Women's T20 World Cup
Australia the team to beat in Women's T20 World Cup
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Defending champions Australia have undergone significant changes in their squad but remain the team to beat in the Women's T20 World Cup which starts in Cape Town on Friday.
Meg Lanning's team slipped to a surprise loss to Ireland in a warm-up game on Wednesday but prior to that they had lost just once in 27 T20 internationals since March 2021.
That defeat came in a super over after a tied match against India last December -- they won all the other four matches in the series.
"Our squad has gone through a period of change since the last World Cup but I think that is a positive," said Lanning.
"We are constantly evolving and we have great flexibility in our team both with bat and ball."
Seven of the team that beat India in front of a world record crowd of 86,174 in the 2020 final in Melbourne are in the squad in South Africa, including stars such as Lanning, Alyssa Healy, Beth Mooney, Ashleigh Gardner and Megan Schutt.
If anything, Australia have been strengthened by the inclusion of Ellyse Perry, one of women cricket’s all-time greats, who was injured in the early stages of the 2020 tournament, while Tahlia McGrath has emerged as one of the game's leading all-rounders.
They have also unearthed an exciting fast bowler in Darcie Brown, 19, and introduced former Ireland all-rounder Kim Garth.
From the cauldron of a packed Melbourne Cricket Ground, Australia will start the defence of their title in quieter surroundings when they meet New Zealand in Paarl on Saturday, where they are likely to have to contend with a slow pitch.
They will also be up against arch-rivals New Zealand, the only team to have beaten them since the 2020 World Cup, other than in a super over. The White Ferns' two wins, though, were countered by four victories by Australia.
Women's cricket reached a high point in Australia in 2020 which is unlikely to be challenged in terms of crowd attendances in South Africa, where tickets for all matches remain available.
Advance sales for some matches have been promising, however, notably for the opening match between South Africa and Sri Lanka at Newlands on Friday and the final at the same ground on February 26.
A distraction for many players will be the Women's Premier League auction in India on February 13 which has the potential to take some players into a new stratosphere of earnings, while there will be disappointment for those who are not bought.
The World Cup will also battle for a television audience as it coincides with the closing stages of the hugely popular men's SA20 franchise competition.
All the women's matches are at the coastal venues of Cape Town, Paarl and Gqeberha, while the semi-finals and final of the SA20 are inland at Johannesburg and Centurion.
The SA20 final on Saturday will clash with a double-header in Paarl, where England meet West Indies ahead of the Australia-New Zealand match.
The 10 teams in the T20 World Cup are split into two sections of five teams, with the top two in each section qualifying for the semi-finals.
Hosts South Africa will have to be at their best to get beyond Group A, where they will almost certainly have to beat Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as well as either Australia or New Zealand to progress.
England will be favourites in Group B, which also includes India, West Indies, Pakistan and Ireland.