White Ferns will rely on core batting group

Andrew Voerman andrew.voerman@stuff.co.nz



Stuff NZ Newspapers



Australia is almost certainly going to win the women’s Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa next month. The team in gold has won 48 of its 57 matches since the start of 2018 and has claimed the silverware at the last three major events – the 2018 and 2020 World Cups and the 2022 Commonwealth Games. But if another team is going to get up when the final is played in Cape Town on February 27 (NZ time), it could well be New Zealand’s White Ferns. If nothing else, they look poised to make it to the semifinals of an ICC World Cup for the first time in seven years. They fell short at the 2018 and 2020 T20 events and at the 2017 and 2022 events – the latter on home soil – but will be hoping they turned a corner by making it to the final four when cricket debuted at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last year. The White Ferns lost to Australia in the semifinals, then beat hosts England to claim the bronze medal on that occasion and while there’s no such consolation prize on offer at this tournament, that’s about where they sit in the grand scheme of things. They have a core of four key batters, which starts with openers Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine and also includes allrounder Melie Kerr and Maddy Green, who has made welcome progress at international level during the past 12 months. Devine and Melie Kerr look set to be part of a six-strong bowling attack, which should also feature seamers Lea Tahuhu, Hayley Jensen and Jess Kerr and left-arm spinner Fran Jonas, with Eden Carson, Molly Penfold and Hannah Rowe rounding out the squad. That Tahuhu responded to her shock axing from New Zealand Cricket’s central contract list last May by vowing to fight to regain her place in the side has proved a godsend – she’s missed only three T20s since and has been at the top of her game. The core batting and bowling groups will take up eight of the 11 places in the White Ferns’ lineup and it’s entirely possible they could win matches without any of the other three having to do anything except field. What’s more likely is that those three will have to play important roles at one stage of their campaign or another, and that’s where the team’s fate might end up being decided. Recalled wicketkeeper Bernadine Bezuidenhout seems set to take one of the spots and could potentially slot in at No 3 between the Bates-Devine opening partnership and Melie Kerr and Green. Lauren Down and Brooke Halliday then look set to fill out the batting order, having mustered a combined total of 95 runs from 10 innings during the past 12 months – although some of those, it must be said, were in challenging batting conditions in the West Indies last October. Georgia Plimmer, the other batter in the squad, has 51 runs from nine innings during the same period. If any of them are needed to make significant contributions because opposing teams remove the likes of Bates, Devine, Melie Kerr or Green quickly and cheaply, that is where the White Ferns could come unstuck. It makes you wish Amy Satterthwaite hadn’t responded to her contract snub by retiring, because she surely would have had to have been picked on the back of her strong Super Smash form. When the White Ferns begin their World Cup campaign on February 12 [NZ time], they will have a free hit against Australia, who have no such weaknesses. Win unexpectedly and they’ll be flying high. Either way, their crunch group stage match will come two days later, against hosts South Africa. The story was the same six months ago in Birmingham, where the White Ferns beat the Proteas to advance alongside England. This time it’s likely going to be a case of beating them to advance alongside Australia, provided they take care of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in their final two matches. If they make it to the semifinals, they won’t have to worry about facing the two-time defending champions – and that’s where anything could happen.