As the Olympic hurdler Rai Benjamin discovered in Tokyo last year, when he finished second to Karsten Warholm in one of the greatest races of all time, you can smash a longstanding world record and still end up losing. Nat Sciver can now relate. Her one-woman assault on one of Australia women’s best ever bowling attacks was the heartbreaking equivalent of breasting the tape just after it’s been broken by the person in front of you.

In the mathematical and therefore most important sense, England got nowhere near the opposition’s total in this World Cup final. And yet it felt so much closer because of Sciver’s 148 off 121 balls. It was a resplendent innings of power and panache, touched by genius. Unfortunately for her team, it was also the second most spectacular innings to happen at the ground that day. It may never have been triggered at all had it not been for the enormity of Alyssa Healy’s achievement in setting the highest ever individual score in a World Cup final.

The fact that Sciver was herself left within neck-breathing distance of Adam Gilchrist’s 149 – that cricket was only a scampered single away from two women topping that all-time chart – will remain an exquisite, lingering torture until the next time the numbers change. Until then, we have the memories – and should cherish them, because the England vice-captain’s performance deserves to be far more than a footnote.

With the score 38 for two, England’s leading tournament runscorer stayed quiet for all of two overs before she charged Alana King to hit the first, and only, six of the game over midwicket. There were two early lbw calls – one of them overturned on review – and the loss of her captain; and at 86 for three, the sun was going down on both the horizon and on England’s chances. None of this, however, punctured Sciver’s pace or confidence, be it in the bottom‑handed legside loft, the cavalier scoop over the shoulder, or the perpetual hustle between the wickets.

Her first 50 came off 53 balls, and she kept England in touch with the required runrate, at sixes and sevens, despite the wickets that continued to fall at the other end. Like Healy, she was a continual bother to the bowlers, repeatedly sending the ball in unexpected directions. Where the Australian opener had moved around the crease like a fencing master – the resultant shots seeming to defy the rules of both physics and geometry – Sciver stood and swiped with obdurate power.

As a bowler, she had felt Healy’s sting herself. After England chose to bowl, Sciver’s eight overs went for 65 (only Charlie Dean had a worse economy rate) – and she dropped Healy on 41, in the same over that Danni Wyatt dropped Rachael Haynes. As Australia’s first- and then second-wicket stands rolled on, the entire game seemed reduced to a single point of interest: just how gigantic would their total be?

Alyssa Healy
Alyssa Healy on her way to reaching 170 runs for Australia against England in the final. Photograph: John Davidson/EPA

Under the weight of Healy’s brilliance, only equal and opposite force could prevent this final collapsing into a farce. And here it was, the solo effort that seemingly defied reality yet perfectly encapsulates the ever-growing skillset of England’s new star player in this tournament. Sciver even reached her century in 10 fewer balls than Healy. The irrepressible all-rounder may not have been able, ultimately, to rescue England – but she did at least rescue the game.

She had done it before in this tournament, against the same opposition. In England’s opening group match, a Sciver century had kept them in the hunt against a then-record total, and after this game she admitted that the disappointment of that defeat had stuck with her and inspired her here. But in Hamilton Sciver had support from two top-order batters. In the final she had Sophia Dunkley and Charlie Dean. And yet, even with eight wickets down and 100 runs needed, you still felt that she might just get them all herself, not least when she brought up her 50 partnership with Dean with the third and most bludgeoning of her reverse sweeps, a shot she only recently added to her arsenal.

It was from Anya Shrubsole that Sciver took over the vice‑captain’s duties this year, and it was particularly poignant that it should be these two that ended the game together at the crease. Shrubsole, the psychology student and ultimate pressure sponge, had been the one bowler to hold to a line and length that troubled Australia’s batters, the only one who kept them to under four an over. And Shrubsole has been England’s last, best hope before – first as the six-fer hero of the 2017 final, and again, in this tournament, as the number 11 that saw them through that hairy near‑exit against New Zealand.

The bowler’s emotion was evident as the curtain came down on a World Cup game that will probably be her last – as it will almost certainly be, too, for Sciver’s fiancee, Katherine Brunt. If this is the moment that both women call time on their international careers, it will be one they can be proud to have been part of.