The countdown clock in the centre of Christchurch has ticked down to less than one day until the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2022 officially begins.
Once the minutes reach zero, England’s grip on the World Cup trophy will loosen as seven teams challenge them for the title – with world No1 Australia leading the way.
2017 champions England are third in the world rankings and have to put a winless Ashes series behind them as they take on the old enemy in their first match of the World Cup on Saturday at 1am GMT.
England captain Heather Knight and her opposite number Meg Lanning have been trading quips at press conferences on which team is the favourite, but on Saturday one side could take a large step to proving the other right.
The eight teams play each other once to decide the make-up of the semi-finals and India, South Africa and hosts New Zealand are hot on their tails as they look to become the first team since the Kiwis back in 2000 to knock Australia or England off the top spot at an ODI World Cup.
New Zealand, led by captain Sophie Devine’s imperious 161 not out, defeated Australia by nine wickets in their final warm-up match showing that the Southern Stars can be defeated, even if they have only lost one ODI in their past 30.
The Australian camp have also been rocked by the positive Covid test for 2022 Belinda Clark medalist Ashleigh Gardner who will miss at least the first two matches of the tournament.
The day after six-time champions Australia and England battle it out in Hamilton the eyes of the world will turn to Tauranga where India play Pakistan, with both searching for a first World Cup title.
India have reached the final twice having done so in 2005 and 2017 and victory would, for many, make it impossible to no longer have a women’s Indian Premier League.
Pakistan have finished bottom in all but one of the four World Cups they have appeared in, a high-point their fifth place at the 2009 edition.
Their side is in transition but with victory over New Zealand in the warm-up games, Pakistan show that anything is possible in what could be the most unpredictable World Cup ever.
And New Zealand open the whole tournament taking on the losing finalists from 2013, the West Indies, a team that encapsulates both youth and experience.
Anisa Mohammed will play in her fifth World Cup as captain Stafanie Taylor and Deandra Dottin once again feature in maroon, but they also have newbies including Aaliyah Alleyne and Cherry-Ann Fraser, two of five potential World Cup debutants.
Saturday’s early game of the opening weekend sees South Africa take on Bangladesh with the latter appearing in their first-ever World Cup, the 15th side to feature at the one-day tournament which has reached its 12th edition.
Bangladesh are not here to make up the numbers, as the No6 side in the world they will be hoping to make an impression and are yet to play Australia, England and New Zealand in ODIs so also have the element of surprise.
South Africa arrive in New Zealand in impressive form having won their recent series against West Indies while their players continue to light up domestic leagues around the world.
They are ranked second in the world and face India in the final game of the round-robin stage, a match that could decide the make-up of the semi-finals.
Between now and the final, dreams will come true, stars will be made and surprises will be sprung as the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2022 takes New Zealand and the world by storm.
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