History beckons the Indian women's cricket team when it takes on England in the ICC World Cup 2017 final at Lord's on Sunday, aiming to cap a fairytale run with a maiden title triumph and put some past demons to rest. The Mithali Raj-led squad has been living a dream so far in the tournament, the biggest moment of which has been the 36-run win over six-time champions Australia in the semifinals.
And the side will look to ensure that its gritty campaign reaches the logical conclusion after putting in the hard yards consistently in the tournament. India's best performance in the event has been a runners-up finish in the 2005 edition, where the team had lost to Australia in the final. With Australia out of the way now, on Sunday could prove to be the moment that changes the course of women's cricket in India.
It was at this historic Lord's cricket ground, where the men's team took its game-changing world title in 1983 with an upset win over the invincible West Indies and gradually grew into a cricketing and financial powerhouse in the world. A win on Sunday has the potential to do the same for women's cricket in India, where they have had to arrange funds for overseas tours in the past.
It is only the second time that India will have a shot at the world title. Jhulan Goswami and Mithali Raj were part of the runners-up team in 2005 and Sunday will be their last chance to be a World Cup winner.
"For me and Jhulan (Goswami) it is very special because we are the only players from 2005 still with the team and for us it feels like going back to 2005," Raj said. "We are all very excited to be part of the World Cup final. We knew this tournament wasn't going to be easy but the way the girls have turned up at every situation when the team needed," she added.
If India win, they will become only the fourth team to do so with England, Australia and New Zealand sharing all the preceding titles. En route the summit clash, it has been a team performance for India and Raj has led from the front. With 392 runs she is the second-highest run-getter behind Australia's Ellyse Perry (404).
Smriti Mandhana began the fireworks at the top of the order in the beginning of the tournament and Harmanpreet Kaur took it to a different level with her incredible power-packed 171-run knock against Australia in the semifinals.
"It definitely is not going to be easy for England, but having beaten Australia, I am sure the girls are on a high but it will boil down to how we perform on the day. Playing the hosts in their own country is going to be a challenge but this unit is up for it," Raj said.
The left-handed Mandhana, who turned 21 last Tuesday, has faded after the first two knocks and her form would be crucial for India to make a flying start. The Mumbai-player had come up with a crucial 90-run knock in India's 35-run win over England in the league stage and she would look for an encore.
Raj has been consistent, lending stability in the middle overs. Harmanpreet, on the other hand, has taken women's cricket by storm with her awe-inspiring batting, which is drawing comparisons with illustrious legends in men's cricket. Jhulan Goswami and Rajeshwari Gayakwad have been able to contain the rival batters. India's fortunes will also depend on their performance.
England, after losing to India in the tournament-opener, have regrouped well, peaking at the right time. And It will not be easy for India to replicate the show. England qualified for the final with a dramatic two- wicket win over South Africa with Anya Shrubsole hitting the winning runs in the final over.
Wicketkeeper-batter Sarah Taylor and Natalie Sciver have been crucial cogs in the wheel for them. Captain Heather Knight believes her side has more to offer in the tournament and might just hit the peak in the summit clash.
"We keep finding ways to win at the moment, we haven't quite put the perfect performance together, we'd readily admit that," she said. "There's still one game to go and if we put a perfect performance in then, I'll be a very happy captain. It's great news (that it's sold out)," she added.
India Women: Mithali Raj (C), Harmanpreet Kaur, Veda Krishnamurthy, Mona Meshram, Punam Raut, Deepti Sharma, Jhulan Goswami, Shikha Pandey, Ekta Bisht, Sushma Verma, Mansi Joshi, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Nuzhat Parween and Smriti Mandhana.
England Women: Heather Knight (C), Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt, Georgia Elwiss, Jenny Gunn, Alex Hartley, Danielle Hazell, Beth Langston, Laura Marsh, Anya Shrubsole, Natalie Sciver, Sarah Taylor, Fran Wilson, Danielle Wyatt and Lauren Winfield.