With the WWC just 28 days away now seems like an opportune moment to run through the format of the competition; look at the main contenders; and highlight some of the key players.
England are the holders of the trophy, having beaten New Zealand by four wickets in the final at the North Sydney Oval back in 2009. India beat Australia by three wickets to take third spot. All four teams automatically qualified for this year's tournament as a result of these placings. They are joined by the four teams that came through the qualifying tournament played in November 2011 who are the West Indies (who won the tournament), Pakistan (runners-up), South Africa and Sri Lanka.
The eight teams are split into two groups of four :-
Group A - England, India, West Indies, Sri Lanka
Group B - Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa
Initially the teams play the others in their group. Once these group games are completed the bottom team in each group is eliminated and play off for 7th and 8th place. The others form the Super Six, retain the points already earned against the two teams that qualified in their group, and then play the three teams from the other group. The top two teams after all these games are completed will play in the final on 17 February.
Form suggests that the initial two teams likely to be eliminated will be Sri Lanka and either Pakistan or South Africa, but all three teams are capable of an upset with the West Indies v Sri Lanka contest (4th Feb) as the prime candidate. Obviously the Pakistan v South Africa game (5th Feb) in Group B will be the key to either team getting through to the Super Six Stage.
In Group A England will be favourites to top the group, but will have difficult group games against India in their own back yard, and the mercurial West Indies. Australia are likely to emerge as group winners in Group B, but they will be hard-pressed by New Zealand, and their day/night game against each other on 5th February should be a titanic struggle. Whoever wins will have their nose in front for the Super Six Stage.
Once the field has been narrowed to six, whoever heads Group A will likely be confident of beating the third placed team from Group B. A win against either of the top two Group B teams will then probably see them to the final. The Group B winners will still have three tricky games to get through. With this format no-one can afford to make a mistake. The England v Australia clash on 9th February may well be pivotal. But also watch out for the West Indies v Australia game on 13th February.
England look to be the team to beat. They have four very good spin bowlers in Colvin, Marsh, Wyatt and Hazell and two of the top batters in the world in Sarah Taylor and captain Charlotte Edwards. However they do tend to rely on these two to score heavily. Without them the batting line-up can sometimes look a little fragile.
Australia have an explosive young batting side with Meg Lanning and Jess Cameron at the forefront, but their bowling may be their Achilles' heel, particularly in the spin department where they will look to the experience of Lisa Sthalekar to pull them through.
New Zealand too look short of match-winning bowlers in sub-continent conditions, but may well amass sufficient runs through captain Suzie Bates and Amy Satterthwaite to put opponents under pressure or chase down large scores. Their recent series against the Aussies was tighter than many people probably expected.
The West Indies are the dark horses of the tournament. In off spinner Anisa Mohammed they have a potential match winner on Indian pitches, but she can only bowl 10 overs. The West Indies also have some powerful batters in Stafanie Taylor and Deandra Dottin, but both are just as likely to make 0 as 100. If they hit form early in the tournament then the West Indies could even make the final.
Finally one should not discount hosts India. They have one of the all-time great batters in the ever-reliable Mithali Raj, currently the number 1 ranked batter in womens' ODIs. But she tends to plough a lone furrow for the Indians. If she can get some support at the crease then in their home country India will be no pushover.
Overall the tournament is about consistency over six games in 16 days, in order to secure a place in the final. England appear to have the strongest squad and I would put them into the final. As for their opponents? I think it will be a close run thing between Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies.