The 11th Women’s World Cup is returning to England for the third time. This years tournament features eight teams, playing each other in 31 matches over 30 days of competition. A round robin format where each of the eight teams plays one another once is being used, with this being followed by 2 semi-finals and a final.
The first tournament was held in 1973, and was a product of the driving force of former England Captain Rachael Heyhoe Flint, who successfully convinced her friend and fellow Wolverhampton Wanderers supporter Sir Jack Hayward into donating £40,000 towards the event. Heyhoe Flint captained England to victory in the event, and since then England have won twice more (in 1993 and 2009). Being the second most successful team in the tournament’s history, and having won the tournament the previous two times it has been held on home soil, one would say that England seemingly have a good chance at reclaiming their title, and, after winning their warm up games against New Zealand and Sri Lanka convincingly, a strong start was expected and needed against an Indian outfit who needed the World Cup qualifiers to reach the main competition. However, after a weak fielding display that allowed India to impose themselves on the game, England failed to chase down a score 281-3, falling 35 runs short. This shock result acts as a huge setback for the hosts as the match against India was one that they were expected to win, almost to be used as a warm up for the tougher group games against Australia, the West Indies, and New Zealand. This adds a greater amount of importance to the supposedly easier games against Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa, as if defeated in just one of them then there will be much more pressure on England to merely reach the semi-finals, something that would be expected from the world number 2s.
Australia, looking to claim an unprecedented seventh triumph, are favourites to retain the title they won in 2013. Although they haven’t begun their bid for world glory yet, their extensive experience of winning big tournaments, coupled with the fact that they have the best batter (Meg Lanning) and spin bowler (Jess Jonassen) in the world, sets them apart from the rest of the field immediately. Furthermore, their efforts in the ICC Women’s Championship showed them to be of the highest calibre as they lost only 3 of their 21 qualifying games. On paper, Australia are the team to beat. However, a long running contract dispute between both the male and female teams and Cricket Australia appears to have the potential to disrupt their mindset, as they may shift their focus away from the task of continuing to impress their dominance upon the game. The Australian Women are set to be placed upon temporary contracts if the situation is not resolved by the 30th June (a week into the tournament), acting as a distraction that could result in an upset.
The other two teams who qualified in the top four for the competition, New Zealand and West Indies, have also shown themselves to be challengers to the crown that has only left Australia four times. New Zealand are the only winners of the World Cup aside from England and Australia, lifting the trophy in 2000, and, although this happened 17 years ago, they have already kicked their campaign off to a strong start. They thrashed Sri Lanka in their opening game by 9 wickets, with impressive performances coming from Holly Huddleston (taking 5-35) and Amy Satterthwaite (scoring an unbeaten 78). Suzie Bates, New Zealand’s captain arguably contributed the most, hitting 106 not out. Bates, the top run scorer at the 2013 competition, has already established herself as the early leader to top the standings again, and will in turn hopefully lead her side to a second title.
The West Indies have historically struggled in the longer format, finding it hard to impose themselves as a competitive unit over the years. However, following their surprise victory at the World T20 last year, they are seen as having an outside chance of pulling off another surprise. As a team containing some of the best boundary hitters, the West Indies have the potential to go big, it just depends on whether they manage to produce their aggressive, impactful brand of cricket on a consistent basis throughout the tournament.
While primarily this tournament is showcasing an exciting new era of the women’s game in order to convince sponsors that the game is relevant and potentially lucrative, it is also introducing much more money and technology into the women’s competition. The prize money for winning has increased tenfold since 2013, from $200,000 to $2 million, and the event will also see a huge increase in the amount of media used. Every game has been made available to watch live, with 10 being televised, and the Decision Review System is being used for the first time in the women’s game. This, combined with the cheap ticket prices. should act as the catalyst that engages young women and girls with the sport. As the long term goal for the women’s game is to reach equal prize money across genders, a great increase in participation would give the impression to sponsors that it is an up and coming sport, convincing them that it could turn into a profitable investment consequently bringing it to par with the men’s game.