Women’s World Cup: No clear favourite

All the matches of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 will be broadcast live on television for the first time.

A general view of the ICC Women’s World Cup warm up match between England and Sri Lanka in Chesterfield on June 19. The World Cup starts on June 24.   -  Getty Images

It started two years before the men’s event, yet the popularity of the Women’s World Cup has always been middling when compared to the men’s event. As time progressed, the interest in cricket — irrespective of gender — has increased. While the men’s event has bloated to a level where at times it becomes plethoric, the women’s version has grown at a slow pace. As a result, it is not surprising that only in its 11th edition, all the matches of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 will be broadcast live on television for the first time.

READ: India ready to win its maiden title

The first edition of the Women’s Championship in 2014, saw Australia, England, New Zealand and West Indies qualify directly for the 2017 World Cup after the sides finished as the top four teams on the table. India, Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka battled it out in the ICC World Cup Qualifier and eventually joined the rest for the final gala which will be held in England, across four different venues, with the final being held at the home of cricket — Lord’s.

READ: Recap of the previous editions

England will be hosting the tournament for the third time. Historically, whenever England had hosted the tournament — 1973 and 1993 — it had ended up as the winner. Nonetheless, the past four years have been disappointing for the nation. Despite becoming the first country to introduce professional contracts for its women cricketers in 2014, the results have not been encouraging. Following the loss in the World T20 2016 semifinal, England witnessed the exit of one of its most iconic cricketers of all time — Charlotte Edwards. However, the partnership between coach Mark Robinson and captain Knight has produced positive results with England winning 12 out of the 15 ODIs it had played in 2016.

For defending champion Australia, a lot has changed since its title victory in 2014. The side’s dominance has not been as shiny as its glittering past. Australia defeated West Indies in 2014 to lift the trophy. But, in 2016, it was defeated by the same nation in the T20 World Cup final. For the Southern Stars, bowling has been a major concern, and it was evident when the selectors picked two uncapped players for the mega event — Belinda Vakawera and Sarah Aley. However, Australia’s strength lies in its batting and players like Elyse Perry and Lanning, who are quite well-versed with the English conditions, will be hoping to guide the side to its seventh World Cup title.

The Indian team has always been regarded as a threat. Despite its firepower and experience, the side’s best finish came in 2005, when it finished runner-up to Australia. Incidentally, it was Mithali Raj’s first World Cup as the captain of the side. The side’s recent record should motivate the team going into the World Cup. The Indian women scripted 16 successive victories recently, marking the second longest winning streak in women’s cricket. Not to forget, it won a quadrangular series in South Africa, defeated Australia at home in an ODI and England at its backyard in a one-off Test. These feats are enough to encourage a young team which will be led by the pillar of the side — Mithali — playing her last World Cup.

The New Zealand women’s team is quite similar to its men’s side. It is a balanced one with some of the best players in women’s cricket today — Suzie Bates, Sophie Devine, Leigh Kasperek, Amy Satterthwaite, Lea Tahuhu, besides others. However, New Zealand has failed to dominate like Australia and England at the big events. The side will be led by the elegant Bates who became the first cricketer to clinch both the ICC Women’s ODI and T20I Player of the Year awards in January. Not to forget, New Zealand is managed by Haidee Tiffen who was regarded as one of the best all-rounders during her playing days.

When West Indies reached the final of the World T20 last year, little did anyone predict the side to defeat a strong side like Australia. However, with such players as Deandra Dottin, Stefanie Taylor and Hayley Matthews, it clinched victory in the most thrilling manner. The 2013 runner-up will surely draw inspiration from its scintillating World T20 performance from last year.

South Africa’s best finish came in 2000 when it lost to Australia in the semifinal. Years later, the side is still one of the inconsistent performers in world cricket. Going by its recent series against India, the side has a lot of work to do to come up with something better than its show in 2000.

Sri Lanka and Pakistan will draw power from their experienced players like Eshani Lokusuriyage and Sana Mir respectively.

The teams have changed from the last edition and the sport has become more competitive. The prize money also has been doubled (USD 2million). Like former England captain, Charlotte Edwards, recently said, “Cricket is leading the way in women’s sport”.

It is true that women’s cricket has come a long way since 1973. It may not have progressed at the same rate as men cricket, but it has seen some dedicated and loyal admirers of the sport over the years. And it is largely due to the players the sport has produced. This edition promises to be the biggest and the best, for, never has the Women’s Cricket World Cup seen as many zealous ambassadors of the game as it has now.