Come Friday, the focus will again be on women’s cricket when the ICC 50-over World Cup gets under way in New Zealand. The eight-nation tournament, originally scheduled from February 6 to March 7, 2021, was pushed back by a year due to the pandemic.
The showpiece event will be held in a stringent bio-bubble with overseas players having to undergo a mandatory 10-day quarantine. Thankfully, the competition will not be held behind closed doors. Spectators will be in ‘pods’ of 100 dotted around venues.
Tournament chief executive Andrea Nelson is confident the organisers can pull off the event without glitches. “We’ve had to deal with challenges the whole way through on this event, and we’ve overcome them all so far, so I have no doubt we’ll continue to do so,” she stated.
Nelson’s reassurance notwithstanding, there is a Covid cloud over the tournament. But on the field there is excitement.
In 11 editions since its inception in 1973, only three nations – Australia, New Zealand and England — have claimed the silverware. Australia lead the roll of honour by virtue of being six-time champions while England have emerged winners on four occasions. New Zealand’s only title triumph came in 2000, which was also the last time they were hosts.
This puts in perspective the spectrum of this competition. At one end are the three most successful teams. At the other end are teams like Pakistan and debutants Bangladesh. In the middle are last edition finalists India, West Indies and South Africa, who can beat the best in the business on their day. Over the next 29 days, each team plays the other seven teams with the top four making it to the semifinals.
Given their enviable record, Australia will start favourites. The Southern Stars, the top-ranked team in the world, have a 29:1 win-loss record in One-Dayers. Their strongest contenders will be the hosts. Sophie Devine & Co have been stacking up wins. Before winning the warm-up game against Australia by nine wickets, they had routed India in the home series. Defending champions England will look to put behind the 0-3 defeat to Australia in the Ashes ODIs.
Indian women’s cricket is at the crossroads. The transitional phase begins after the World Cup with veterans Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami likely to hang up their boots. A win here will be a fitting tribute to the two superstars.
SA start dark horses. T20 champs West Indies are no easy meat. The Courtney Walsh-coached team’s firepower comes from the trio of Stefanie Taylor, Deandra Dottin and Hayley Matthews. In the Friday opener, they take on NZ.