Australia enter as favourites as COVID presence remains

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If you live on the east of Australia and look out your window, you could be forgiven for thinking that the summer of cricket is over. But today, not only do the Australian men play their first Test against Pakistan in Pakistan, but the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup is also underway in New Zealand.

For fans of women’s cricket, this World Cup has felt like a long time coming following its postponement by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are eight teams competing; New Zealand, Australia, England, India and South Africa all qualified immediately. The West Indies, Pakistan and Bangladesh have qualified because of their ODI rankings.

After dominant series against both India and England over summer, the Australian women will enter this tournament as overwhelming favourites. And deservedly so. The Aussie women are a whopping 40 points clear of second placed South Africa on the ICC Women’s ODI rankings and have only lost two out of thirty games since playing the last World Cup in 2017.

The Aussie women always play with the intention of winning, but I have a feeling this Tournament will carry some added significance.

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In the last World Cup in 2017, England lifted the trophy for their maiden title. The Aussie women departed the tournament in the semi-finals after a loss to India with Harmanpreet Kaur scoring an incredible 171 not out.

This was an extremely disappointing Tournament for Australia and was used as a real line in the sand in terms of how the team wanted to play cricket going forward.

With so many new faces in this Aussie team, I don’t think will be any scars from 2017, but winning this Tournament would certainly quash any questions about the dominance of this Australian team.

What I like about this Tournament is that the eight teams competing will have the benefit of time.

Ellyse Perry celebrates a wicket.

Ellyse Perry celebrates a wicket during game two of the Women’s Ashes ODI series. (Photo by Jonathan DiMaggio/Getty Images)

Many Aussie fans will remember the ICC T20 Women’s World Cup in 2020. After a shock-loss to India in their first game, the Aussie women very nearly missed the Final after rain threatened to take their chance to contest their semi-final against England. In that Tournament, one slip up was fatal.

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But in this tournament, all teams will play each other once. Then, the top four will progress to the semi-finals.
I see this format as a major opportunity for Australia, because in my view, one of this Aussie squad’s biggest strengths can also be perceived as their biggest weakness.

That is, choice.

A feature of this Australian teams in recent years is that even when the team is struggling with bat or ball, all that’s needed is one star player to have a match-winning performance to win the game. Australia’s squad for this World Cup is so strong with batters like Meg Lanning, Rachael Haynes, Grace Harris, Beth Mooney and Tahlia McGrath.

The bowling line up also provides options including Darcie Brown, Megan Schutt, Amanda-Jade Wellington and Alana King.

In Australia’s practice match against New Zealand, nine bowlers were used. Such a strong squad and the number of pool matches means that Mott have the ability to assess the conditions and tinker with the team throughout the tournament.

But despite the strength of this Australian squad, there is one spectre that hangs over the Tournament and that is COVID-19. Ashleigh Gardner will miss be missing for at least the first two of Australia’s games after testing positive on the eve of the tournament.

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This could happen to any team.

To try and manage potential impact, the ICC has said that games could go ahead with nine players in a team and additionally, that female members of a team’s support staff are able to field in a match if there is a significant COVID outbreak.

I hope Shelley Nitschke has hear gear ready.

One final comment.

When it comes to women’s sport, particularly in Australia cricket continues to be a leader. The investment made by Cricket Australia and the states has led to the strength of the WBBL and contributed to the dominance of this Australian Women’s team.

Additionally, competitions like the Hundred are emerging and hopefully it will not be too long before we see a Women’s IPL in India. But there is still plenty of work to do.

The winner of this Tournament will win US$1.32 million with a total Tournament prize pool of US$3.5m.
That’s progress considering that the total prize pool for the 2017 event was $2m, but it is still $6.5m less than the $10m prize pool for the most recent men’s tournament, in 2019.

Australia’s first game is against England tomorrow at Seddon Park in Hamilton at midday AEDT.

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