This Friday, Australia opens the Women’s Twenty20 World Cup with a match against India.
The opener pits Australia — the favourite and defending champion — against one of the teams best equipped to ruin local hopes.
But it’s just one of 23 fixtures stretching to the final on March 8 that will determine the world’s slickest T20 side.
Ahead of the tournament, here’s six things to watch out for.
Australia is reigning champion, a four-time winner and host of the tournament.
The best T20 player in the world? Alyssa Healy, Australia.
The best overall player? Ellyse Perry. Again, Australia.
It’s not a bad resume, and as recently as last month Australia was as dominant as any nation has ever been in Twenty20.
But as expectation mounts, nerves are not helped by a recent wobble.
Australia’s five most recent games have been against major rivals England and India — opponent in the first World Cup match — and have included two defeats.
“I think if we got smashed it would be a different conversation, but we’ve only just lost those games,” Ashleigh Gardner said after last week’s defeat to India.
“It’s a good learning curve.”
Alyssa Healy’s form
In October, Alyssa Healy smashed 148 not out from 68 balls against Sri Lanka, a record for the highest score in women’s Twenty20 cricket.
But in the five matches Australia played in February, her highest score was 9.
Australian captain Meg Lanning is confident the ICC’s Twenty 20 player of the year for 2019 can rediscover her touch.
“I, along with the rest of the team, are half expecting [Healy] to come out and whack it around in the first World Cup game,” Lanning said.
“I’m sure every bowler in the world is nervous about bowling to her because she’s definitely due. She’s fine. You go through patches in your career when you don’t make runs … we’re not too worried.”
How new no-ball rule will work
The ability of umpires to call no-balls in the traditional way came under the microscope in November when 21 were missed in just two sessions in a men’s Test between Pakistan and Australia.
In December, the ICC trialled a video-assisted approach, long mooted, in a men’s T20 series between India and West Indies.
And now the Women’s T20 World Cup will be the first major tournament to require the third umpire, using cameras in line with the creases, to determine whether a bowler has overstepped.
While it’s likely to reduce the number of confusing ‘is she or isn’t she’ dismissal moments, it’s less clear about whether it will have an impact on bowlers’ approaches.
In the three men’s matches between India and the West Indies trialling the technology, there were seven no-balls all up, four from West Indian bowler Kesrick Williams.
The no-ball call is delivered to on-field umpires several seconds after the ball is bowled.
@jacksongs: Front-foot no-balls will be called by the third umpire using video in the Women’s T20 World Cup starting next week. Based on this trial in December, it looks like the call won’t be quick enough for batters to manage who gets on strike for the free hit.
How fast can they score?
Coming into 2018, Australia’s male Twenty20 team scored around two runs more per over on average than the women’s team. That gap had hovered between one and two runs for most of the past decade.
But since 2018, the disparity has disappeared.
In 2017, a rule change meant the maximum number of fielders allowed outside the circle during non-powerplay overs was also reduced from five to four.
Plus, female cricketers are no longer forced to be part-time athletes. A 2017 deal saw the minimum pay for an Australian player increase from $40,000 per year to approximately double that today.
Strap in for some batting pyrotechnics early in the tournament.
Australia topped 150 in its last two matches against India, its first opponent.
Second up is Sri Lanka, against which Australia averaged more than 10 runs an over in a series last year.
And third is Bangladesh, which came through the qualifiers and has never played Australia.
Perry’s career record is immense.
She averages more than 50 in one-dayers and has scored a Test match double century, all the while being the spearhead of Australia’s bowling attack.
But in the Twenty20 arena, the brilliance of her team-mates higher up the order has meant her batting has been called upon less frequently.
She has taken guard just 69 times in 116 T20 internationals, facing not many more than 1,100 balls.
That brings others into the debate for the world’s best Twenty20 all-rounder.
Kiwi Sophie Devine is fresh from a spectacular Women’s BBL season for Adelaide. She topped the table of run scorers, accruing 769 runs at an average of 77, with a strike rate of 130.
Since then she has continued her run of form, adding three 50s, an unbeaten century and four wickets in just four Twenty 20 internationals at the start of February.
New Zealand’s Sophie Devine is familiar with Australian conditions from her experience in the WBBL. (AAP: Steve Christo)
West Indies’ Stafanie Taylor won the player of the 2016 World Cup as her nation beat Australia in the final. She has since said that experience was the highlight of her career and something she wanted to replicate in 2020.
“I will head to Australia with 100 caps in T20I cricket which is something I am very proud of. It’s a great feeling to have been chosen to represent West Indies and to do so for such a long time,” she wrote in a column this week.
“Whether with bat or ball, or as my role as captain, it’s always a great feeling to know that my contribution helps the team.”
Is Sutherland the next big thing?
Annabel Sutherland enjoyed a debut to remember against England two weeks ago.
The 18-year-old blitzed 22 lower order runs to reel in England’s tally and force a super over.
18-year-old Annabel Sutherland was a surprise inclusion in the Australian squad. (AAP: Michael Dodge)
Australia may have lost the game, but Sutherland immediately established herself with the bat in her first appearance since her surprise inclusion in the World Cup squad.
But she’s yet to deliver with the ball. Sutherland bowled just five overs across her first three matches at 10 runs per over with just one wicket.
Coach Matthew Mott said the selection of Sutherland was about being fearless.
“The stats don’t necessarily say that she’s blown the competition away, but it’s a selection where we see her being a part of this team for a very long time.
“It’s a great opportunity to get her in and amongst this group.”
Australia plays India at the Sydney Showgrounds on Friday, February 21, at 7pm.
Statistics sourced from the Cricket Archive and ESPN Cricinfo.