NEW DELHI, MARCH 14 : Three-time defending champion Australia will look to put aside recent setbacks as they seek to win a fourth successive ICC Women’s World Twenty20 title when the wide open fifth edition starts on March 15.
In the tournament opener, which will be produce live by ICC TV, hosts India will square-off against Bangladesh in Bengaluru in an afternoon match starting at 3.30 p.m. This match will be followed by an evening match starting at 7.30 in Delhi when two-time finalist New Zealand will take on Sri Lanka.
Australia women have won the last three tournaments in 2010, 2012 and 2014 after England clinched the inaugural event at home in 2009.
But Australia, which won a record 16 T20I in a row between March 2014 and August 2015, is coming off a nightmarish run in recent months that has seen Meg Lanning’s side lose four of its last six matches.
Australia have been drawn alongside Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka in Group A of the preliminary league in the 10-nation event. The other group comprises Bangladesh, England, India, Pakistan and West Indies, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the semi-finals.
The women’s semi-finals on March 30 and 31 and the final on 3 April will be played in the lead up to the men’s matches on the same day and at the same venues.
For the first time in the history of this competition, ICC TV will produce live broadcast coverage of 13 women’s matches, which, in turn will be carried around the world by ICC’s Global Broadcast Partner Star Sports and other broadcast partners.
In the four ICC Women’s World Twenty20 tournaments so far, only the semifinals and final were broadcast live. In what will be a massive boost to women’s cricket and exposure to the women’s event, there will be live coverage of 10 out of 22 group matches in addition to the two semifinals and the final.
This expanded coverage is in line with ICC’s strategic plan to further promote and publicise women’s cricket, which continues to scale new heights globally.
Lanning admitted it will not be easy for Australia to retain the title in what she said was the “tightest ICC Women’s World Twenty20 we have ever had.”
“Everyone starts on an even keel heading into the tournament,” she said. “We’re out to win it just like every team is. Any number of teams can win it, it just comes down to who gets used to the conditions and plays well.
“It’s good for the women’s game that so many teams are in contention and whoever wins it will certainly play some great cricket.”
Only three sides – Australia, England and New Zealand – have appeared in an ICC Women’s World Twenty20 final, but the emergence of India and South Africa as serious contenders has spiced up the race.
Mithali Raj’s India stunned Australia 2-1 Down Under in January, while South Africa claimed its first-ever T20 win over England last month.
England will once again be captained by veteran batter Charlotte Edwards, who also led the side in the four previous editions, winning the title in 2009 and ending runners-up to Australia in 2012 and 2014.
“I wouldn’t still be playing if I didn’t have that buzz and excitement about playing in a world event,” said the 36-year-old Edwards, now in her 20th year in international cricket.
“It feels incredibly exciting. The game has moved forward massively in the last two years, so I expect this tournament to be as close as it has ever been in women’s cricket.”
England goes into the tournament fresh from a 2-1 series win in South Africa, during which Sarah Taylor became only the second woman after her captain to reach the 2,000-run landmark in T20Is.
India, semi-finalists in the first two editions, will look to make up for an early exit in 2012 and 2014 with a dominant performance on home pitches.
“With the kind of momentum we have, we should, at least, qualify for the semi-finals. From there, it’s anyone’s game,” the experienced Mithali said.
Mithali said other teams had broken Australia and England’s stranglehold on the women’s game.
“Earlier, it used to feel like those two teams were way ahead of the rest, but now the gap is closing,” she said. “After our last two series wins, we too are strong contenders for the ICC World Twenty20.”
The following is the schedule of women’s broadcast matches:
March 15 – India v Bangladesh, Bengaluru (1530) Group B.
March 17– England v Bangladesh, Bengaluru (1530) Group B.
March 19– India v Pakistan, Delhi (1530), Group B.
March 21 – Australia v New Zealand, Nagpur (1530) Group A.
March 22– England v India, Dharamsala (1530), Group B.
March 24– Australia v Sri Lanka, Delhi (1530), Group A; Pakistan v Bangladesh, Delhi (1930) Group B.
March 26– Australia v Ireland, Delhi (1530), Group A.
March 27– West Indies v India, Mohali (1530), Group B.
March 28– South Africa v Sri Lanka, Bengaluru (1530), Group A.
March 30– First semi-final, Delhi (1430).
March 31– Second semi-final, Mumbai (1430).