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Counting chickens: Have we put undue World Cup pressure on the Aussie women?

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Expert
17th February, 2020
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On March 8, the MCG will host the final of the T20 Women’s World Cup and to the uninitiated, Meg Lanning’s Australian side have already qualified.

While the Aussie women have been unrivalled in the last 12 months, few thought they could progress to the tournament’s showpiece before it had even started, but the Victorian government recently revealed they had.

“The Women’s T20 World Cup final at the MCG will be one of the great sporting events of 2020,” sports minister Martin Pakula said in yet another press release promoting the occasion, which they continue to tell us will feature Katy Perry. In fact, “Perry impressive” headed the release. Ahem.

“The prospect of watching Ellyse Perry and co. take on the best from around the world is tantalising, and I encourage everyone to take the opportunity to come out and watch them play.”

Watch them play. Perry and co. The Aussies will be there, will you? That’s the premise of promo material doing the rounds.

Except they might not be there. The government, who certainly aren’t alone in pushing a presumptive narrative, want the world record attendance of 90,185 for a women’s sporting event to be broken on an occasion that neatly aligns with International Women’s Day. But of course, the only chance of this occurring is if Australia qualifies.

Jess Jonassen and Australia

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

But that’s no fait accompli. Lanning’s side have shown in the last fortnight that, despite narrowly claiming tri-series success against India and England, they are a side with vulnerabilities.

Having lost just three times in their last 26 T20Is pre-series, the Aussies lost to both India and England during the series, and scraped by in other games with some lacklustre performances.

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This is not to scoff at the narrow victories because Lanning’s side walked away with trophy in hand after all. But the chicken-counting by stakeholders who have already penned in the Aussies on March 8 is not only unfair to the players, but overtly presumptuous. This is still a knockout tournament.

And when the pressure is on, it’s far from a guarantee they’ll be there on March 8, no matter how hard a #FillTheMCG hashtag is pushed, or how short the bookies deem them. A final without the hosts is not in the script, and the players know it.

Despite this, they tell us they are embracing the pressure.

“It’s all part and parcel of representing your country in big events on home soil,” wicketkeeper Alyssa Healy said last month.

“The more we talk about it and embrace it the less nervous and the less anxious everyone will be.

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“There is a lot of added pressure to be there on March 8 at the MCG. As a group we’re embracing [the pressure] and the support. The group will feel that and we will play our best cricket.”

While there’s little reason to doubt Healy believes this, her mindset might not reflect the entire playing group’s. In front of the cameras – which have increased exponentially compared to the last time Australia hosted a women’s international cricket tournament in 2009 – Lanning and her side will naturally say the right things about how the pressure won’t impact them.

But the truth is, they can’t truly prepare for it. And that’s because they’ve never been in this position before: as defending champions, world number one, unbackable favourites and, crucially, hosts.

The form of their three star batters has been patchy in the lead-in to Friday’s opener against India. None of Lanning, Perry and Healy passed 50 in the tri-series. Healy, who has been brutally dominant for most of the last year, has scored just 15 runs in the last five innings. Beth Mooney, by contrast, enters the tournament in sharp touch.

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With the ball, the Aussies were more impressive during the tri-series, but coach Matthew Mott has said he is still yet to settle on his combination of quicks and spinners.

His side, of course, enter the clash against India as strong favourites, much like the rest of the tournament. Should they play to their ability few doubt they will go all the way, but the way hope for success has been misplaced for an expectation of it is unfair and diminishes both other teams and the precarious nature of knockout tournaments.