The latest edition of the Women’s T20 World Cup gets under way in Australia on Friday and England, under their new coach, Lisa Keightley, will certainly consider themselves contenders even after a disappointing Women’s Ashes series last summer.
Heather Knight’s side, who won the 50-over World Cup so memorably at Lord’s three years ago, failed to reach the final of their recent tri-series against India and Australia, eliminated courtesy of a lower net run-rate after the series was tied three ways on points, but they did rack up important wins against both opponents. Knight led from the front as England’s leading run scorer in the series, hitting a 45-ball 78 in their tied match against the Australians before seeing them over the line in the super-over with consecutive boundaries.
“We learned a huge amount from the recent tri-series,” says Knight. “We were put under pressure in some really tight games, which is perfect preparation going into a World Cup. We’ll be focusing on how we want to play our cricket and reaching those semi-finals.”
Such confidence comes partly from England being drawn in the easier of the two groups, facing West Indies, South Africa, Thailand and Pakistan. The powerhouses of Australia, India and New Zealand – plus Sri Lanka and Bangladesh – make up the second pool, so England will avoid a confrontation with the holders, Australia, until at least the semi-final stages.
The hosts are clear favourites to retain their title, having lost five of their 31 matches in the format since January 2018. Also in the running are India, beaten by England in the 2018 WT20 semi‑final by eight wickets. They are a rejuvenated, youthful side, with a squad that includes the 16-year-old batters Richa Ghosh and Shafali Verma.
Under Keightley, England have settled on a new formula of playing seven batsmen, with Tammy Beaumont – who had previously opened in the format – dropping down to a closing role at six.
The bowling lineup is less clearcut. Katherine Brunt and the young-gun left-arm spinner Sophie Ecclestone are assured of selection, but Anya Shrubsole has struggled of late with a foot injury.
The seamer Freya Davies and leg-spinner Sarah Glenn are fighting it out for the fourth bowling spot. Conditions may well decide the issue. England’s opening match is at the Waca against South Africa a week on Sunday, a haven for pace bowling.
“We’ve been really specific with the players we wanted out here in Australia,” says Knight. “We’ve got a lot of different matchwinners and proven world-class players, but also a few younger ones too, who so far have taken to international cricket really well. From one to 15, we’ve got a squad that can win games.”
Should England go one step further than their stated goal and reach the final, there is the prospect of playing in front of a sellout crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on 8 March. The organisers, led by the CEO, Nick Hockley, have launched a campaign to fill the ground, and in doing so break the world record for the biggest crowd at a women’s sporting event, currently the 90,185 who watched the 1999 football World Cup final in California.
“With the final falling on International Women’s Day, we felt that now is the time to make a statement,” said Hockley, who worked on the London 2012 Olympics. “We’ve seen amazing momentum around the world for women’s sport. They got 53,000 in Adelaide for the final of the Women’s AFL last year.
“When you put together the proposition of a World Cup final, a sports-mad nation, the fastest growing format of the game, the biggest cricket ground in the world, and the opportunity to set a new benchmark, it’s quite an exciting proposition.”
Another innovation will be the first use of front-foot no-ball technology at a global event. The third umpire will monitor the front foot landing position on each ball and communicate no-ball calls to the on-field umpires, after the technology was successfully trialled in 12 men’s matches.