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Women’s T20 World Cup to bolster pedestrian international summer

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Expert
30th January, 2020
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Two uncompetitive Test series and an ODI void has made for a strange summer, but the upcoming Women’s T20 World Cup should change that.

While the Big Bash has ticked along nicely despite well-worn discussion about its place in the cricketing fabric, the international cricketing year of 2019-20 has been relatively uneventful.

And that’s okay, by the way. We’ve only just been treated to an incredible World Cup-into-Ashes winter, and the next two summers will feature blue-chip series against India then England. A slight downturn in excitement just enhances the build-up for what’s to come.

There’s little doubting, though, that the Pakistan and especially the New Zealand Test series didn’t live up to the hype. While there was admiration for the brutal efficiency of Justin Langer’s side, as a spectacle it failed to fire.

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To make matters worse, this is the first time in 40-plus years we haven’t seen the men’s side don the green and gold in the summer months at home, plucked away for white-ball series in India and South Africa. The recent fly-in fly-out series at the behest of the BCCI grabbed the attention from those you’d expect – rusted-on cricket fans – but won’t be featuring on pub quizzes going forward.

As such, the upcoming Women’s T20 World Cup looms as the jewel in this summer’s crown. The Aussies have won four of the last five iterations of the tournament (losing the 2016 final to the West Indies), but have never hosted the event. And after a period of outright dominance that’s seen them lose just three of their last 45 matches across all formats, Meg Lanning’s side go in as almost unbackable favourites. As world number ones, defending champions and hosts, there’s significant pressure on them to perform. But it’s pressure they’ve embraced and overcome before.

Jess Jonassen and Australia

(Photo by Will Russell – CA/Cricket Australia/Getty Images )

Talk has already moved towards the possibility that the MCG final could break the highest ever attendance at a women’s sporting event (on the assumption, of course, that the Aussies will be there). Organisers, perhaps ambitiously, have targeted the 90,185 set by the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup final in California.

Even if that figure isn’t surpassed on the March 8 event – which coincides with International Women’s Day – anything in that ballpark would represent a huge shift in popularity in the women’s game. The 2009 Women’s ODI World Cup final at North Sydney Oval, for instance, drew just 2300 fans.

Coach Matthew Mott leads a star-studded team where Lanning, Alyssa Healy and Beth Mooney are all rated top-five T20 batters in the world. In-swing and variation specialist Megan Schutt is number one in the bowling rankings, while the indomitable Ellyse Perry unsurprisingly tops the all-rounders list.

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But it’s the depth in Mott’s squad that perhaps best defines their dominance. Unlike other international sides who rely on the performance of a core group of stars, the Aussies often share the spoils and, importantly in this format, bat deep.

While World Cup preparations have been in full swing for some time, the Australians begin the final push to the tournament with a tri-series against India and England starting tomorrow. They’ll play both teams (the second and third-ranked teams in the world respectively) twice in the next nine days before a final on February 12. From there it’s two warm-up games against the Windies and South Africa before their opening World Cup game on February 21.

“We definitely want to win,” Lanning said on Thursday of the upcoming tri-series, in a characteristically determined tone.

“I’m sure the other two sides would say the same thing. It’s about finding the best form and the right combination.”

The first two matches will be at Canberra’s Manuka Oval, with the following two at the Junction Oval in Melbourne next week.