Lisa Sthalekar: Time for women's cricket to take centrestage under the Caribbean sun

Lisa Sthalekar
08 Nov 2018
Dhoni time, Indo-Pak rivalry, accompanying commandos and other World T20 memories

West Indies became the winner of ICC Women's World Twenty20 in 2016. ©ICC

On the eve of the first standalone Women's World Twenty20, there is a sense of excitement in the air. The sixth edition of the tournament in the Windies will finally have the stage to themselves, playing primetime in more than 200 countries. Every single match will be broadcasted for the first time, making this tournament the most visible ever!

This isn't the first time that the Windies have hosted the World T20, 2010 was the first time where both the men's and women's tournament were played concurrently.

There is something joyful about playing cricket in the Caribbean, the warmth of the sun, friendly locals, a feeling of music everywhere and you are never too far from the water. You can't help but smile!

No doubt all the teams will be enjoying their time here in Guyana, St Lucia and Antigua, however, they will be zeroing in on one prize, the World T20. Only three teams have been lucky to have lifted the silverware, Australia - three times champion, England - the inaugural champion and current holders, the Windies.

All teams have now played a handful of warm-up matches which lends to being experimental but it does give a slight indication of where sides are at in their preparation and how the conditions fare. As expected, the pitches are conducive to spin and don't have a lot of bounce or pace in them, therefore you would expect lower par scores around the 130-135 mark.

Selection of teams will be crucial for those that want to qualify from the pool games into the semifinals. Sides that have quality spinners and batters who find ways to score against the slower bowlers certainly given themselves the best chance and let's not forget that the best fielding side will win those close encounters.

The story of this competition has seen England and Australia dominate, featuring in all but one semifinal, where England missed the 2010 semis last time they were here in the West Indies.

England face a difficult task given that Sarah Taylor was unavailable for this tour and now Katherine Brunt, their lion heart has broken down with a back injury and may be ruled out of the entire tournament.

Still, they have players who know how to win games of cricket and will rely heavily on Tammy Beaumont, Heather Knight, Danni Wyatt and Natalie Sciver to score the bulk of their runs. From a bowling perspective, as Mark Robinson, England's head coach commented "you can't replace Brunt," but it does open the door for other players to step up. Their spinners Sophie Ecclestone, Dani Hazell, Knight and even newcomer Linsey Smith will perform well, but the real question is will they be able to bowl on pitches that turn?

Fair to say that the Australian team go into this competition as favourites. Despite losing the final two years ago to the Windies, they have played some exciting cricket of late and have only dropped one T20 match out of 11 in 2018.

The most pleasing outcome is that Meg Lanning, arguably the best batter in the world has relished her new position down the order to finish off innings, allowing the top order of Alyssa Healy, Beth Mooney, Ashleigh Gardner and Elyse Villani to play with freedom. This is the most balanced side I have seen Australia put together in a while as they also have the ability to call upon all disciplines to bowl.

Pool A consists of England, Windies, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. England is expected to qualify for the semifinals despite the set back of Brunt, however, the other position is up for grabs. The expectation of the host and current holder Windies will be high, but I think the local support will drive their performance. There are positive signs from the practice matches with Hayley Matthews finding form, Deandra Dottin providing fireworks with bat and ball, plus the consistency of Anisa Mohammed with the ball is a bonus. I haven't even mentioned their captain Stafanie Taylor, so there are plenty of positives for the home side.

On the flip side, South Africa's warm-up matches give an indication that something is off. They lost to Pakistan and Australia and both times struggled to score above 80. Their captain and great all-rounder Dane van Niekerk didn't bat in both occasions, but they may be a side like New Zealand that rely to heavily on Lizelle Lee, Laura Woolvardt and their skipper.

Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan have a few stars in each side, and of course, they need to be at their best if they are going to challenge the higher ranked sides in their pools. However, the conditions will favour these teams as they have been brought up on low, slow turners. If they are able to restrict their opposition I would expect a few upsets along the way!

As for Pool B that consists of Australia, India, New Zealand, Pakistan and Ireland, it will be tight going for those two positions. I get a sense that India have been stewing over their narrow loss last year against England in the World Cup Final and like the other subcontinent teams will like these conditions being dished up here in Guyana.

Harmanpreet Kaur is their star in the shortest format, but she is well supported in the batting by Smriti Mandhana and Mithali Raj. Though their real strength is their bowling department, that will feature up to four spinners in their playing XI. Both Yadavs, Poonam and Radha, are an asset, Anuja Patil, Kaur and Ekta Bisht round out one of the strongest spin departments in this tournament.

I feel that things are aligning nicely for the Indian side to perform well in this World T20, though it will be their fielding that will either win or lose matches for them.

As for New Zealand, based on their recent performances against Australia things aren't looking so bright for them. They rely solely on Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine as their firepower in the batting and have a number of accumulators. Their weapon is youngest Amelia Kerr with her leg spin, but she will need a target to be able to defend and that is where the issue lays.

Finally, Ireland who qualified for this tournament are getting stronger and stronger with a number of their players playing in the Women's Big Bash League in Australia. Whilst they have stated they are not here to make up numbers, given that they are in the "harder" pool it will certainly be challenging.

Whatever the outcome is, whoever raises the trophy at the end of the month, one thing is for certain, it is about time that they were given the centre stage.