Women's Cricket World Cup: Australia are the side to beat: Rob Steen assesses the leading candidates in the Women's Cricket World Cup, which starts today

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The Independent Online
THOSE seeking solace from England's Ashes performances, even those of an optimistic inclination, would be well advised to look elsewhere when the fifth women's World Cup begins today.

Australia's record in the competition is forbidding. Beaten by Rachael Heyhoe-Flint's England XI in the inaugural final 20 years ago, they have extracted ample revenge in all three subsequent finals, prevailing over the ancient foe by eight wickets, three wickets and eight wickets respectively. It is small wonder that federal grants and corporate sponsorship have flowed into a sport now played by some 9,000 women and girls Down Under.

The prospects of another waltz for Waltzing Matilda are not diminished by the presence of Denise Annetts, by consent the game's foremost batsman. It was her unbeaten stand with Lindsay Reeler that secured the last World Cup, and in 1991-92, she emphasised her predilection for English bowling with two centuries and an average bordering on 300 in a one-day tournament.

Not that England are setting off on the back foot. 'There's a terrific spirit in this side,' says Kevin Sharp, the former Yorkshire batsman, who is now assisting the chief coach, Ruth Prideux. 'Some of the Australian girls appear to do nothing but play and the Women's Cricket Association, by contrast, only has 40 clubs under its wing and is not exactly inundated with cash. All the same, I think people will be pleasantly surprised by what we have to offer.'

Jo Chamberlain's left-arm pace should have much to do with that. 'She's a bit quicker than Graham Gooch,' Sharp says of the van driver from Leicester. 'I batted against her in the nets during the winter and she certainly hit the bat hard.' Chamberlain hits the ball hard, too, having assisted in the record seventh-wicket Test partnership of 110 with Karen Smithies, the new England captain.

One of Sharp's briefs has been to work on the running between the wickets. 'In Northamptonshire's NatWest tie against Essex recently, half of Mal Loye and Allan Lamb's match-winning stand came in singles, so I've tried to impress the importance of communication and anticipation,' he said. England could certainly have benefited from more enterprising running in the Melbourne final five years ago, when a meagre ration of two boundaries in 60 overs kept their run-rate down to barely two an over.

New Zealand can counter Annetts with Debbie Hockley, the most prolific run-scorer in the tournament's history. A physiotherapist by profession, she first captained her country at the tender age of 18 and has thus far aggregated 668 runs in two World Cups, averaging a healthy 39.29 and sharing record partnerships for the fourth and fifth wickets. A century has hitherto proved elusive - only 11 have been made all told - so her appetite is unlikely to be satisfied just yet.

Of the remaining five participants, only India are expected to provide a worthwhile threat to the favoured trio. Like their fellow newcomers, Denmark, the West Indian selection, culled solely from Trinidad, Jamaica and St Lucia, are an unknown quantity yet an extensive arsenal of fast bowlers might well be unsettling.

According to their manager, Dorothy Hobson, the entire venture will probably cost the Caribbean Women's Cricket Federation pounds 50,000, but financing the operation, unsurprisingly, has been a vexed business. The lament is all too familiar. 'Men throughout the world think women shouldn't play cricket so they pay us lip service. Unfortunately, a lot of sponsors are run by men.'

The hope is that events over the next fortnight will go some way towards turning lip service into respect.

ENGLAND SQUAD: K Smithies (East Midlands, capt), J Brittin (Surrey), J Chamberlain (East Midlands), B Daniels (West Midlands), J Godman (Thames Valley), C Hodges (Lancashire and Cheshire), S Kitson (East Anglia), D Maybury, H Plimmer (both Yorkshire), J Smit (East Midlands), G Smith (Middlesex), D Stock (Thames Valley), C Taylor (Yorkshire).

WOMEN'S WORLD CUP FIXTURES

PREVIOUS FINALS

1973 (Edgbaston): England bt Australia by 92 runs

1978 (Hyderabad): Australia bt England by 8 wickets

1982 (Christchurch): Australia bt England by 3 wickets

1988 (Melbourne): Australia bt England by 8 wickets

Today: Australia v Netherlands (Warrington Sports Club, Cheshire); Denmark v England (Banstead CC, Surrey); India v West Indies (John Player Sports, Nottingham); Ireland v New Zealand (Shenley Sports Club, Herts).

Tomorrow: Australia v India (Collingham & Linton CC, Yorkshire); Denmark v Ireland (Christchurch College, Oxford); England v New Zealand (Lloyds Bank Sports Club, Beckenham); Netherlands v West Indies (Meir Heath, Staffordshire).

24 July: Australia v West Indies (Tunbridge Wells CC, Kent); Denmark v New Zealand (Wellington College, Berkshire); England v Ireland (Reading Cricket & Hockey Club, Berkshire); Netherlands v India (Beaconsfield CC, Bucks).

25 July: Australia v Ireland (Bank of England Ground, Roehampton); Denmark v West Indies (Lloyds Bank Ground, Beckenham); England v India (Finchhampstead CC, Berks); Netherlands v New Zealand (Lindfield CC, Sussex).

26 July: Australia v England (Guildford CC, Surrey); Denmark v Netherlands, India v Ireland (both Wellington College, Crowthorne, Berks); New Zealand v West Indies (Civil Service Sports Ground, Chiswick).

28 July: Australia v Denmark (Honor Oak CC, Dulwich); England v West Indies (Arundel Castle); Netherlands v Ireland (Marlow CC, Bucks); India v New Zealand (Ealing CC, Middx).

29 July: Australia v New Zealand (Midland Bank CC, Beckenham); Denmark v India (Slough CC, Bucks); England v Netherlands (Ealing CC, Middx); Ireland v West Indies (Dorking CC, Surrey).

1 August: Final (Lord's).

The competition is conducted on a round-robin basis, with each team playing the other once over 60 overs.

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