The ICC Women’s World T20 kicks off this Friday in the West Indies with a unique identity. The standalone nature of the tournament marks the first time the event will run separately to the men’s format, amidst a growing demand and consumption of the women’s game.
The final of last year’s 50-over ICC Cricket World Cup attracted a viewership of 180 million people worldwide, and the impending festival of hard-hitting cricket will build on that momentum, broadcasting matches live to over 200 countries.
Stars from the ECB-run Kia Super League will feature in spades in the Caribbean in what promises to be a wide-open tournament. The ten qualifying teams have been separated into two round-robin groups of five, with the top pair in each group reaching the semi-finals.
The West Indies are the defending champions and will be playing on home turf. The hosts’ captain Stafanie Taylor received Player of the Tournament honours at the last edition of the event in 2016, and is currently ranked as the top all-rounder in T20s by the ICC.
The plethora of West Indian talent with both bat and ball is even more pronounced given the form of teammates Hayley Matthews and Deandra Dottin, who both feature in the top five of the same rankings.
The holders have retained 11 players from their world cup winning squad from two years prior, and given their success and experience in the shorter format they will fancy their chances of progressing from the widely-considered easier Group A.
Joining them in the group stages are England, who despite their 50-over brilliance last summer have found themselves wanting in their preparation. Losses to the West Indies and India over the past week have been compounded by the continued injury problems for seamer Katherine Brunt.
England, although not short on bowling options given the all-round capabilities of Nat Sciver and Heather Knight, do lack experience with the ball, particularly in the spin department. Outside of the accomplished Danielle Hazell and young Sophie Ecclestone, the trio of Kirstie Gordon, Sophia Dunkley and Linsey Smith are all yet to register a cap for England.
The pitch conditions in the Caribbean are expected to favour spin, and Knight’s young crop of spinners will certainly be key to her side’s longevity in this tournament. Gordon in particular has already proven her quality at the top level, after finishing as top wicket taker for Loughborough Lightning in this summer’s Kia Super League.
Considering the strength of the England batting line-up, they should still be favourites to progress in Group A, though they will face strong competition in South Africa, the Windies and Sri Lanka. Danielle Wyatt and Tammy Beaumont have combined at the top of the order to register all of England’s three T20I hundreds over the past 12 months, and if the pair can set strong foundations, they will set the stage for what is a very powerful middle-order.
Progression to the semi-finals as group winners will be crucial for England to give themselves the best chance of avoiding a meeting with number one ranked Australia, arguably the most destructive side in the tournament.
Winners in 2010, 2012 and 2014, the Southern Stars dominate the history of this competition, and were losing finalists last time out.
Australia captain Meg Lanning leads a line-up of stacked batting talent, including vice-captain Rachael Haynes, Alyssa Healy, Beth Mooney and Ellyse Perry, who recently played in her 100th one-day international.
Group B will not be an easy ride for the Stars, however, as they have the world’s second ranked T20 side in New Zealand, and Asian heavyweights Pakistan and India for company.
Regarding the latter, one of the key players to watch this tournament will be Indian batter Smriti Mandhana. Top tournament scorer for Western Storm in the Kia Super League this year, she has the capacity to produce match-winning knocks and her performance will most likely determine India’s fate. Possessing a classical style, she is unique to watch and sets herself apart from the host of powerful hitters across the competing nations.
One team to keep a close eye on throughout the group stages are England’s Group A opponents Bangladesh. Although toothless at times with the bat, Bangladesh have the capacity to tear through a batting line-up with their leg-spin tandem of Rumana Ahmed and Fahima Khatun.
Khatun took a hat-trick against the UAE during the competition’s qualifying stages, while Ahmed took 10 tournament wickets as Bangladesh stunned perennial winners India to win the Asia Cup in June.
The Tigresses will take center stage on the opening day as they kick-start their campaign against the West Indies in the flagship day/night contest – an excellent opportunity to shake up Group A from the outset.
The first game of the tournament features New Zealand and India earlier on Friday in Guyana – undoubtedly a crucial tussle for both sides in their bid for a maiden T20 World Cup.