India begin against dangerous West Indies
India are playing the tenth Women's World Cup, this one in home conditions, but apart from the weather their captain Mithali Raj does not believe being hosts grants them any particular advantage. India, who finished third in the 2009 edition, play their opening game against West Indies under lights at the Cricket Club of India on Wednesday.
West Indies finished fifth in 2009 in Australia "as underdogs", but have gained plenty of experience since then and are here to win this time, said their captain Merissa Aguilleira. West Indies have played 38 ODIs since the previous World Cup, only one behind England, who have played the most.
India have been restricted to 26 one-dayers in the same period and their previous ODI was as far back as July 2012. Raj said she would have liked to play more games, but was nevertheless satisfied with the side's preparation and their showing in the two practice matches.
"It depends on the board completely to give us a number of matches," Raj said. "As players, whatever amount of games we get to play before the World Cup, we try and make the best of it. As a player, I would definitely want to have more tournaments, more international games to play.
"We had the domestic season and after that we had two camps, one in NCA and the other one in Mumbai. We have prepared really hard and we get into the tournament will full preparation. But again we will take it one match at a time. I personally would not emphasise more on the results, I'd rather go with the process. If everything goes well, then … we might … do it."
Raj was expecting flat pitches which she felt would restrict India's home advantage to their experience of the weather. "It is going to be the humid conditions. During the practice games, we have had very flat wickets, and scores have been generally high. Basically, the ICC has provided batting tracks so that a lot of runs are scored in the tournament. We have had a camp in Mumbai so our players are used to the conditions. We are also used to slightly slower wickets.
"If it is a flat track, it is definitely not an advantage. In an ICC tournament everybody would want to see 300 on the board rather than 89 all out. I guess that is the reason, everybody around the world wants to prepare a batting track.
"I feel when it is a flat track, it could be anybody's game. There will be a lot of runs. The bowling needs to be tightened up. The crucial thing would be the fielding because the wicket will not change over both the innings."
Compared to previous World Cups, Raj felt India had a strong opening combination going into the tournament. "One thing I have always felt is that India never had a very good opening pair. That was a concern. This time we have Thirush Kamini who has made a comeback. In both the [practice] games, the openers [Kamini and Poonam Raut] have given us a good start.
"We do have the senior players Jhulan Goswami and Amita Sharma. We have the vice-captain Harmanpreet Kaur. We have two comeback players, Kamini and Karu Jain. I hope with this kind of combination we will do very well."
India lost the ODI series 2-1 on their Caribbean tour in early 2012. Raj said West Indies were a constantly developing side. "They have very talented players and some hard-hitters too. With Indian conditions, and I guess some of their players not keeping well, they are still to get acclimatized to the conditions, that might help us and also the kind of form we are in, I am sure the girls will put up a good show."
The experienced offspinner Anisa Mohammed had troubled the Indians in West Indies and Aguillera said her spinners would play a key role in India. "We are an all-round team. We have five spinners in the side and that has worked really well for us," Aguilleira said. "We'll make an impact with the compact side that we are.
"We went into the last World Cup as underdogs and lacked experience. But we've gained a lot of experience in the past four years and are not just taking part but competing this time."
West Indies were so tired after their trip from the Caribbean that they cancelled their second warm-up fixture following a heavy defeat to Australia Women in their first practice match. However, they are coming off a tied ODI series against South Africa at home and should not feel short of time in the middle. Aguilleira said the South Africa games had helped the side adapt to the new ODI rules which mandate a maximum of four fielders in the deep.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo