the tournament opener, when India upset Australia by 17 runs after leg-spinner Poonam Yadav ran riot.
It made every game afterwards a virtual must-win for Lanning’s team, and they rose to the task despite tournament-ending injuries to Tayla Vlaeminck and Ellyse Perry.
After beating Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, they edged New Zealand before overcoming South Africa in a nerve-shredding and rain-affected semi-final.
“It’s been a hard road, certainly not smooth, but we’ve given ourselves a chance,” said Lanning, who is wary of the threat posed by India.
“They’re a class side, they’ve been playing excellent cricket through the tournament.”
– A lot of love –
India went through the group phase as the only unbeaten side, on the back of quality spin bowling and the exploits of teenage batting prodigy Shafali Verma.
After upsetting Australia, they beat Bangladesh, New Zealand and then Sri Lanka before automatically making the final as Group A winners after their semi-final against England was washed out.
“Rather than thinking about what is going to trouble us, it’s only about being there, enjoying the moment and giving our best,” said Kaur.
“One thing we have to keep in mind, Sunday is a fresh day, a fresh start. We have to start from ball one.”
Like Lanning, she is relishing the chance to be part of a match that has the potential to take women’s cricket to another level.
“We were hoping we’d get there because everybody’s feeling very positive about women’s cricket at the moment,” she said. “We will try to give our best. If we win, definitely we’ll get a lot of attention and a lot of love from back home.”