Stage set for Women's showpiece
Colombo, Sri Lanka - It is hard to imagine an ICC event in the sub-continent with none of the Asian sides making it through to the semi-finals, but that is exactly what has happened at the ICC Women's World Twenty20 2012.
In the previous editions in 2009 and 2010, India was the sole Asian representative in the last four, but this time it became the only side to lose all its group stage matches. Sri Lanka and Pakistan did have some bright moments with upsets of West Indies and India respectively, but none of them were serious semi-final contenders.
Three of the four teams that qualified - England, Australia and New Zealand - were expected to do so in any case. The fourth, West Indies, also had some strong performances and went through on merit rather than chance. The best team of the group stage was undoubtedly England, which dominated each game it played.
The margin of its victories was further testimony to the fact that match practice is the best preparation for a big tournament. England came to Sri Lanka on the back of two full home series against India and West Indies, and looked a well-oiled side. Everyone performed the role expected of them, led by Charlotte Edwards, the captain.
Edwards and Laura Marsh, the openers, have built an aura around them as an explosive duo, capable of tearing any bowling attack to shreds. They were well backed up by Sarah Taylor, who stepped up when Marsh fell early in a 140-plus chase against Australia, the defending champion. England’s bowling was slightly patchy, but it came through unscathed.
Led by Katherine Brunt, who kept up the pressure in her opening spells, the others chipped in with crucial contributions. Marsh utilised the pressure created by the other bowlers, while Holly Colvin, the lead spinner, helped the team start its campaign in style with a four-wicket haul against Pakistan.
England's dominant top-order batting has meant the middle-order hasn’t had enough time in the middle, but Edwards was confident that the practice each member had put in to get acclimatised to the conditions in Sri Lanka was good enough to get them ready when required. England will play New Zealand in the first semi-final on October 4.
The two teams met in the final of the first ICC Women’s World Twenty20 in 2009 at Lord's, where England beat New Zealand by six wickets. England was knocked out of the group stage in the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 2010 against West Indies, a lesson which Edwards has not forgotten. On form, England looks the team to beat, but Australia too has shown enough depth and resolve.
The defending champion has shown glimpses of dominance, but somehow was not able to build sustained pressure against England, despite defending in excess of 140.
Completing the semi-final line up are New Zealand and West Indies. New Zealand has two superb batters in Suzie Bates, the captain, and Sophie Devine, and added depth in the middle-order in the form of Sarah McGlashan and Frances Mackay.
West Indies will expect a lot from Stafanie Taylor, who has put up a superb all-round show so far, and Deandra Dottin, the exciting young top-order player. Not many will underestimate the ability of Merissa Aguilleira, the West Indies captain and wicket-keeper, either.
Under Sherwin Campbell, the West Indies coach, the team has shown the adaptability factor in the group stages. Despite losing to Sri Lanka in a rain-shortened game, its comprehensive wins against New Zealand and South Africa were good indications of the team’s mindset.