For the first time there will be ten teams rather than eight in the Women's World T20 Cup which starts in Bangladesh on 23rd March, and it could be the closest fought WT20 ever.
The teams are split into two groups of five - groups A & B - who will all play each other once. The winner of Group A will play the second in Group B in the first semi-final and the winner of Group B will play the runner-up in Group A in the other semi-final. It is going to be a dog eat dog affair and I can see every team losing at least one game and the dreaded Net Run Rate coming into play to see who makes those vital semi-finals.
Group A has Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa.
Australia will be the favourites to win the group. They are after all the holders and beat England 2-1 in their latest T20 series. But they did lose all three of the T20 games in England last season and they have lost three of their last five T20 games to New Zealand. They have lost the services of their inspirational captain Lisa Sthalekar since the last World Cup, and Meg Lanning has only just taken on the role from Jodie Fields. They do have a habit of winning the games that matter, but they will be pushed all the way by New Zealand and will get no easy ride from South Africa.
New Zealand too are a team in transition. Coach Katrina Keenan resigned in January and Warren Lees has taken over as "interim coach". He has brought a few new faces into the White Ferns' squad who are currently performing well against the West Indies. They also have the buffer of having Suzie Bates and Sara McGlashan in their midst, both of whom have been in fine form with the bat of late. The two of them are quite capable of taking a game away from any team they are playing, but can they do it game after game. It is a big ask.
And talking of big asks, it will be tough for South Africa to string together four good results on the bounce, particularly when two of those games will be against Australia and New Zealand. They have never beaten either team in a T20. On their day they can be very good with the ball, but they can struggle to post a competitive score with the bat. But if they can get away to a good start in their first match against Pakistan, which they will be expecting to win, then their second game against the Aussies could be tighter than people think.
Pakistan are an improving team, but I think they will have to settle for just one or two victories here. Ireland, who play in Division 3 of the English County Championship, are making their first appearance at a T20 World Cup. They fought their way there through the qualifying tournament (finishing third behind Sri Lanka and Pakistan), but recently beat Pakistan in a low-scoring game in Doha, which will boost their confidence when they meet again. As the underdogs they have nothing to fear and can hopefully play with freedom and get some decent results.
Group B has Bangladesh, England, India, Sri Lanka and the West Indies.
With all due respect to Bangladesh I think this looks like a four-way contest for the two spots available in the semis.
England made it to the final two years ago and were favourites to win, having been dominant in the earlier rounds, but they lost by four runs to Australia. But in those intervening two years they have lost five players from the team that played in the that final - Holly Colvin and Arran Brindle have retired, Laura Marsh and Katherine Brunt are injured and Danielle Wyatt has been left out of the squad. It will be a very different looking team that takes on West Indies in a crucial first match in Group B on 24th March. England have in fact lost more T20 matches against the West Indies than they have won (6/5), including three out in the Caribbean last October. England approach T20 in a much more controlled way than do the West Indies, which is perhaps dictated by the very nature of the players on the field. England do not have the pinch-hitting openers or the lower order batsmen capable of clearing the boundary rope. The West Indies have a much more cavalier approach, but will they have the explosive Deandra Dottin in their team? And if so will she have any sort of form?
Dottin was suspended by the WICB in January for "behaviour unbecoming that could bring the game of cricket into
disrepute or be harmful to the interests of cricket", after an incident
during the Tri-Nation Twenty20 Women's Series last October in Barbados. No-one is saying what the incident was, but it seems to have been something off the field. She was not selected for the current West Indies tour of New Zealand, but the door seems to have been left ajar to "reintegrate" her back into the Windies team as she is said to have been undergoing "evaluation" through to the middle of March. Reading between the lines it sounds as though if she is contrite and keeps her nose clean she will be back in, but without too much match practice under her belt. The Windies are currently having a tough time of it in New Zealand (two heavy ODI losses), but they may still come good in the five match T20 series.
India have some great players in their team, but they are not a great T20 team, and Indian Women's cricket seems to be in the doldrums at the moment, not helped by the mysogynistic attitude of the BCCI. They have the talent to win games, but they may well not. In fact if they lose their first game to Sri Lanka then they may be left fighting it out for the wooden spoon with Bangladesh. Fortunately the 2016 T20 World Cup will be held in India, so they will automatically be there come what may at this tournament.
Sri Lanka are the dark horses in Group B and I am going to stick my neck out and suggest they may well sneak a semi-final spot (probably on NRR!). This is a competition which they are targeting. They have some explosive top order batsmen and some good spin bowlers. They will be tough to beat and if they can get off to a good start against India, who they have beaten before, they will trouble both England and the West Indies.
I will wait for the result of the NZ v WI T20 series and for all the squads to be announced before I give my final verdict on the four to make the semis, but it is shaping up to be a great looking tournament. Shame only the semis and the final will be on tv and then only on satellite. Hopefully there will be more online streaming of the earlier games - more news on this as I get it.