Tensions between Pakistan and India almost derailed the Women's Cricket World Cup but the eight-team event will start Thursday in Mumbai, writes Osman Samiuddin.
Women's Cricket World Cup is now back on track
It is probably more than a little patronising to assume that any publicity is good publicity in the case of the women's World Cup, due to begin in Mumbai and Cuttack on Thursday. The 10th World Cup has been getting a lot of publicity, though not necessarily for the right reasons.
A sudden, steep flare up in relations between India and Pakistan over a border dispute briefly threatened to derail the entire tournament. Right-wing political groups in Mumbai threatened to disrupt the tournament if Pakistan played there (the entire tournament was going to be held in Mumbai alone and the tournament had already lost the main Wankhede Stadium as one venue).
Briefly there was a possibility that the tournament would be postponed if Pakistan could not take part. The option of relocating it, to the UAE, also remained as recently as just a couple of weeks ago. But ultimately, the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) found an alternative, in relocating one group including Pakistan to Cuttack.
But even there, the fact that Pakistan's side will be staying in the stadium's clubhouse accommodation and not in a hotel has briefly overshadowed the start of the tournament.
It is not the kind of publicity that really helps, however, because it has taken attention away from the field, where the game continues only to grow in quality.
It is, as Charlotte Edwards, the captain of the defending champions and favourites England, said an entirely different game to the one she entered in 1997.
"My first time was when I was 17, a quite memorable one, first time I think I had been out of England," she said. "Now with the ICC and the professionalisation that has come in, is fantastic. It is safe to say that the game today is unrecognisable from when I played back in 1997. The games are televised now, which they weren't back in 1997. Very proud of where the game is at the moment.
"Recent ICC events have shown that the game is becoming popular. I have heard we are attracting loads of young girls who want to play the game. That is the most important thing for us as players. I think we have changed people's perceptions about women's cricket a lot. Hopefully this tournament will be another step in hammering that message home."
The tournament is also returning to India for the first time since 1997.
"It is a great moment," the India captain Mithali Raj said. "It is the first time after 1997 that we are hosting a World Cup, under the BCCI. The kind of media attention and awareness is great. So I am hoping a lot of people will turn up for the matches."
In a way even the news that Sarah Taylor, England's wicketkeeper, may turn out for the Sussex – men's – second XI if needed in 2013 has been a distraction.
Although it remains, in itself, a remarkable indicator of individual progression, it drags the women's game into comparison with the men's, which defeats the entire point of it.
It may be one sport, but the styles and rhythms are so different so as to be different games; the women's game needs to be appreciated and followed for itself, not in constant comparison to the men's. It will be difficult to see any side other than England or Australia, the five-time champions and winners of last year's World T20, triumphing. Challenges will come in each group from which three sides will qualify for the super sixes.
England's Group A, with India, the West Indies and Sri Lanka, looks the trickier one. The hosts India (who finished third in 2009) and the West Indies are both vastly improved sides.
Group B, in Cuttack, looks more straightforward with Pakistan and South Africa fighting it out to accompany New Zealand (the winners in 2000) and Australia through.
Women's Cricket World Cup
Tournament runs from Thursday until February 17
Group A: India, West Indies, England, Sri Lanka
Group B: New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Pakistan
Opening game: India v West Indies, 1pm Thursday, Mumbai
Super sixes stage: begins February 8
Final: Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai on February 17
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