New White Ferns skipper Amy Satterthwaite hitting out against Australia (Photo by Mead Norton/Getty Images)

Do the White Ferns have a chance at the Cricket World Cup?

Short answer? No. Long answer? Well, maybe. Cricket tragic Alex Braae assesses whether the White Ferns could go all the way in the West Indies.

Ah, cricket. Even in that most ugly form of the game – T20 – there’s nothing like a Cricket World Cup to stir up passion and patriotism. And even though T20 World Cups have made the whole palaver happen more frequently, they still have an excitement that no amount of interminable bilateral series could ever conjure up.

For the first time, the women’s T20 World Cup is about to be held as a standalone event, rather than being tied to the men’s tournament. Ten teams are off to the West Indies, and they’re pretty much the same 10 nations that you’d expect to see in the other version. There are two groups of five, with two teams from each going through to the semi-finals. And that’s really where the problems start for the White Ferns.

On the very first day of the tournament, the White Ferns will have to play India. A couple of years ago, that might not have been a massive deal: India crashed to 7th in an ODI World Cup they hosted in 2013, and have finished in the group stages of the last two T20 World Cups. But in the last two years, the game has professionalised significantly in India, culminating in a run to the final of last year’s ODI World Cup. Mithali Raj and Smriti Mandhana are among the best bats in the world, and legspinner Poonam Yadav will cause serious problems on the slow and low West Indian pitches. Not only that, there is now a serious weight of public expectation on the Indian women, so they will be incredibly motivated to win early.

And then, if the White Ferns lose first up, they’ll have to beat Australia in what will pretty much be a sudden death match. How difficult will that be? Put it like this – Australia just demolished the White Ferns in a 3-match T20 series, and none of the games were really that close. In fact, the gap arguably got wider as the series went on.

Australia come into the tournament as not only the most elite and professional outfit, but also as the home of elite, professional women’s cricket. The Women’s Big Bash League is far and away the highest profile women’s cricket competition, and while salaries aren’t exactly great (contracts are between $7000 – $15,000 AUD for the tournament) it is still the destination of choice for overseas cricketers looking to make an income. That infrastructure means all of the Australian Southern Stars come into the international team completely battle hardened, while for other countries there can be disparities in the quality of cricket each member of the squad has played. Last season eight White Ferns managed to get overseas slots in the WBBL, the most for any country. Most of them are making the trip to the West Indies.

If the White Ferns manage to win two from two, there’s every chance they could top the group. The only other games are against Ireland (who they thrashed repeatedly earlier in the year) and Pakistan, who have never beaten the White Ferns in a T20 match. And from there, all going to plan, their knockout opponent could be any of South Africa, England or the West Indies – all of whom would be tough to overcome. It will also be a test for recently named captain Amy Satterthwaite, who is only a few games into the job, but has a lot of experience skippering one off fixtures, and for domestic teams Canterbury and Lancashire. The TAB is probably on the money, offering odds of $7.50 to win the tournament.

Of course, it’s not completely hopeless. The White Ferns have a few key players who could win games by themselves if they fire. Suzie Bates is the obvious candidate here, especially after being freed up from captaincy. She’s played more than 100 internationals in both formats, has a batting average through the roof, and also happens to bowl lethal medium paced darts. Partnering her at the top of the order will be big-hitting allrounder Sophie Devine – good enough at smashing small round objects to have played hockey for New Zealand, and with a T20I strike rate of 123.9.

But whoever wins this World Cup will probably do it with spin. And here, the White Ferns may actually have a chance of sparking upsets. There are six (!) spin bowling options in the squad, with Leigh Kasperek (former number 2 bowler in the world) likely to be deceptive and difficult to get away.

The key emerging player to watch will be the 18 year old legspinner Amelia Kerr. So far in her extremely brief career, she’s taken a five wicket bag and scored an ODI double-century (both against Ireland) has a T20 bowling economy rate well under 6 an over, and is coming off a hat-trick for the Wellington Blaze. Kerr has already probably done enough to cement her spot in the national team, and a breakout tournament here would make her a candidate to be the most exciting young cricketer in the world.

Fans of cricket in New Zealand will be used to this feeling – the optimism and possibility of a major tournament about to start, tempered by the reality of knowing that there are some absolute monsters to get past. But why not dream of an unlikely triumph? The core of the squad has been together a long time, but the team hasn’t made a World Cup final since 2010 – arguably, that’s an underachievement. Coming into a big home summer, now would be the perfect time for the White Ferns to bring home some silverware.

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