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ICC Women’s World Cup primed to shine a spotlight on countries gunning for glory

ICC Women’s World Cup primed to shine a spotlight on countries gunning for glory
Raisibe Ntozakhe of South Africa celebrates her dismissal of Kycia Knight of the West Indies with her teammates during the 3rd One-Day International match between South Africa and West Indies at Imperial Wanderers Stadium on 3 February 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi / Gallo Images)

Eight teams, six cities, 31 matches, one champion – a thrilling tournament is upon us.

Two years on from a milestone-setting T20 Women’s World Cup, the world’s best female cricketers are set to light up New Zealand during the women’s 50-over World Cup.

The tournament begins on Friday, 4 March, with hosts New Zealand and West Indies keen to provide an appetiser for what the month-long cricket extravaganza will have to offer.

The World Cup of the shortest version in international cricket, hosted and won by the dominant Australia in 2020, was a demonstration of how the women’s game – backed by increasing corporate support and media coverage – has grown in leaps and bounds since its earnest beginnings in 1973, two years before the men’s equivalent.

The pre-Covid T20 World Cup broke numerous records, including an increase in the number of people who took time out to watch these athletes strut their stuff.

Some of the milestones reached Down Under in 2020 include the record for the highest attendance at a women’s cricket match, when 86,174 spectators flocked to the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch the hosts sweep past India and claim the T20 crown.

That final crowd was also the second highest recorded attendance for any women’s sporting event anywhere in the world, falling marginally short of the record set during the 1999 Fifa Women’s World Cup final between the US and China – which was played in front of more than 90,000 people in Pasadena, California.    

Of course, soon after the T20 World Cup in March 2020, the globe was plunged into disarray when Covid-19 forced countries to shut down. As a result, two years later women’s cricket has been unable to reap the rewards laid during that exhilarating tournament.

Covid-19 looms

Even this upcoming 50-over World Cup was affected, much like many other major sports events over the last two years. The global showpiece takes place just over a year from when it was originally scheduled to begin, after being postponed because of the coronavirus.

Even with the spectacle now only days away, the dark Covid-19 cloud still hovers menacingly over it. New Zealand is currently gripped by an Omicron outbreak and cases are rising rapidly.

Despite these developments, the tournament is set to proceed as planned, with matches to be played in various cities across the country. The outbreak will affect the initially anticipated attendance numbers.

About 65,000 tickets were sold. However, with Omicron afoot in the country, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has confirmed that it will have to restrict the number of people present at the matches in order to comply with the strict restrictions of “level red” of the Oceania country’s national lockdown system. Some spectators have already been refunded.

“We’re committed to bringing it to as many people as we can, under the public health guidelines and keeping safe,” the tournament’s chief executive Andrea Nelson told Radio New Zealand.  

“At the moment, those are pods of 100. Like everyone else, we’re working through the details of what that means.”

The contenders

In New Zealand, South Africa’s Proteas women are one of eight countries gunning for glory – alongside favourites Australia, defending champions England and hosts New Zealand, as well as India, Pakistan, 2013 runners-up West Indies and debutants Bangladesh. Each team will play against the other in a round-robin format. The top four teams will qualify for the semifinals.

Despite having promised so much in the lead-up to recent World Cup tournaments, the highest finish the Proteas have managed at the 50-over showcase came when they reached the semifinals in 2000 and 2017.

Hilton Moreeng’s side is without its trusted leader Dane van Niekerk. The experienced all-rounder fractured her ankle when she slipped on a wet surface at home. Suné Luus has replaced her as skipper and says the team is hungry for success after also falling just short of a final berth at the 2020 T20 World Cup.

“In the past, we have always been seen as the underdogs, but I think we have shown in the past few years that we are a team to be reckoned with,” Luus said. “We have shown consistent performances in difficult countries, like India and the West Indies.

“We as a team also had a great T20 World Cup two years ago in Australia and turned some heads. I hope that we do the same this year, and hopefully reach that final that we’ve been missing out on, on three different occasions,” the skipper added.

In spite of Van Niekerk’s absence, the team won’t be short of leaders and quality in New Zealand. They boast belligerent openers Lizelle Lee and Laura Wolvaardt. They also have experienced fast bowling duo Shabnim Ismail and Ayabonga Khaka to call upon, as well one of the best all-rounders in the world in Marizanne Kapp.

Australia, who are ranked first in the world and have won this title a record six times, come in as hot favourites.

In 2017, they cruised to the semifinals before being thumped by India and denied the opportunity of playing in a second consecutive World Cup final. According to the team’s captain, they are primed to exorcise the demons of that disappointment of five years ago.

“A lot of our players were involved in that 2017 World Cup, which didn’t quite end the way we would have liked and I think, since then, we’ve changed the way we approach and play our cricket and are a lot more positive and willing to take a few more risks and I think that suited our game style,” said Aussie captain Meg Lanning.  

There is also England, who hosted and won the first edition of the cricket World Cup. The English are the reigning champions, but were recently whitewashed by Australia during a three-match one-day international (ODI) series.

New Zealand, the only other nation besides Australia and England to have lifted the World Cup, are also keen to replicate the success that had them crowned world champions 22 years ago. Home ground advantage will boost their self-belief.

India are unpredictable. Though they have been in inconsistent form over the past few months, they possess players such as Mithali Raj and Smriti Mandhana, who can be a handful on their day. The same can be said for West Indies, who pushed the Proteas women to the limit in a recent series.

Show us the money

Meanwhile, the ICC announced a few weeks ago that the winners of the 2022 World Cup will win $1.32-million in prize money, double the amount awarded to the 2017 victors.

The overall prize money pot has increased by 75% with the eight teams taking home a share of $3.5-million, $1.5-million more than the 2017 edition. The runners-up of the tournament will earn $600,000 – an increase of $270,000 from when India finished runners-up to England last time.

Despite these massive boosts, the prize money is still less than half of what the men’s teams took home from the Cricket World Cup in 2019. There was a $10-million total prize pool for that, and $4-million for the winners. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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