India starts as the most fancied team in Group A of the ICC Women’s World Cup Qualifier 2017 owing to their high ranking and impressive win record against other teams.
A win-loss record of 22-1 in 24 matches, with one no-result, against other group frontrunners Sri Lanka, makes fifth-ranked India the firm favourite in the group even though that one defeat against Sri Lanka was a heavy one and not too many years ago.
Sri Lanka’s victory against India was a huge 138-run win that knocked the host out of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2013 at the preliminary stage but a lot has changed and India has not let the guard down since then.
So when the two neighbouring countries play at the P. Sara Oval on the opening day of the 10-day tournament, which runs from 7-21 February in Colombo, India captain Mithali Raj will not be overly worried about the outcome of the opening group match.
Ireland, Zimbabwe and Thailand are the other teams in the group while Group B consists of South Africa, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Scotland and Papua New Guinea. The top three teams from either group will advance to the Super Six stage with the top two teams playing the final on 21 February.
India captain Mithali Raj: “We will obviously be cautious against all teams but that loss against Sri Lanka was way back in 2013 and it was just one of those matches in which we did not click. But after that, whenever we have played them, we have clean-swept them, including in the ICC Women’s Championship last year.
“We have a balanced side with enough experience in batting and spin bowling, which should help us on the slow wickets of Sri Lanka. We aim to have a settled team through the tournament and prepare for the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 by working on our tactics.”
India, runner-up at the ICC Women’s World Cup in 2005, has a host of proven performers. Mithali Raj is the highest ranked batter in the Colombo tournament at third position while Harmanpreet Kaur is ranked 10th, making India the only team there with two players in the top-10 of the ICC Women’s Rankings for ODI Batters.
India also has a balanced bowling attack led by former captain and top-ranked Jhulan Goswami and which also boasts left-arm spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad, who is ranked 10th in the ICC Women’s Rankings for ODI Bowlers and had finished with 25 wickets in the ICC Women’s Championship.
For Sri Lanka, Chamari Athapaththu and Prasadani Weerakkody are the leading batters while captain Inoka Ranaweera and Shashikala Siriwardene would be looking to make the most of the home surfaces.
Sri Lanka captain Inoka Ranaweera: “This team is much different to the one that played against India in 2013 so we can’t really think about that win now. India will be a tough side to beat since we no longer have several of the senior players we had then. We are a fresh team but looking forward to playing against India and other teams in this tournament.”
While India and eighth-ranked Sri Lanka, whose best performance at the ICC Women’s World Cup is fifth position in 2013, will be the leading sides from the group, Ireland would hold an edge over others as teams look to advance to the Super Six stage and ensure ODI status for the next four-year cycle.
Ireland has never won a match against either India or Sri Lanka in nine and three matches, respectively, but has more depth and experience than regional qualifiers Zimbabwe (Africa) and Thailand (Asia).
Ireland captain Laura Delany: “We have worked hard for a number of months and have a mix of experience and youth in our team. Among the players to watch out for is our upcoming pace bowler Kim Garth who just turned out for Sydney Sixers in the WBBL and is a very effective pace bowler with a lot of variation.”
Zimbabwe captain Sharne Mayers understands the enormity of the challenge before her but is determined to make the most of the opportunities that come her team’s way.
Zimbabwe captain Sharne Mayers: “Our biggest challenges will be the weather and conditions in Colombo as well as the fact that we will be going into the 50-over format of the game after a few years of not playing it. However, we have been working hard in the nets and went on a brief trip to South Africa to play a few matches there. Those matches have really helped the team gel and we got the match practice we needed.”
Thailand captain Sornnarin Tippoch is hoping the experience of playing in the Asia Cup Twenty20 tournament last year would help the team compete in Colombo even though the team has never played 50-over matches at the international level.
Thailand captain Sornnarin Tippoch: “We got a chance to play against teams like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal in the Asia Cup in Bangkok and that gave us a good idea of our future goals and targets. Our team’s aim is to reach the Super Six stage so that we can gain ODI status.”
While all qualifiers for the Super Sixes stage at the ICC Women’s World Cup Qualifier 2017 will gain ODI status for the next four years, the top four will qualify for the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 in England and Wales from 24 June to 23 July, as well as the next ICC Women’s Championship.