India and England face off in the first of Thursday’s semi-finals after finishing top of Group A and second in Group B respectively at the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup.

In previous ICC tournaments England have come out on top, beating India in both the 2017 50-over final and the 2018 Women’s T20 World Cup semi-final - but this time their opponents are in inspired form as the only side to win all their group matches.

One of them has the tournament’s top wicket-taker and the other the top run-scorer — but who else could be crucial in deciding their side’s final fate?

 

Shafali Verma v Anya Shrubsole

 

There’s no doubt England know who they need to remove early for their strongest chance of beating India on Thursday.

Teenager Shafali Verma has taken world cricket by storm in Australia for her fearless brand of batting has helped her become the top-ranked batter in the MRF Tyres ICC Women’s T20I Player Rankings.

The 16-year-old prodigy is India’s highest run-scorer in the competition with 161 and her team will be relying heavily on their opener for another good start in Sydney.

England will take comfort in the fact that Verma’s lack of fear could make her liable to an early exit - something her more experienced opponents have cottoned onto.

Against Australia and Bangladesh, Ellyse Perry and Panna Ghosh took her crucial wicket and England will have been studying her performances in detail in order to do the same.

While England aren’t short of talented bowlers, one who just might be able to suss out Verma best is the experienced Anya Shrubsole.

Only India’s Poonam Yadav has more wickets than Shrubsole at this edition and she became the first England bowler to 100 T20I wickets when hitting the milestone against Pakistan.

With 41 scalps, Shrubsole also the most wickets in the history of the Women’s T20 World Cup and if any team are aware of her threat, it’s India.

Shrubsole’s match-winning six for 46 helped England down India to win the 50-over title at Lord’s in 2017 by nine runs - this time she’ll be keen to stop them getting anywhere near the title.

 

Harmanpreet Kaur v Sophie Ecclestone

 

While stopping Verma is the first task, the key for England will be preventing India’s batters from stepping up collectively in Sydney.

A lack of firepower in the middle order is still a concern for India and that’s exactly where their opponents will need to target.

Captain Harmanpreet Kaur is one to have underwhelmed thus far, hitting double figures in just one of their four group wins, and India will need their star players to step up now more than ever if they want to make it to Sunday’s Final at the MCG.

But England may just have the perfect weapon to keep her away.

The skipper has struggled with spin in Australia with Jess Jonassen, Leigh Kasperek and Shashikala Siriwardena all taking her wicket throughout the group stages.

And England are certainly not lacking in the spin department themselves.

England’s young triumvirate of Sophie Ecclestone, Sarah Glenn and Mady Villiers have stolen the headlines Down Under, with Ecclestone now the top-ranked bowler in the MRF Tyres ICC Women’s T20I Player Rankings.

Ecclestone has taken wickets in her last 18 T20I matches and has confidence in abundance in this tournament, trusted enough to take the ball in the Powerplay.

Aged 20, she already has 50 T20I wickets to her name – eight of those coming in this Women’s T20 World Cup at the cost of just 49 runs.

 

Nat Sciver v Poonam Yadav

 

Nat Sciver has been in the form of her life in Australia.

The 27-year-old all-rounder has had an outstanding tournament so far, scoring three half-centuries to top the run-scoring charts and steer England to the knockout stages.

Judging by her past record, she’s more than capable of taking that up to four against India.

Sciver scored a half-century against Thursday’s opponents in the 2018 semi-final in the West Indies to pip them to a spot in the final showdown.

But there’s a certain India bowler who has no problems with dismantling the greats.

Poonam Yadav finished as the highest wicket-taker of the pool stages with nine after ripping through Australia’s batting unit on the opening night of the tournament.

If the tournament’s highest wicket-taker comes up against her batting equivalent on Thursday, expect to see fireworks - they’ll both be determined to come out as top dog.

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