The big dance is here, and nerves hold the key for Australia and India

Australia win ugly. Australia win the big moments. Australia keep on producing players who step up when it counts. And it’s just as well, because there is no escaping the fact that tonight’s Twenty20 World Cup final against India at the MCG, in front of a potential world record crowd for a women’s sporting event, will be the biggest moment of the players’ careers.

Having played in a number of World Cup finals, I know the nerves you experience the night before and the morning of the game are intense. As much as you try to focus on something else, you can’t help going through all the scenarios that might happen in the match.

Alyssa Healy, Meg Lanning and Rachael Haynes: Destiny awaits at the MCG.Credit:Joe Armao

Though I have never played in front of 90,000-plus people, I would imagine that walking into a packed MCG, with all the noise, buzz and expectation, will be something none of the players can prepare for. But once the game starts, the attention turns to the game of cricket and which team can settle first.

The Australians will need to fight hard, because in a final you rarely have everything go your way. There will be moments in the match where leaders, experienced stars and new heroes emerge to take the game by the scruff of the neck. They are the ones who remain calm in pressure situations and seize any slight opening the opposition may give.

Fortunately Australia, the defending T20 world champions, have multiple players who have stepped up during this tournament. What has impressed me most is how the younger generation of Australian stars have risen to the occasion.

Take, for instance, Sophie Molineux, who had been sidelined for the entire tournament due to a corked thigh. But, drafted into the playing XI for the semi-final clash with South Africa, Molineux had an immediate impact by removing the dangerous Lizelle Lee in the rain-affected game.

Rewind to the do-or-die game against New Zealand. There, Australia opted to play young leg-spinner Georgia Wareham, who was coming off an indifferent season in the WBBL. The coaching staff, especially assistant coach Shelley Nitschke, worked tirelessly to get her ready. To come in and take the three biggest wickets in the match – Sophie Devine, Suzie Bates and Maddy Green – shows that Wareham was up for the contest.

Let’s not forget Australian captain Meg Lanning, who has shown why she is considered one of the best batters in the world but, more importantly, impressed with her leadership on and off the field. As the rain fell in Sydney, she stayed calm and made sure her team was ready to go when the covers came off. She took a brilliant catch. Every time she or her team have been put under pressure, such as when she and vice-captain Rachael Haynes came together at 3-10 against Sri Lanka and changed the momentum with a partnership of 95, she has stepped up. She has handled the extra media scrutiny admirably.

Lanning will need to continue on the same path and have nerves of steel if Australia are to get over the line tonight.

India have recently had the wood over Australia at ICC events, having beaten them the last three times they have played – one of them a knockout match – and their confidence will be high. They will also have plenty of crowd support behind them and I can imagine the MCG heaving with thousands of fans in blue shirts shouting, ‘‘Indiaaaaa, India!”

This will be India’s first T20 World Cup final, and while they have had previous finals experience, the most recent occasion was the 2017 50-over World Cup final at Lord’s, where they narrowly lost to the hosts, England.

But India are a completely different side under the new leadership team of head coach WV Rahman and captain Harmanpreet Kaur. They have established a young and exciting group of players who are playing a completely different brand of cricket. It has been led by their most inexperienced player, the powerful 16-year-old opener Shafali Verma, and they may have enough of this younger mindset to overcome nerves.

And that is what tonight will be all about. There’s a World Cup on the line and history to be made. Who can hold their nerve?

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