Day 1 – Saturday (June 24)
England Women v India Women in Derby
New Zealand Women v Sri Lanka Women in Bristol
Match in focus
‘Tickets sold out’ is a phrase that has been liberally thrown around to promote the televised clash between India and England, which will kick off the 11th edition of the Women’s World Cup. Heather Knight, the England captain, said it would make for an “interesting day” to have supporters from both teams turning up at the ground. Mithali Raj, the India captain, stressed how she had asked the youngsters in the team to “just be yourself, enjoy the atmosphere because women’s cricket is only going to climb up in the future.”
There is, however, a catch to the phrase. The official capacity of the County Ground in Derby is 9500, but it is understood that tickets for only certain sections of the venue – a rough estimate of 3000 – were put out for sale. Even a 30% turnout is huge, considering how many women’s games get played in front of empty stands.
England, having finished second on the Women’s Championship table and won six of their nine World Cup games against India, start as favourites, but they will be without Laura Winfield, their regular opener who injured her wrist. Mark Robinson, the head coach, confirmed that Winfield had undergone a scan and would visit a hand specialist ahead of their second game against Pakistan.
India, on the other hand, almost spelt it out that they would be strengthening their batting in a bid to put up a 250-plus score on the board against a strong English bowling outfit.
England beat Windies and India in the unofficial practice games, before beating Sri Lanka and New Zealand in the official warm-up matches organised by the International Cricket Council. In their last game against New Zealand at the same venue, they dismissed the opposition for 130 in 38.3 overs before winning by seven wickets with plenty to spare.
India lost to New Zealand, but then got the better of Windies. Both the camps felt that the pitch would be true. That’s what everyone would be expecting in the biggest women’s event so far, where the prize money has been boosted to US $2 million.
England will be without Winfield, who has been a big influence in their new brand of attacking cricket, but they did not reveal who would be partnering Tammy Beaumont at the top.
India will most certainly play the extra batter, which would mean a comeback for Smriti Mandhana, who will return to competitive cricket for the first time since injuring her knee during the Women’s Big Bash League in January this season.
Player in focus
Sarah Taylor: One of the pioneers of the sport, Taylor took a break from the game last year to undergo Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. She has not played international cricket since the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 2016 in India. Since her comeback, Taylor has spoken extensively about how she overcame the challenges of anxiety, and the game against India offers her a good chance to test herself at the international level once again. She eased herself into World Cup mode with an unbeaten 49 and three catches behind the stumps in the opening warm-up game against Sri Lanka.
Smriti Mandhana: Mandhana got back to full fitness only earlier this month, but has looked in good touch so far, having made 44 against Sri Lanka. The rise of Deepti Sharma in recent times means that the team management would have to take a call on whether to use Poonam Raut or Mandhana as the second opener. If Mandhana, who not long ago India’s first choice at the top, comes at No. 3, it would push Raj to No. 4, and that would add some much-needed depth to the line-up.
What they said
Heather Knight (on the difference between playing a bilateral series and a world event): Obviously very different. All the countries are here. In a series, you have to time to get in and there is a battle against certain players. Here you are playing different teams and at lots of different venues. You want to build your momentum as the tournament goes on. It happens very fast. You want to hit form early as things move on very fast in these kinds of series. Either way, cricket is cricket, we are really excited to get down to Saturday and kick off our World Cup campaign.
Mark Robinson (on the changes he has advocated in the team over the last year): There is always pressure if you want to win. But we made changes for the long run, because we felt with what was happening we are going to win. We made changes for that. Whether the team has had enough time, we will see in three-four weeks. All I know is that they are committed. They have worked tremendously hard. We are all excited. We don’t know what we can achieve. We are excited by the possibility of what is in front of us. All we can do is embrace everything, all emotion that goes on. We are not worried about pressure; we are worried about the long things.
Mithali Raj (on the expectations from the pitch): In England, the same ground has different wickets that play differently. Can’t predict that much. They are giving a fresh wicket for the game tomorrow. It will be a sporting wicket for batters and bowlers. Initially, it might be different, (the score) might be around 250. If they are giving us a fresh wicket, there will be something in it for the bowlers, so there will be a challenge for the batters. As the tournament progresses in the venues, we will start getting some used wickets. So that is probably the time, at the end of the tournament, you will see big totals.”
Number in focus
1 – England are a win away from recording their 50th World Cup victory. They have so far won 49 of their 74 games across ten editions. They are currently second on the list behind Australia with 64 wins, and ahead of New Zealand with 48 wins. With two ties and one no-result, England’s win percentage is 68.49.
England: Heather Knight (capt), Tammy Beaumont, Sarah Taylor (wk), Katherine Brunt, Georgia Elwiss, Jenny Gunn, Alex Hartley, Danielle Hazell, Beth Langston, Laura Marsh, Natalie Sciver, Anya Shrubsole, Fran Wilson, Danielle Wyatt, Laura Winfield.
India: Mithali Raj (capt), Ekta Bisht, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Jhulan Goswami, Mansi Joshi, Harmanpreet Kaur, Veda Krishnamurthy, Smriti Mandhana, Mona Meshram, Nuzhat Parween, Shikha Pandey, Poonam Raut, Deepti Sharma, Sushma Verma, Poonam Yadav.