London: Reigning champions Australia will be the team to beat when the 11th edition of the Women's World Cup gets under way in England.
Led by Meg Lanning, one of the most outstanding batters in the women's game today, Australia will be looking to win their seventh title in a tournament that now features the world's top eight one-day international sides.
Australia swept aside South Africa by 103 runs in a recent warm-up match, while South Africa themselves skittled out the West Indies, the reigning women's World T20 champions, for just 63 in another warm-up game.
Meanwhile England, Australia's perennial rivals in the women's game, needed fewer than 28 overs to reach a meagre target of 131 against another fellow previous World Cup-winner in New Zealand.
Organisers will hope that any rustiness has been chipped away come the start of the tournament proper and that there is a repeat of the excitement generated during last year's women's World T20 in India.
"Our last global (women's) event was won by the West Indies," International Cricket Council chief executive David Richardson told AFP during a conference call.
"I know that it's easier to be more competitive in the T20 format than it is in the 50-over one, but I think this tournament will show the talent that is available out there," the former South Africa wicket-keeper added.
A final at Lord's on 23 July will mark the culmination of 31 matches also played at county grounds in Bristol, Derby, Leicester and Taunton.
All the fixtures will be streamed live, with 10 broadcast on television in another sign of the growing global interest in women's cricket.
Lanning, the only player to have hit 10 centuries in women's ODIs, said that external pressure on Australia was as nothing compared to that generated by her squad as they look to follow up their success in India four years ago.
“We’ve got pressure on ourselves to perform well, we hold ourselves to very high standards and we want to uphold them," she explained.
Meanwhile West Indies captain Stafanie Taylor accepted her team needed a different approach compared to the one that served them so well in T20 cricket.
“When it comes to 50 overs, it’s all about a different mindset. You have to be patient, it’s a longer format, and you do have time.”
Tournament hosts England and India, a team who've enjoyed success in English conditions in recent times, launch the competition in Derby on Saturday.
New Zealand and Sri Lanka meet in Bristol on the same day,with Australia, Pakistan, South Africa and the West Indies all waiting in the wings.
England won the World Cup on the two previous occasions they staged the tournament, triumphing in the inaugural 1973 edition and again in 1993, as well as lifting the trophy in Sydney in 2009.
England, for all their squad are now full-time professionals, have talked down their chances with captain Heather Knight saying the initial target is to get to the semi-finals.
But predecessor Charlotte Edwards, who retired from international duty in 2016, said, "I don't believe for one minute that England feel like getting to the semi-finals will be a success.
"They are more than capable of winning this tournament."
England will be bolstered by the return of talented wicket-keeper/batter Sarah Taylor following a stress-related illness.
Meanwhile India captain Mithali Raj summed up the spirit of defiance in a women's game that wants to be appreciated on its own terms.
Asked by a reporter who her favourite men's cricketer was out of the India and Pakistan teams at a pre-World Cup dinner in London on Thursday, the experienced batsman replied: "Do you ask the same question to a male cricketer? Do you ask them who their favourite female cricketer is?
"I have always been asked who's your favourite cricketer but you should ask them who their favourite female cricketer is," she added.
Updated Date: Jun 24, 2017 16:21:55 IST