The Australian women’s cricket team has been one of the most dominant forces in the game in recent years. Led by Meg Lanning, the defending champions, who are the overwhelming favourites, have the undivided attention of the home support in their tilt for a fifth title.
The squad has the wherewithal to outclass each of the nine oppositions, but the pressures of a World Cup on home turf presents a different challenge altogether.
The high standards of the Women’s Big Bash League has had such a positive effect on Lanning’s side that it is difficult to look beyond one of the potential finalists.
Sustained investments have also helped build on the expectation that Lanning will lead her side out in the final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on March 8 on International Women’s Day, making it a watershed moment for women’s cricket in Australia.
Only once, in 2009, since the inception of the T20 World Cup (erstwhile World Twenty20) was Australia not part of the summit clash.
In their backyard, for the first time in the history of the tournament, one expects Australia to come out all guns blazing, especially considering that their most celebrated moments have been away from home.
Ellyse Perry, Meg Lanning, Alyssa Healy and Megan Schutt from the Australian camp are all household names and the spotlight will be focused heavily on the stalwarts.
Along with Perry, probably the biggest star in the game currently, Lanning and Healy bring to the table some serious firepower.
Backing them up are the oft over-looked duo of an in-form Beth Mooney and Ashleigh Gardner making up a very powerful looking batting unit. The power-hitters however have been out of form in recent weeks but do have the ability to turn it around without batting an eyelid.
Unfortunately, days before the hosts begin their campaign against India (Friday, February 21), pace ace Tayla Vlaeminck has been ruled out due to a stress fracture which puts more pressure on what is a bowling attack with a lot of variety.
Delissa Kimmince, Nicola Carey, Schutt, Perry and Jess Jonassen have shown that they are more than capable of shouldering responsibility.
Lanning and Australia have had to rush in off-spinner Molly Strano to replace the fast and furious 21-year-old Vlaeminck, who would undoubtedly have enjoyed the helpful conditions. Strano may not be one of those from the bandwagon of superstars but is the highest wicket-taker in the Women’s Big Bash with 96 scalps to her name.
While the skipper would rather think of the side as far from flawless, Australia’s preparations for the marquee tournament has been well rounded.
Lanning and co were swatting away sides with nonchalant ease last year but both England and India, expected to do well at the World Cup, pushed them out of their comfort zones in the tri-series as did the South Africans in the warm-up game.
“It’s been the perfect preparation, I don’t think we could have asked for much more,” Lanning said on Tuesday.
“We’ve come up against three really good sides now and they’re all very different. That’s been the biggest thing for us, being able to adapt to the different teams.”
“To be put under pressure like this heading into a World Cup is extremely good preparation,” Lanning insisted.
Lanning’s team was voted the side to beat by six of the nine opposing captains and the squad is more than aware of the weight of expectations.
“There will be stages where every player feels pressure,” said vice-captain Rachael Haynes.
“No doubt there will be some nerves but I’m confident our team will come through.”
Australia, both the men and women, are known step up their game in ICC tournaments. It is highly unlikely that Lanning, who generally leads the way when the game is on the line, will want to alter that trend.
Squad: Meg Lanning (c), Rachael Haynes (vc), Erin Burns, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Delissa Kimmince, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland, Molly Strano, Georgia Wareham