25 November 2015
Women's Qualifiers set for intense battle with two spots at stake for India 2016
The ICC Women’s World Twenty20 Qualifier will take place in Bangkok with plenty at stake for all competing sides
And it is in that spirit that the ICC Women's World Twenty20 Qualifier will take place in Bangkok from November 28 to December 5. Over eight days, the eight participating teams will play a total of 20 matches at the Thailand Cricket Ground (TCG) and Asian Institute of Technology Ground (AIT) for a chance to make it to the ICC Women's World Twenty20 2016 in India.
And with the stakes that high, make no mistake, the sense of competition will be as intense as the dedication to fun.
The host nation, Thailand, is drawn in Group A along with Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea and Scotland, while Group B consists of China, Ireland, the Netherlands and Zimbabwe.
The top two from each group will progress to the semi-finals, with the finalists getting to book their tickets to India. The third and fourth place finishers in each group too have something to fight for, with the Shield final and the rankings up for grabs.
Bangladesh, Ireland, Scotland, Zimbabwe and Netherlands Women will all be hoping to join their colleagues from the men's teams in the 20-over World Cup. Bangladesh, the home side for the 2014 edition and now ranked No. 9 in the world, as well as Ireland, who was among the three qualifiers for that event, will be eager to build on the learnings from their maiden appearances in the World T20 last year.
The two runs by which it heartbreakingly lost the third and final qualification spot in 2013 to Ireland has rankled the Netherlands, who is determined not to spend the next few years too wondering 'what if'. This time, a young side with an average age of around 20 has been entrusted with the responsibility of bringing the honours home.
The women from PNG, meanwhile, will be backing themselves to do one better than the men from the country: The men's team hit a crescendo at the World T20 Qualifier in Ireland and Scotland in July this year when it defeated Ireland, Jersey and Nepal, but found its Indian dreams put on hold in the later part of its challenge.
The Chinese women have always been a step ahead of the men in cricket, and the Qualifier provides a high-profile stage for the side to fully express its cricket ambitions. Semi-finalist at the 2014 Asian Games, the side narrowly missed out on qualification to the previous edition of the ICC Women's World T20 Qualifier in 2013 to Thailand. Should the two teams meet after the group stages, both will be keen to resume their rivalry and, most importantly, come out on top. For Zimbabwe and the teams from Europe, the heat and humidity in Thailand, where temperatures are expected to hit 35ºC over the next week, could pose the biggest challenge. The Ireland squad, for one, pencilled in three days for a warm-weather training camp at La Manga, Spain, as part of its preparations. While Zimbabwe and the Netherlands chose to stop over in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka respectively on their way to Thailand, most teams gave themselves a week in the host country and a handful of practice games to acclimatise.
The other adjustment the women must make is a mental one. For many of the young women, this is the biggest and most unfamiliar challenge of their fledgling careers. The experience of the seniors in the squad will count in ensuring they are not overwhelmed by what is asked of them. And it is here that squads such as Ireland, Scotland, Bangladesh and the Netherlands, who have recently played against top-eight sides, could hold a slight edge.
Win or lose, the exposure will be vital as cricket continues to grow outside its more commercial centres. The women's game, as it continues to take strides towards professionalism and competitiveness through initiatives like the ICC Women's Championship in ODIs, and the Women's Big Bash League and other league competitions in the 20-over format, could use new role models. The cricketers at the ICC Women's World T20 Qualifier 2015 aren't just making history, they will likely inspire the next generation of exciting talent who will decide the game's future. And that is reason enough for 'sanuk'.