The much-envied hegemony of Australia is likely to continue but a host of teams, led by India and England, will harbour hopes of breaking it when the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup begins on Friday.
Packed with proven performers, Australia have lifted the trophy five times in seven editions. They have hardly been challenged in the format since winning the last T20 World Cup in 2020.
In the last 22 months, they have lost just one T20 and that defeat came against India away from home via a Super Over.
The defending champions will no doubt start as favourites once again and will aim for a second hat-trick of titles, which will be a record-extending sixth trophy.
The return of skipper Meg Lanning after a break is a massive boost for the holders. Star wicketkeeper batter Alyssa Healy, who is back after a calf injury, also seems to have shrugged off the rust which makes the side even more dangerous.
The team’s biggest strength is its depth in batting with plenty of big hitters like Lanning, Healy, Ellyse Perry and Tahlia McGrath adorning the line-up.
Experienced pacer Megan Schutt will spearhead the bowling department which has plenty of spinners to choose from.
All-rounder Ashleigh Gardner has also been in stellar form. A power-hitter down the order, the 25-year-old is the go-to person for skipper Lanning when Australia are in need of a wicket.
However, the hard-fought series against India and the loss in the warm up match against Ireland shows that Australia too can be defeated and the likes of India, England and New Zealand would fancy their chances.
Runners up in the last edition, India will be keen to go one step ahead and claim the title that has eluded them thus far.
However, a lot will depend on the Indian batting unit, especially the top order comprising the likes of elegant Smriti Mandhana, big-hitting Shafali Verma and skipper Harmanpreet Kaur.
The ‘Women in Blue’ had enjoyed a stellar run at the 2020 edition before the final ended in disappointment.
Shafali, had been the breakout star, ending the tournament as India’s leading run scorer. Pumped up after the U19 World Cup win in South Africa a few days ago, the flamboyant opener will be keen to carry on the momentum.
India have found a much-needed finisher in U19 World Cup-winning young Richa Gosh and that will give the top order the freedom to the top order to go all guns blazing from the start.
India have a good mix of spin and pace options but bowling has been their achilles heel. The pace department, barring veteran Shikha Pandey, is relatively inexperienced. They will have to rise to the challenge.
The ever-reliable Deepti Sharma has been a match winner for India on several occasions, and with spinners sparkling in the warm-up matches, she will once again be a key player.
India have been clubbed alongside England, Pakistan, West Indies and Ireland in Group B. England, who have been a consistent force in the format for years, will be a strong contender.
Led by Heather Knight, England will be eager to get their hands on the title for the first time since inaugural edition in 2009. They have reached three finals without any success.
The former champions have a potent bowling attack that includes the legendary pacer Katherine Sciver-Brunt and top-ranked spinner Sophie Ecclestone.
The likes of Alice Capsey, Sophia Dunkley and Lauren Bell have established themselves in the T20 format and a lot will be expected from them.
Besides Australia, New Zealand is another top contender to reach the last four from Group A. The Sophie Devine-led side has enjoyed a good run in the format recently.
The White Ferns have the talent to go the distance but will need player apart from Devine, Suzie Bates and Lea Tahuhu to step up.
South Africa’s best finishes came in 2020 and 2014, when they reached the semi-finals. The Proteas women will be keen to capitalise on the home advantage.
The recent Tri-Series final victory over India will only add to their confidence.
Their success in the tournament would depend on the bowling department, comprising the likes of experienced pacers Marizanne Kapp, Shabnim Ismail and Ayabonga Khaka. The hosts’ batting department though seems a little thin.
Grouped alongside Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, it will be a tall task for the hosts to advance to the semifinals.
The opening encounter will be between hosts South Africa and Sri Lanka on Friday. The tournament will take place in two stages. The 10 teams are divided into two groups of five sides each.
In the first round, the teams will compete in round-robin format with the top two teams from each group progressing to the knockout stage.