The first standalone edition of the ICC Women's World T20, starting on 9 November 2018, promises to be a landmark tournament.
Walk around looking for a taxi on a sunny afternoon in St John’s, Antigua, and you chance upon the operation run by Gravy, the original West Indies super-fan – lanky, bearded and entertaining, as ever. Not far is a sign for Sir Viv Richards Street. Move to Georgetown, Guyana, and you are directed to Chanderpaul Drive and Clive Lloyd Drive. Curtly Ambrose is still popular on T-shirts, as are team jerseys from the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 – India’s memories of that one might be fraying, but their jerseys have lasted.
The signs that the Caribbean has a special place for cricket are everywhere. There is the history and tradition of the sport everywhere – and now, there’s a new tournament that is looking to leave its legacy here.
The ICC Women’s World T20 begins with a triple-header on 9 November at Providence Stadium in Guyana. When India and New Zealand play that first match at 11am local time, it will mark the start of a new era or sorts.
It will mark the start of the first standalone ICC Women’s World T20, stepping out of the shadow of the men’s game. It will be the first global women’s tournament with all matches broadcast and with DRS in all games.
It is the first since rule changes and new attitudes have seen scoring rates shoot up. Where until last August there were only three T20I hundreds, there have been six since then. ‘Fearless’ cricket is more than just a buzzword – it’s the only way many of these women play the sport.
Conditions in the West Indies mean that we may not see too many tall totals – although St Lucia, the venue for most of the Group A games, is seen as a batting-friendly pitch. Spinners will play a big role, and understand the pitch and the ground conditions like wind will be vital before going on the attack.
With its stunning beaches, relaxed life and a party never far away, the Caribbean can offer several distractions. But these elite cricketers have shown they know when to turn away from the beat of the steel drums and focus on bat and ball.
In the lead up to the tournament, they have been engaging with fans, inspiring the next generation and being fantastic ambassadors of the game. They might have just finished a 40-hour journey, but that won't stop them from conducting a sing-along to the tournament song or completing their professional media commitments, all with a smile while letting their personalities shine through.
There are students and working professionals and career sportspersons in the 10 teams, veterans who’ve seen the game change and youngsters who’ve come in when it’s ready to take off, all keen to entertain spectators and be there for the final at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Ground in Antigua.
Australia are perhaps the favourites to add the trophy to their three existing ones. They’re very aware that they currently hold no world title, and it’s something they quickly want to remedy. They bat deep, but as impressive as their ability to begin with a bang is the flexibility to adapt, to stick in, adapt and play with “no ego”, as their captain Meg Lanning put it.
England are eyeing a double after their ICC Women’s World Cup title last year. With three of the six T20I hundreds coming off their bats since that 50-over World Cup, and having recently posted a record T20 total of 250/3, they have the firepower to get their first win since the inaugural tournament at home in 2009.
Defending champions Windies are in Group A, the same side of the draw as England, and have raised their game in front of home crowds. They want to be the first team since 2009 to win the tournament at home. South Africa have the most experience of Caribbean conditions, having played here in September-October. Their form in the warm-up matches has been a concern, and their spin stocks on favourable conditions look thin, but they’ll be hoping they can peak at the right time.
Sri Lanka and Bangladesh round up the group, with both Asian teams coming into the tournament confident in their form and preparation to push the higher-ranked sides.
In Group B, India, Pakistan and New Zealand will look to challenge Australia, with Ireland keen to cause a few upsets.
India, runners-up in the 50-over World Cup last year, have included a host of youngsters who play a brand of positive cricket. For the White Ferns, it’s been a case of so-near-yet-so-far in the tournaments over the years, and will hope that they can pull it off under new captain Amy Satterthwaite. Pakistan have the spin attack to rival the best of them, as the warm-up games have shown. Now it’s a matter of doing it on the day.
The ICC Women's World Cup 2017 gave the women's sport a massive boost and won new followers. As per the ICC's survey after the tournament, 70% of people wanted to watch more women's sport, and 39% of fans were women and girls. A strong showing in this World T20 is the chance to add to those numbers and take the game to a new level.