We have entered the week when the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup starts in South Africa and the warm-up games are already underway. While Australia will be defending the trophy they won in front of a record breaking home crowd at the glistering MCG in 2020 and looking to go for a three-peat, the others would want to make their own history.
Cricket is a team sport. But often we see certain players turning games on its head and winning it single-handedly for their team. Every team needs such an X-factor player, especially in the shortest format. Not just exceptional talent, such players also possess a fighting mentality that is needed to win tight games.
Here we look at one player from each of the 10 participating countries that can turn the fortunes of their teams in the T20 World Cup:
Ashleigh Gardner (Australia)
Ashleigh Gardner is currently the top ranked T20I allrounder in the world. But in a team full of superstars, she tends to fly under the radar. Allrounders are a vital asset in T20 cricket and the versatility and flexibility that Gardner brings - with both the bat and the ball - is what makes her so crucial to Australia’s dominance in a long tournament.
Known to be a big hitter, Gardner can take on the bowlers in whatever position or situation she is sent in to bat. She is one of those rare batters who can negate the impact of early wickets by rebuilding the innings without compromising on her scoring rate. Most recently, she displayed that versus India in the final T20I of the five-match series in December last year. Coming in at 55 for 3 in the eight over, she smashed 66 off 32 balls.
Gardner is equally handy with her off-breaks and often provides crucial breakthroughs to the team. She can also open the bowling on slower pitches.
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Amelia Kerr (New Zealand)
At the age of 22, Amelia Kerr is already one of the biggest stars in the world of cricket. The allrounder brings crucial balance and experience to the White Ferns XI.
A wily leg-spinner, Kerr is known to bowl a lot of googlies to deceive unsuspecting batters. When it comes to her batting, she possesses maturity beyond her age and can play according to the need of the situation.
Given the tough format of the tournament, Kerr’s services will be vital for New Zealand - with both bat and ball.
Nonkululeko Mlaba (South Africa)
Marizanne Kapp and Laura Wolvaardt are the first names that come to mind when someone talks about South Africa. Maybe Shabnim Ismail as well, if the talk extends to bowling. But if conditions in the World Cup are anything like what we have seen in South Africa during the U19 T20 World Cup and the Tri-nation series, Nonkululeko Mlaba’s slow left-arm orthodox bowling could be the game changer for the hosts.
Currently ranked second in the ICC T20I Bowling Rankings – just behind fellow left-arm spinner Sophie Ecclestone, Mlaba has been at the front of Proteas’ spin attack in the absence of Dane van Neikerk over the last few months.
Mlaba was the leading wicket-taker for her team and the second overall in the tri-series versus India and West Indies. What was more impressive is that her six wickets came at an impressive economy of 3.25.
Rumana Ahmed (Bangladesh)
The leg-spinning allrounder could prove to be a vital cog in the Bangladesh lineup if the conditions continue to be slow and spin friendly. Rumana’s economic bowling will help Bangladesh to build pressure on the opposition on tracks suited to their style of play.
With the experience she has, Rumana can be both defensive and attacking in her bowling as per the situation. In last year’s Asia Cup, she registered impressive spells against India and Sri Lanka while picking up some big wickets. Bangladesh would be hoping that she carries that form into the global tournament.
Chamari Athapaththu (Sri Lanka)
The explosive batter has been one of the biggest ambassadors of Sri Lankan cricket and arguably the greatest women’s cricketer the island nation has produced.
When Chamari Athapaththu is on a song, there’s no stopping her and Sri Lanka would want more of those days when they take the field in South Africa. Along with her power hitting abilities, Athapaththu brings in the experience of playing in cricket leagues around the world. She could also bowl some overs of off-spin whenever required.
It’s safe to say that the Sri Lankan’s skipper's performance would be crucial to her team’s fortunes in the tournament.
Deepti Sharma (India)
Deepti Sharma has developed a habit of becoming the hero for India in the past year or so. She has won games for her team with her skills with the bat, her off-spin, and her smarts in the field.
Earlier, there was a question mark over Deepti’s abilities as a T20 batter. But she has managed to put behind the ghost of the strike-rate and proven that she can be the quick-scoring finisher for India in the format. Her strike-rates in the five-match T20I series against Australia were 240, 50, 147.05, 150, 155.88 and she scored more than 20 in three of those matches.
Deepti is second on the T20 bowling and allrounder rankings. In the recently concluded Tri-nation series, she finished as the leading wicket-taker and was named the Player of the Series, and if similar conditions are presented in the World Cup, she could prove to be the MVP for India again.
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Nida Dar (Pakistan)
When it comes to Pakistan, you can’t look past Nida Dar in the search for an X-factor. She has been her team’s most valuable player with the bat and the ball and brings in plenty of experience - of international and franchise cricket. She is the only player from her country to have played in the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL).
Dar is known for her attacking approach in all aspects of the game and she is one of the three women who have more than thousand runs and hundred wickets in T20Is. Infact, Dar has a good chance of becoming the all-time leading wicket-taker in Women’s T20Is during the World Cup.
If Pakistan have to move beyond the group stages, they would want their Lady Boom Boom to have a bash in South Africa.
Sophie Ecclestone (England)
Despite being only 23 years of age, Sophie Ecclestone has been ruling world cricket with her left-arm spin. She has made the top spot in the ICC T20 bowling rankings her own since 2020.
The tall left-arm orthodox bowler is dreaded by the batters and her consistency in picking up wickets has been a big asset for England. But Ecclestone has proven time and time again that she is also a handy lower middle-order bat and can hit some big shots down the ground.
Ecclestone made her first appearance in the WBBL last season and got a good look at all the mainstays of arch-rivals Australia. The experience could further boost the bowler’s performance in the big games in the World Cup.
Orla Prendergast (Ireland)
The fast bowling allrounder is the one to look out for in the Ireland camp. The 20-year-old made her international debut in 2021 and has notched up some impressive performances since then.
A top-order batter and a swing bowler, Prendergast has good numbers to show for her batting strike-rate and bowling economy.
In November last year, Prendergast impressed with both bat and ball during the tour of Pakistan and played a crucial role in Ireland’s T20I series win over the hosts. The World Cup will give the youngster a great opportunity to test herself against the best in the world.
Hayley Matthews (West Indies)
If the recent results are anything to go by, the champions of 2016 are heavily reliant on their captain. Despite her team not making it to the final of the Tri-nation series, Matthews finished as the top run-scorer. She is also handy with the ball and has always chipped in with the wickets.
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Matthews was handed over the captaincy last year by Stafanie Taylor, who isn’t certain to take the field in the World Cup as she continues to recover from an injury. West Indies are also without the services of another senior pro, Deandra Dottin, who retired from international cricket last year.
The young skipper will be carrying a lot of weight on her shoulders and West Indies will be hoping that the hero of their 2016 T20 World Cup win steps up on the big stage again.