TEEN cricket star Sophia Smale helped England beat Australia by just three runs in a thrilling U19 Women’s T20 World Cup semi-final to book a showcase final slot against India.
The Wye Valley star, who helped the Oval Invincibles win the women’s Hundred final last year when it was shown live on BBC2, has played in all but one of the World Cup games in South Africa and will be hoping to make the cut again in Sunday’s tournament finale.
England won the toss and elected to bat first with their explosive top-order batting line-up.
But they were facing an unscripted exit when reduced to 37-5, and the departure of skipper opener and tournament top scorer Grace Scrivens for 20 off 20 balls moments later (38-6) left them teetering on the brink.
Monmouth School for Girls sixth former Smale - yet to bat in the series before the semi - then joined Alexa Stonehouse at the crease, but could only play a cameo, scoring a single off six balls before falling to an unlucky lbw with England now 45-7.
But Stonehouse and Josie Groves then steadily picked up the pieces, compiling a gutsy eighth-wicket partnership of 46 from 46 balls, the former top-scoring with 25 off 33 (two fours) and Groves chipping in with 15.
That partnership was the main reason England got to 99 all out with a ball to play, which at least gave them a target to defend, particularly as the biggest total scored against them in the tournament beforehand was 103 by Pakistan.
Australia losing their first two wickets for just four runs then meant a cliffhanger was on the cards.
Player of the match Hannah Baker led the charge, the leg-spinner’s beguiling spell netting her figures of 3/10 off four overs, with skipper Scrivens supporting her with figures of 2/8 off 3.4 overs and getting the last wicket to fall by trapping Maggie Clark lbw for a duck.
Left-arm spinner Smale didn’t add to her 10 wickets so far in the tournament, but finished with figures of 17-0 off three overs.
The low run rate in the chase and Amy Smith’s run-a-ball 26 (three fours) kept Australia in the game, but she holed out to long-off off Groves’ bowling for the eighth wicket with the score on 77, making for a thrilling endgame.
The Aussies looked nailed on after Ella Wilson and Milly Illingworth inched them to 96, just three runs short of England’s target, with nearly three overs left.
But then Illingworth was run out for eight and with no further score in the next seven balls, Scrivens struck to give England the victory.
To watch highlights of the game, register at app.icc.tv and go to https://www.t20worldcup.com/video/3039747
To see Sunday’s final live, starting at 11.45am, go to https://app.icc.tv/live/232535/final-u19-t20