The countdown clock in the centre of Christchurch has ticked down to less than two days to go until the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2022 officially begins.
Christchurch will host the final on 3 April but before then there are 30 matches to get through beginning with the opener between New Zealand and the West Indies in Tauranga on Friday. The first four matches could set the tone for the whole World Cup with titanic tussles expected between title challengers and a team makes its debut.
For New Zealand’s 2022 team, they have the chance to join the legends of the 2000 World Cup, as an Emily Drumm-led side defeated Australia in a nail-biting final the last time the tournament was held in New Zealand.
The White Ferns have not won a 50-over World Cup since but are buoyed by a mammoth win over Australia in their final warm-up game.
It was significant because Australia are among the favourites and have the chance to stretch their record number of tournament wins to a magnificent seven, with their most recent victory coming in 2013.
The Southern Stars head into the World Cup as the No.1 ranked side in the MRF Tyres ICC Team rankings and have lost just one ODI in their past 30 games, with the defeat to New Zealand not a one-day international.
Australia’s first game takes place on Saturday as they face holders England in Hamilton in one of the high-profile games of the tournament.
With all eight teams playing each other once, getting off to a good start can be crucial as the top four sides in the table advance to the semi-finals.
However, England can be safe in the knowledge that they lost their opening game of the 2017 World Cup and went on to take a dramatic victory over India in the final.
They are one of three teams to win the World Cup, alongside Australia and New Zealand, and another triumph this year would be their fifth in total – and the first time they have successfully defended it.
India are one of only two other teams to reach the final, having done so in 2005 and 2017. Mithali Raj played in both matches and has been a World Cup regular since 2000, and she’s back to lead the side again.
For the Women in Blue, victory would be vindication for their continual development over several years as the likes of Smriti Mandhana and Deepti Sharma continue to cement their position as some of the world’s best.
Like England and Australia, India begin with a mammoth match against rivals Pakistan, the lowest-ranked team in the tournament.
Pakistan have finished bottom in all but one of the four World Cups they have appeared in, a high-point their fifth place at the 2009 edition.
Their side is in transition but with victory over New Zealand in the warm-up games, Pakistan show that anything is possible in what could be the most unpredictable World Cup ever.
One rung above them in the rankings are the West Indies, a team that encapsulates both youth and experience.
Anisa Mohammed will play in her fifth World Cup as captain Stafanie Taylor and Deandra Dottin once again feature in maroon.
The Windies will also be able to call on newbies including Aaliyah Alleyne and Cherry-Ann Fraser, two of five potential World Cup debutants as they search for a first title having fallen at the final hurdle in 2013.
Saturday’s early game of the opening weekend sees South Africa take on Bangladesh with the latter appearing in their first-ever World Cup.
Nigar Sultana Joty will lead out her side in Dunedin, one of six venues for the tournament with Wellington and Auckland also hosting games, to make history as the 15th side to play in a World Cup.
Bangladesh are not here to make up the numbers, as the No.6 side in the world they will be hoping to make an impression and are yet to play Australia, England and New Zealand in ODIs so also have the element of surprise.
They open with a familiar opponent in the Proteas who will be led by Sune Luus in place of the injured Dane van Niekerk, who will leave a massive hole.
South Africa arrive in New Zealand in impressive form having won their recent series against the West Indies while their players continue to light up domestic leagues around the world.
They are ranked second in the world and face India in the final game of the round-robin stage, a match that could decide the make-up of the semi-finals.
Between now and the final, dreams will come true, stars will be made and surprises will be sprung as the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2022 takes New Zealand and the world by storm.