The England squad are already hard at work in India in preparation for their defence of the Women's World Cup, which skipper Charlotte Edwards has described as "the ultimate prize". She should know as this will be the fifth time that she has taken part in the competition. She is one of eight members of the current squad that picked up the trophy in Australia back in 2009, when they defeated New Zealand in the final. It is a scenario that she would like to see repeated.
Six of the squad are new to the WWC tournament, but all played in the recent T20 World Cup, also held on the subcontinent in Sri Lanka, in which England looked the team to beat right up until the final when they faltered against a strong Australian team. It will be no surprise if the two teams meet again in the final of this competition. England have just one newcomer to international tournaments in Sussex's medium fast bowler, Georgia Elwiss, who looked the part in the summer when she picked up the player of the series in England's 3-2 ODI series win over India.
Interestingly last summer is the last time England played an ODI - 11th July to be precise. The rest of the summer was spent preparing for the T20 World Cup and then playing in that tournament which ended in October. Since then there have been various training camps, including one now in Pune, but England will have just two warm-up games against Pakistan (hopefully) and New Zealand, before their first World Cup match against Sri Lanka on 2 February. Not ideal preparation, but difficult to do more given that it is a winter tournament for the northern hemisphere teams. Australia and New Zealand in contrast have just finished their domestic season and played each other in the annual Rose Bowl series just before Christmas (the Aussies won 3-1), and West Indies have just hosted South Africa in a five match ODI series (drawn 2-2).
Practice matches aside England look the side to beat in this competition. They have a strong squad of 15, which is important when you play seven games within a maximum of 18 days. In fact I don't envy Mark Lane's task in picking his best 11 for the final if they get there. If you accept that Edwards and wicket-keeper batsman Sarah Taylor are shoe-ins and that Amy Jones is essentially the back-up keeper, then you can perm any nine of the remaining 12.
As pace bowlers you have the experienced Katherine Brunt and the young pretender in Anya Shrubsole, plus Georgia Elwiss (less pace but more accuracy). In addition batsmen Jenny Gunn and Arran Brindle can fulfill the Paul Collingwood role of sneaking through a few inexpensive overs of seam without the opposition realising quite what is going on. On the spin front you have the immensely experienced left arm of Holly Colvin and the tight off-spin of Laura Marsh, who has also flirted with being an opening bat. These two are backed-up by two more off-spinners in the effervescent Danni Wyatt and the dependable Danni Hazell. If the tracks dictate you could see all four playing.
In addition to Edwards, Taylor, Gunn and Brindle as batsmen you have Tammy Beaumont, who seems to have secured the opener's slot with her skipper. That leaves Lydia Greenway who is currently ranked 4th in the World ODI batting rankings, and sets the standard for all to follow in the field, and the youngster Heather Knight.
Ultimately it will probably come down to the team that best adapts to the conditions in India. The tournament is there for England to win if they can do so, but no doubt Australia, amongst others, will have something to say about it. It should be a great festival of women's cricket and great to watch. I for one can't wait.