Photo Credit: ICC
The wait is almost over. One thousand and sixty-eight days have passed since Australia defeated India in front of a sold-out Melbourne Cricket Ground to lift the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2020 and just one more remains until the battle to be crowned 2023 champions begins.
First-time hosts South Africa get the party started against Sri Lanka at Newlands on Friday, the first of 23 eagerly-anticipated matches which will decide who sits on top of the world come February 26 back at the iconic Cape Town venue.
Ahead of the first ball being bowled, here’s a look what lies in store…
The world has changed almost immeasurably since Australia won their fifth ICC Women’s T20 World Cup but the reigning champions’ status as the team to beat has remained a constant.
They may have stumbled against Ireland in a warm-up match this week but Meg Lanning’s side have remarkable depth and have been in imperious form in recent times, losing just once – via a super over – in the past 13 months.
Beaten finalists in 2020, India will be eager to go one better and lift this trophy for the first time. They have become used to conditions during a recent tri-series against South Africa and West Indies and include two members of the squad who are fresh from winning the inaugural ICC U19 Women’s T20 World Cup.
England, who won a hard-fought T20I series against India last summer, will hope to go deep while fellow 2020 semi-finalists South Africa have home advantage behind them.
New Zealand arrive in good spirits having enjoyed dominant series wins over two teams for whom the knockout stages would represent success, West Indies and Bangladesh, in recent months.
Sri Lanka go in search of building on their run to the Women’s T20 Asia Cup final but have not played since that final, Pakistan and Bangladesh are looking to qualify from the group stage for the first time and Ireland are back for the first time since 2018.
Players to Watch
Beth Mooney picked up Player of the Tournament honours in 2020 and remains a consistent source of runs at the top of the Australian order, while all-rounder Tahlia McGrath has become a key cog in their machine.
India’s Smriti Mandhana and South Africa’s Laura Wolvaardt each have cover drives to turn heads in their armoury and are likely to be in the leading run-scorer conversation, along with the evergreen and in-form Suzie Bates of New Zealand.
England have been boosted by a seamless return to the international arena for Nat Sciver-Brunt, among the game’s leading all-rounders, and her teammate Sophie Ecclestone arrives ranked top of the MRF Tyres ICC Women’s Rankings for T20I Bowlers.
Ecclestone’s fellow left-arm spinner Nonkululeko Mlaba looks ready to shine on home turf and, at 22, is one of several young stars aiming to make a name for themselves.
That list also includes eighteen-year-old duo Marufa Akter, Bangladesh’s exciting seamer, and hard-hitting Pakistan batter Ayesha Naseem, while Ireland skipper Gaby Lewis already has eight years of international experience behind her at the age of just 21.
Harshitha Samarawickrama is among Sri Lanka’s brightest hopes while West Indies will need experienced all-rounders Hayley Matthews – so influential when they won this competition in 2016 – and Stafanie Taylor to be at their best if they are to go far.
Group A stages several early blockbusters, with New Zealand set to give Australia a tough start to the defence of their trophy on February 11 before the White Ferns take on South Africa two days later in a match set to be crucial to both sides’ chances of qualification.
World Cup matches between India and Pakistan are never dull and February 12 is the date for the latest episode in Group B. India’s clash with England on February 18, meanwhile, could be pivotal in deciding who tops the group.
The semi-finals take place on February 23 and 24 before the final on February 26, with all three knockout games at Newlands to conclude what looks set to be a tournament to savour.