And then there was one.
It had all been set up for a super Sunday, the chance of an England women’s team treble on the penultimate afternoon of action at these Commonwealth Games. But that dream died on a sorry Saturday as the home cricketers and netballers crashed out at the semi-final stage.
That double defeat means England’s women’s hockey side – after their last-four shootout win over New Zealand on Friday night – are now the sole focus of attention in Birmingham today. And they too have it all to do against Australia, who have won four Games golds to their none.
One final out of three is a disappointing return on what could have been another seminal day for women’s sport in this country, one week on from the Lionesses’ historic win at Wembley.
Yes, the cricket and netball teams will still play for bronze on Sunday. But winning gold in front of a full house at Edgbaston and the NEC, plus millions watching back home, would have really shone the spotlight on their sports.
Inspired by Maddie Hinch’s heroics, England hockey will play Australia in the Commonwealth final on Sunday
They will know this is a missed opportunity, because they have both experienced what winning a global title can do for the growth of their games.
In 2017, England beat India to win the Women’s Cricket World Cup at a sold-out Lord’s, inspiring young girls to pick up a bat and ball. A year later, netball participation soared across the country after the Roses claimed their first Commonwealth gold by stunning Australia in their own backyard.
On Saturday, though, those very same opponents exacted revenge to end the chance of women’s cricket and netball having another moment in the sun.
At the NEC, there was to be none of the drama of that glorious day on the Gold Coast four years ago, when Helen Housby scored in the last second to snatch a famous win. This time against the Aussies, the Roses wilted to a 60-51 defeat.
It was not meant to be this way for the defending champions. They had won five out of five in the group, including a demolition of world champions New Zealand. The fact that they even met Australia in the last four was because the Diamonds suffered a shock loss to Jamaica in their pool.
England’s netball team suffered a 60-51 defeat in their semi-final against Australia
The team will now look to rebound in the bronze medal match against New Zealand
Yet right from the early stages, there was no doubt which way this one was going. Australia led 15-12 after the first quarter, extending their advantage to 29-23 at half-time. By the end of the third quarter, England trailed 45-36, a deficit they were never going to get back despite the efforts of the 9,500-capacity crowd.
And so it will be a battle for bronze against New Zealand at 1.30pm on Sunday afternoon. The Silver Ferns lost their semi 67-51 to Jamaica, who can now win their first global gold if they beat Australia again.
‘It’s a defeat so it’s meant to hurt and we have to acknowledge the pain of losing,’ said England coach Jess Thirlby. ‘Sport is brutal. We gave ourselves such a mountain to climb.
‘To find ourselves in the bronze medal match is disappointing, but that disappointment can’t stay with us for too long.
We can’t sulk. We are a good team and up until now we have performed really well and grown into the tournament. It’s a blip at a really bad time and we need a better performance again. No team wants to go home in the fourth.’
England’s cricketers crashed out of the Commonwealth Games in a semi-final defeat to India
England were defeated by just four runs at Edgbaston and will face New Zealand for bronze
India will now face Australia on Sunday for Commonwealth gold
Earlier at Edgbaston, it was the same story, albeit a tighter tussle. Much like the netballers, England’s cricketers had cruised through their group. Expectation was growing, with almost 20,000 fans in the stands yesterday – England’s biggest home crowd since 26,500 came to Lord’s for that World Cup final five years ago.
Yet there was to be no repeat result against India, who posted 164-5, as opener Smriti Mandhan starred with 61 off 32 balls. In reply, captain Nat Sciver and local girl Amy Jones looked set to steer England home. But after Sciver was run out for 41 in the penultimate over attempting a risky second, they were left needing 14 off the last six balls and fell four runs short.
‘I’m gutted,’ Sciver admitted. ‘We couldn’t get over the line when they put the pressure on us. We wanted to be in the gold medal match and hadn’t considered not being in it. It’s tough to take.’
Coach Lisa Keightley added: ‘It is gutting to miss out on trying to get that first gold in the Commonwealth Games.’