Women’s World Cup preview

The Women’s World Cup gets underway soon in India and it’s so close that the organisers have even deigned to finalise the fixtures. The hosts play the West Indies on Thursday to start the tournament and the following day will see the defending champions England play Sri Lanka. The final is set for 17 February.

The format for this tournament is the same as the one four years ago, which is disappointing because it really is a poor one. The tournament starts with two groups of four and the top three from each carry their points forward to a Super Six stage. The top two teams from the Super Six stage then play each other in the final whilst the third and fourth teams and fifth and sixth teams, instead of just keeping their places from the group, also have a playoff. I never like having two group stages and I really don’t like having the top two teams in a group play each other for the final. I accept the need for a final, but that means there needs to be either an extended set of knockouts or more than one group. If there is only one table then position in that table should determine where a particular team finishes. (I have a similar gripe about the rugby Premiership.)

It is difficult to have only eight teams play a decent length tournament (though there are other teams who could have been invited and thus eased this problem), but there are ways to construct the tournament better without making it absurdly short and even ways to construct it without making it absurdly long. The obvious solution would be to have the teams from the two groups play knockouts against each other. The various permutations of this can lead to a tournament of almost any length and one that would actually make some sense.

But the format is what it is and the ones that were used for the 2012 T20 World Cups or any of the last few Men’s World Cups would suggest that this problem isn’t about to get better. Group A is England’s group and they share it with India, the West Indies and Sri Lanka. Group B then contains Australia, Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand.

I would expect England and India to compete for the top spot in Group A. England have the better record and are probably the better team, but India might just be favourites as they are at home. England had to work hard to beat India in the ODI series in England last summer and it won’t be easy now. But they should both get through the group comfortably; the only question is who will carry forward the more points. I would expect the last spot in the Super Six to go to the West Indies. They actually have the most wins in ODIs in the last two years with 13 (though a worse W/L ratio than England and Australia) and should not have a problem finishing ahead of Sri Lanka. I would imagine they would finish third, but playing at home a year ago they did beat India 2-1 in a three match series, so might push for second.

Group B looks like the weaker of the two groups and should see Australia dominate. They are an excellent side and their biggest opposition is probably New Zealand – a side against whom they have had great success recently. Pakistan do have a winning record recently and are in relatively familiar conditions, but their preparation was badly disrupted and they have not done well against stronger opposition. South Africa are probably favourites to be knocked out of Group B (certainly they are according to the seeding), but they’ve competed a bit more recently and I think they can get through at Pakistan’s expense. I’d be surprised if either challenge even New Zealand though; the White Ferns are a better side than their record indicates. (Playing Australia and England all the time isn’t a recipe for a lot of wins.)

New Zealand, India, South Africa and the West Indies will all have uphill battles to challenge for a spot in the final though; realistically one of them will have to at the very least beat England or Australia and even then would have to win most of their other matches. New Zealand and India are probably the two most likely contenders, but I expect them to play each other for third place as England and Australia meet in another final. Australia have generally had the better of these encounters recently, including grabbing the T20 World Cup almost out from under England’s nose. The two teams will meet in the Super Six stage as well (which will be true of whichever two teams end up in the final) so there will be a chance to assess them head-to-head during the tournament and in these situations the winner is often the side who make the better adjustments. Right now though, I would say Australia are favourites against any opposition in the final. They are playing very well and have a lot of depth and my guess is a second close defeat in a final for England.

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