Women's Cricket: Brittin expects every woman to do her duty as England fly out to take on the world

The England women's cricket team fly to India today to defend the World Cup.

Mike Rowbottom witnessed their final training session at Surrey's indoor centre.

Cricket tours to India have been known to throw up the odd problem - as it were - and the one on which the England women's team embark today has run true to form - as it were.

"We are flying to Delhi," England's record scorer, Jan Brittin, said. "But we have heard that the opening ceremony is in Calcutta."

As they prepare to retain the World Cup they won within these shores four years ago, England are aware that the next four weeks are going to involve a lot of travelling.

Hyderabad, Pune and Nagpur are already scheduled for group matches. Then they hope to be venturing further afield for the knock-out stages.

The holders, who have received coaching advice from Mike Gatting, Dermot Reeve and Geoff Arnold in the past year, have been named joint favourites along with New Zealand, who they beat in the last World Cup final, at Lord's.

The Kiwis are in the other group, along with the hosts. England's main immediate opposition will come from South Africa and Australia.

All the usual precautions are being taken to avoid the fate which befalls so many sporting tourists in India. When England last played there 18 months ago, Clare Connor, who is among those flying out, spent three days in hospital with a severe stomach upset. So, bottled water and no salads.

The England party which leaves Heathrow tonight is a different proposition to the one which toured India in 1996. Previously undreamt of funding has offered the players a level of support that Rachael Heyhoe-Flint would have killed for.

This year there was a National Lottery award of pounds 76,000 to the Women's Cricket Association, plus inclusion in the four-year, pounds 14m sponsorship deal which Vodaphone have signed with both the national teams.

Not the least advance is removing the obligation on players to pay their own way, or at least to contribute hugely towards it. Even three years ago, players were contributing pounds 2,000 each to tour Australia.

"I dread to think how much I have paid over the years," said Brittin, who has played internationally for more than 20 years, "although I wouldn't have not gone."

When she goes this time, she and her 13 colleagues will be accompanied by a manager, two coaches, a physiotherapist and two sports scientists skilled in sports psychology. And as well as feeling different to the way they did in previous years, England will also look different - this year their traditional culottes have been replaced by trousers.

The trousers era looks like being the beginning of the Charlotte Edwards era for the World Cup holders. This 17-year-old from Pidley near Huntingdon has already made her mark opening the batting with Brittin since becoming the youngest England player when she was capped at the age of 16.

Edwards has already shown she is made of stern stuff - she learned her cricket playing for boys teams, and turns out regularly alongside her father and brother for Ramsey in the Cambridgeshire Premier League. She doesn't sound like the type to be put off by a few bouncers and a spot of sledging...

1997 HERO HONDA WORLD CUP (India, 9-29 Dec): England group matches: 10 Dec v South Africa (Hyderabad); 12 Dec v Pakistan (Vijayawada); 14 Dec v Denmark (Hyderabad); 16 Dec v Ireland (Pune); 18 Dec v Australia (Nagpur). 20 Dec: 9th-12th place play-offs. 20-23 Dec: Quarter-finals. 24 and 26 Dec: Semi-finals. 29 Dec: Final (Calcutta).

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