England aiming to make it a double in Women’s World T20

CAN England’s women hold both World Cups simultaneously and thereby show the men the way as they aim to follow suit in November?

Victory: The Indian team celebrate their win over Australia in the first game of the Women's T20 World Cup in Sydney. Picture: AP Photo/Rick Rycroft
Victory: The Indian team celebrate their win over Australia in the first game of the Women's T20 World Cup in Sydney. Picture: AP Photo/Rick Rycroft

That is the key question as Heather Knight and her players begin their bid for T20 glory in Australia tomorrow.

England take on South Africa in Perth (11am start) bidding to become double world champions after winning the last 50-over World Cup in 2017.

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What a boost it would be for women’s and girls’ cricket in this country if they could do it, as well as a significant inspiration to Eoin Morgan and his men as they look to add the T20 crown to the 50-over trophy they captured last summer.

The captains of the competing teams in the Twenty20 women's World Cup in Australia, (front row, L to R) Thailand's Sornnarin Tippoch, West Indies's Stafanie Taylor, South Africa's Dane van Niekerk, Sri Lanka's Chamari Atapattu, Pakistan's Bismah Maroof and (back row, L to R) India's Harmanpreet Kaur, New Zealand's Sophie Devine, Australia's Meg Lanning, England's Heather Knight, Bangladesh's Salma Khatun pose during a photo Shoot at Taronga Zoo in Sydney (Picture: SAEED KHAN/AFP via Getty Images)

As may well prove the case for Morgan and company, the biggest threat to Knight and her team is probably Australia.

Australia also host the men’s World Cup this autumn and their women are the defending T20 champions – not to mention strong favourites despite their shock 17-run defeat to India in the tournament opener in Sydney yesterday.

Australia, in fact, have won four of the five women’s world T20s since England prevailed at the inaugural event in 2009, a sequence of success interrupted only by West Indies’ defeat of Australia in the final of the 2016 competition in Kolkata.

Australia have already once thwarted England’s bid to become double world champions, romping to an eight-wicket win in the last T20 world final in Antigua in 2018.

As those running the England men’s side have been known to do in recent times, the England women’s hierarchy have turned to an Australian to help them achieve their goals, both short-term and long-term.

In October, Lisa Keightley, a 48-year-old Australian from New South Wales, was appointed the first full-time female head coach of the England women’s side in succession to Mark Robinson, the former Yorkshire pace bowler, who helped mastermind the 50-over success in 2017.

Keightley, one of the greatest female batswomen in Australia’s history, and the first woman to score a century at Lord’s, has been coaching for 15 years, four of them working with the England women academy team.

Like Trevor Bayliss, the former Australian coach of the men’s side, she preaches the virtues of playing with confidence, freedom and trying to be positive at all times; it is unlikely that an England team under her watch will “die wondering”, as the saying goes.

What would success look like for England in the coming weeks?

Perhaps another runners-up finish, given Australia’s strength, which is far from diminished by yesterday’s result, even if the ambition is clearly to go all the way.

It would be remiss to overlook India, the closest challengers to the Ashes rivals, while the likes of New Zealand, South Africa and West Indies could end up having a significant say.

Perhaps best not to put too much money on Thailand, however, the 500-1 outsiders who are determined, first and foremost, to enjoy their first major tournament after coming through qualifying.

England face Thailand in Canberra on Wednesday (4am start) and also play group games against Pakistan in Canberra on Friday (8am start) and the West Indies in Sydney on March 1 (8am start).

The semi-finals take place in Sydney on March 5, after which the International Cricket Council/Cricket Australia are hoping for a record 100,000 crowd for a women’s sporting event for the final at Melbourne on March 8 – which is, appropriately enough, International Women’s Day.

Much will depend on whether Australia make that final (failure to do so would be unthinkable), with the hosts unable to chase 133 in yesterday’s match.

After India’s 132-4 seemed no better than par, Deepti Sharma top-scoring with an unbeaten 49, leg-spinner Poonam Yadav claimed 4-19 to get the competition off to a thrilling start.

“It’s not the way we wanted to start the tournament,” said Australia spinner Jess Jonassen.

“No World Cup goes 100 per cent to plan.

“Hopefully, we can finish with a few wins and get through the group stage.”