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CRICKET: MAKE WAY FOR THE WOMEN

June 18, 2017

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Girls in Green, the Pakistan women’s cricket team, will get good experience at the very least from the World Cup
Girls in Green, the Pakistan women’s cricket team, will get good experience at the very least from the World Cup

Not many are aware that women cricketers staged their first World Cup two years before their male counterparts got round to holding their maiden global limited-overs competition. The women cricketers did it in England in 1973.

Now just six days after the International Cricket Council (ICC) finishes staging the Champions Trophy, women players of eight countries will hold centre stage at the county grounds of Bristol, Derby, Leicester and Taunton for the three-week preliminary phase of the Women’s Cricket World Cup. That’s before the three knockout fixtures which will culminate with the final on the hallowed turf of Lord’s on July 23.

The women may lack the brutal style of play usually associated with the men’s game but there will be no shortage of excitement once the event begins after the competing sides come through the warm-up phase, which runs from June 19 until June 22 at two of the World Cup venues — Leicester and Derby — as well as at the Queen’s Park in Chesterfield and the Lime Kilns Ground in Oakham.

Watch out for the women who will now take over England’s grounds for the ICC Women’s World Cup kicking off from June 24

With traditional powerhouses Australia — who are chasing their seventh trophy in the 11th edition — and hosts England set to dominate the round-robin stage of the competition alongside New Zealand — the only other nation apart from the Ashes rivals to win a World Cup — the likes of West Indies and India have the potential to create ripples here and there.

On the other hand, countries such as South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will only be there to make up the numbers after having come through a 10-team qualifying round — held in Sri Lanka last February and won by India who outgunned South Africa in the final — since their standard of play is well below par compared to the ‘Big Five’ of women’s cricket. However, their participation would definitely help them gain in terms of exposure and experience, if nothing else.

In the early years of the global competition, it was not staged the way it is now with the ICC taking responsibility of organising the World Cup on a quadrennial basis only from 2005 onwards.

Reigning champions Australia face a challenging task of retaining the title they bagged in 2013 when they beat the West Indies by a handsome margin of 114 runs under lights at Mumbai’s Brabourne Stadium. They are skippered by the world’s current top-ranked One-day International batter Meg Lanning, who took over the mantle of captaincy from Jodie Fields when the latter retired from cricket three years ago. Fields had led her nation to the 2012 World Twenty20 and 2013 World Cup titles.

Their squad features the uncapped pair of pace bowlers Belinda Vakarewa, 19, and the 32-year-old Sarah Aley as well as vastly experienced campaigners in all-rounder Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy. Healy, like her famous paternal uncle Ian Healy, is a wicket-keeper and is married to Australia’s men’s team bowling spearhead Mitchell Starc.

Australia, who have recently decided to drop their nomenclature of ‘Southern Stars’ in their fight for equality with their male counterparts, have also retained Megan Schutt — a right-arm pace bowler who was the leading wicket-taker in the previous edition with 15 victims — among eight players from the previous campaign.

New Zealand, winners of the World Cup in their own backyard 17 years back, will be once again led by Suzie Bates, who was the leading run-getter four years ago with 407. A multi-talented sportswoman, the 29-year-old from Dunedin also represented her country at basketball during the 2008 summer Olympics at Beijing in 2008 and was also adjudged as the ICC Women’s ODI Cricketer of the Year in 2013.

The White Ferns — a title given to the New Zealand women’s cricket team — are poised to have both Bates and her fellow batter Amy Satterthwaite make their 100th ODI appearance during the mega event, while the squad includes five representatives from the previous World Cup.

Ranked behind Australia and England in ODI team rankings, New Zealand have also this time brought along the 16-year-old Amelia Kerr for the leg-spinner’s maiden World Cup after just seven one-day caps. The teenager — already rated among the best young female cricketers — hails from a sporting family since her grandfather Bruce Murray had also represented New Zealand in 13 Tests between 1968 and 1971 as a dour right-handed opening batsman.

Stafanie Taylor hardly needs any introduction. The 26-year-old from Spanish Town in Jamaica leads the fifth-ranked West Indies. She is not only currently the best-ranked ODI all-rounder but the second-ranked one-day bowler as well as the fifth-ranked batter. Moreover, Taylor — who played a pivotal role in enabling her region complete a unique double at the 2016 World Twenty20 in India when the West Indies simultaneously clinched both the men’s and women’s crowns — presently sits on top of both Twenty20 International batting and all-rounder ranking charts.

In the history of the Women’s World Cup, there have been just four instances of a host country lifting the coveted trophy and England have been crowned the world champions each time they hosted the global event — in 1973 and 1993, respectively.

Taylor has succeeded Merissa Aguilleira as the national side’s captain since the last World Cup edition, while the Caribbean selectors have inducted an uncapped quartet in wicket-keeper Reniece Boyce, all-rounder Akeira Peters, opener Felicia Walters and Qiana Joseph, the 16-year-old left-arm speedster. All-rounder Shanel Daniel, who hasn’t been a part of the national team since November 2014, has been recalled to add to her 64 ODI caps.

Mithali Raj, the second-ranked ODI batter, has been retained as India’s skipper for the second successive World Cup as she joins veteran seamer Jhulan Goswani for a fourth appearance at the mega event in a squad which has played a key part in improving the country’s ranking to fourth.

When it comes to Pakistan, preparations have been hampered by a change of head coach. Initially former Test paceman Kabir Khan was supposed to take the team to England but he pulled out for personal reasons, leaving former first-class cricketer Sabih Azhar to jump into the hot seat.

As usual, Sana Mir will captain Pakistan, probably for the last time, while the seventh-ranked ICC side will heavily depend on the experienced batting duo of Bismah Maroof and Javeria Wadood Khan.

South Africa, who are ranked one spot above Pakistan, have some promising individuals to call upon as match-winners as Dane van Niekerk leads the Rainbow Nation in place of Mignon du Preez, who keeps her place, while they seek inspiration from the top-ranked ODI bowler Marizanne Kapp.

Sri Lanka, the last ranked side competing at the World Cup, have no less than eight players who figured in the last mega event including Inoka Ranaweera who had taken over the captaincy from Shashikala Siriwardena.

In the history of the Women’s World Cup, there have been just four instances of a host country lifting the coveted trophy and England have been crowned the world champions each time they hosted the global event — in 1973 and 1993, respectively. Playing in front of home crowds could work wonders for the Heather Knight-led squad that sees seamer Katherine Brunt and all-rounder Jenny Gunn — aptly nicknamed Trigger — preparing for a fourth World Cup.

Could this be the moment which the whole of United Kingdom had been craving for since after being announced as the host of the 2017 edition? Their male counterparts may have not been the one-day champions, but the English girls do have the panache to go all the way in their endeavour to become world champions for the fourth time.

The writer is a member of staff

Published in Dawn, EOS, June 18th, 2017

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