|Venue: Hagley Oval, Christchurch Date: 3 April Time: 02: 00 BST|
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There were moments during the last World Cup final when Kate Cross did not want England to win.
Left out of the squad for the tournament on home soil five years ago, pace bowler Cross watched from a hospitality box at a sold-out Lord’s.
As England were on the way to becoming world champions during that summer of 2017, Cross, Amy Jones and Tash Farrant were left in an unenviable position.
There were 18 centrally contracted players, but only 15 spots available in the World Cup squad. Cross, Jones and Farrant were the three omitted, their invitation to the biggest women’s cricket event ever held in the UK withdrawn.
Now the trio are in the England team that have reached the final again. Cross and wicketkeeper Jones are set to line up against Australia in Christchurch on Sunday (02: 00 BST).
Their experience of the last tournament was made all the more complicated by the close friendships they had with the players who eventually got to call themselves World Cup winners.
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On the day the players learned who would be in the World Cup squad, Cross had given Alex Hartley a lift to Loughborough. When Hartley was in but Cross was out, Cross had to wait for Hartley to finish a team meeting, with the latter feeling unable to call her parents from the car.
It was worse for Jones, who shared a house with Katherine Brunt, Nat Sciver, Fran Wilson and Beth Langston – four players who were all picked.
“After I found out, I went back to the house and went to my room,” says Jones. “The other girls went out and brought me loads of sweets and chocolates. It was really awkward for them because they had just had great news.”
The discarded players were urged to still be around the squad, but Cross, who a year earlier had been battling anxiety and depression, retreated.
“As much as they tried to involve us, we just weren’t a priority at that stage,” she says. “I tried to stay away as much as possible.”
Cross’ parents had to persuade her to go to the final against India, if only to support her friends in the team. Even then, she missed the start of the game because Hartley’s then boyfriend got locked in a toilet at a motorway service station.
“There was a moment when I got into the Lord’s and I realised what an occasion it was,” says Cross, now 30. “It made me think ‘just enjoy the day. You’re not involved, swallow the pill and get on with it.'”
As tensions rose and England were being carried to a thrilling nine-run win by Anya Shrubsole’s memorable spell of bowling, Cross was distracted by taking care of assistant coach Ali Maiden’s young son, watching episodes of Peppa Pig on her phone.
“I had a rollercoaster between wanting them to win and not wanting them to win, then I cried like a lunatic at the end when they did win,” she says.
Jones says she turned into “a young girl, just a massive England fan”.
“It was perfect – that might have been down to a bit of champagne,” she says.
Cross and Jones were invited into the England dressing room and their contrasting feelings are perfectly encapsulated by a picture of the celebrations.
Whereas Jones is in the centre, enjoying herself, Cross is to the back and side, almost shying away.
“I was thinking ‘I shouldn’t be in here’,” says Cross.
“Some were having a photo with the trophy and asked me to get in, but I said no. When they asked why, I said ‘I haven’t won it. It’s not my trophy.’
“I remember thinking ‘the next time I get that opportunity, I’m going to be playing. I’ll have earned the right to hold that trophy.'”
For Jones, 28, bittersweet feelings would emerge in the days and weeks that followed.
“There was definitely a comedown,” she says. “When the squad met again, everyone was talking about how great it was, but I felt that I couldn’t.
“There was a picture of the winning team hung on the wall in Loughborough. It’s a constant reminder of a time when I missed out on something unbelievable.
“For a good few years afterwards, it was a huge motivator to me.”
The next opportunity at World Cup glory should have been in 2021, only for the tournament to be delayed by a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
When news of the delay came in late 2020, Cross and Jones were England regulars.
“When I found out the World Cup was postponed, I thought I wasn’t going to make it,” says Cross. “I was thinking there’s no way I’ll be able to play cricket for another year.”
When they did make it to New Zealand, they found themselves part of an England team that were on the brink of elimination after losing their opening three matches. At the end of the third, against South Africa, Cross thought England were out before the game was even over.
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Their redemption has involved five successive wins to book a final meeting with Australia, probably the strongest international sports team on the planet.
England will start as heavy underdogs, but with the opportunity to make history: no England team – men or women – has successfully defended a World Cup, in any format.
“It would be incredible,” says Jones. “On the back of missing out five years ago, that will definitely add to it. The route we’ve taken to get here makes it even more special.
“I play out different scenarios in my head.
“God, it would be unbelievable, wouldn’t it?”
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