Look back a few years, and you’ll realise that every previous edition of the Women’s T20 World Cup has taught us something that is now accepted as common sense.
2014, hosted by Bangladesh, told us that the double-header was redundant; more people attended the standalone group games than the semis and finals which were clubbed with men’s games.
The tournament in 2016 in India was a practical of a theory we all knew: there are no favourites in T20s. West Indies beat New Zealand and then the mighty Australians to break the stranglehold of three nations on a world title.
The T20 World Cup in 2018 showed that women’s cricket doesn’t need to piggyback on the men’s event to be mainstream; in a year with no men’s ICC tournament, the Caribbean embraced the best women in the world, and women’s cricket provided proof of concept.
So what will we get from the T20 World Cup 2020, besides a new terminology?
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I’ve been in Australia for about 10 days, and in my first interview, the interviewee quoted ‘The Tipping Point’ by Malcolm Galdwell. It is what many in this country believe the event can be. The evolution of a product, a decade in the making. After trialing it in different markets, it is set for launch in a medium tailor made for it: a sporting-mad nation at the end of a scorched summer, with a populace seeking release now that the tragic fires that ravaged the nation have been put out.
Every tournament before this one has successively been described as the most evenly contested global tournament ever. But 2020 isn’t; there is a clear favourite. Perhaps the only thing that can stop Australia from running away with the title is Australia themselves. They have the most match-winners, the most funds, the most depth and the most support. But they are also playing a home World Cup, driven on ambition as large as the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) itself, and on the back of their busiest cricketing year ever. The favourites will be tested in every way possible.
The rest of the world is hoping they become the victims of their own success. England, New Zealand and South Africa all had at least seven players in the WBBL, an unprecedented but hardly unintentional muster. India have warmed up in the tri-series, and the Windies are bolstered by the return of no less than five senior players from injury. They almost overcame India in their warm up game, and Sri Lanka went one step further against England in theirs. Thailand will be hoping to smile their way into the top eight, and not have to play Qualifiers again.
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Can you feel it? I could, before I arrived in this country. I have been in Australia for almost two weeks now, and as the event creeps closer, I’ve felt the froth, like a wave building as it comes to shore. My first visit to Sydney was dominated by conversations of bushfire and rain; a storm and a fortnight later, the colours of the T20 World Cup are everywhere. Most distinctive is the Australian packaging: each match is more than cricket - it is a day out targeted at families, a marriage of sport and entertainment, where the result is the icing, but your ticket will get you the cake nonetheless.
Scoring trends suggest that this World Cup will be the most high-scoring ever, aided by traditionally flat Australian pitches. Fours and sixes providing the soundtrack to fan zones, food stalls, signings after games. Many of these may be commonplace for Aussie sports, but that cannot be said for a Women’s T20 World Cup. The goal is to move women’s cricket from the boutique grounds it now occupies to the larger ones it can deserve. And so the North Sydney Oval has been overlooked in favour of the Sydney Showground for the first game. The final of the tournament holds the promise of the two Perrys on International Women’s Day. One has booked her spot, the other has a group of death to deal with first.
My picks? Australia, India, England and South Africa for the semis. After that, who can tell? One thing you can tell from a World Cup like this, is that it will be like no other before it. Previous editions tested waters, then pressured ceilings, and then broke the limits that existed. The T20 World Cup 2020 could teach us that those limits existed only in our minds. For this event and it’s next decade, there are none.