Semi-final berths up for grabs in triple-header
Five rounds, 21 matches and 18 days since its start, the Women's World Cup is still without a confirmed semi-finalist. That will change after Wednesday's triple-header that features all of the top five teams, each within a point of the other. If teams have equal points, then the semifinalists will be decided by most wins, then Net Run Rate, and finally head-to-head.
Though they hold a 33-8 advantage in meetings against India, Australia have reason to be wary, having suffered their first loss of the tournament, against England. Captain Meg Lanning called for more discipline from the bowlers, with Australia conceding 32 wides.
Lanning may also want to avoid too much experimentation in the slog overs. Her gamble of using the part-time medium-pace of Elyse Villani in the 50th over against England cost them 13 runs.
Australia's batting order struggled against left-arm spinner Alex Hartley. That could be the cue for India to add a fifth spinner in place of opener Punam Raut. Raut has scored only 85 off 143 balls in four games since her 86 against England. Left-arm spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad's ability to deftly flight the ball and get it to dip and turn, and the fact that she's picked at least one wicket in her last nine ODI innings, including three four-wicket hauls and a three-for, should strengthen her case for inclusion.
By extension, letting Deepti Sharma open with Smriti Mandhana would also help Mithali Raj ease back into her regular No. 3 slot. Batting a position down since the tournament opener against England has coincided with a slump for the Indian captain.
Shikha Pandey, who had finished as India's leading wicket-taker in the ODI series against Australia in 2016, explained the need for the team to impose themselves on their opponents to come out of the uncertainty the loss to South Africa has put them into. "We need to pull ourselves back from the defeat. The best cricket that we can play is there, so hopefully it will come against Australia. Our initial breakthrough has been a concern for us. We need to play more attacking cricket."
South Africa, red-hot after an emphatic 115-run victory against India, will be eyeing their fourth win in the tournament in Taunton against Sri Lanka.
The last time the two sides met, at the World Cup qualifiers in Colombo, South Africa wrapped up a nine-wicket win with 85 balls to spare- one of the 10 times they have beaten Sri Lanka in 14 completed matches. Dane van Niekerk, the South Africa captain, however, refused to rest on history. "We know how good they are, and we're not going to go out there underestimating them," she said. "We are going to go there to play our best cricket, the way we have been playing and our brand, and hopefully, that is good enough to get another two points."
Van Niekerk would herself hold the key as South Africa chase a substantial win. Her nine wickets - the joint-most in the tournament - includes two four-wicket hauls. Equally crucial would be the potent fast-bowling pair of Marizanne Kapp and Shabnim Ismail, and opening batsman Lizelle Lee, who scored a 65-ball 92 against India.
Sri Lanka, one of two winless sides so far, will look to put behind them their 47-run defeat to West Indies - the most recent of five consecutive losses. Top-order batsman Chamari Atapattu, the second-highest run-getter in the tournament, sounded optimistic. "We have played a lot of cricket against them, both home and away. I scored a few 50s and hundreds against them. I think we have a chance, and we will do our best."
In Derby, two of the more evenly-matched sides - England and New Zealand - will vie for ascendancy.
On paper, there's little to separate the two sides: 33 to 31 ODI wins in favour of New Zealand, England's three hundreds and three fifties in this World Cup are closely matched by New Zealand's one century, two 90-plus scores and three fifties, with both their captains having led from the front with match-winning tons.
The one glaring difference is their results against Australia. While New Zealand failed to defend 219, England picked up their first World Cup victory over Australia in 24 years, powered by their veterans Jenny Gunn and Katherine Brunt who shone with both bat and ball.
That win also gave England two crucial points that lifted them from fifth place to top of the table. Besides, the psychological advantage of benefitting from well-designed plans can barely be undervalued. If England had plans for Lanning's shoulder injury, expect them to be equally tactful against Sophie Devine's daunting strokeplay, Amelia Kerr's wrong'uns, Lea Tahuhu's immaculate lengths or Leigh Kasperek's skiddy offbreaks.
"Anyone can win from here, it's brilliant to get that victory over Australia to head into the New Zealand match," Gunn, who replaced the injured Fran Wilson in the playing XI, emphasised.
All of that, however, is likely to have little effect on New Zealand's captain, Suzie Bates, who said her side is game for everything England may have to offer. "We'd love to perform like this against someone like Australia, England or India, we haven't done that yet, but it's not to say that we can't. I can't wait for England, we haven't played them a lot - they are a really talented side and have had some really good scores in this tournament. But we match up pretty well and it should be a really good game."
Having already endured a washout in their previous outing in Derby, against South Africa, New Zealand would hope the drizzle from match eve stays away when they take the field. While a win for England will guarantee them a spot in the semifinal, a second washout could severely dent New Zealand's chances of making the top four, with only one league match remaining.
In what is set to be the 100th ODI appearance for allrounder Amy Satterthwaite, Bates hoped New Zealand would be able to demonstrate their spirit. "The beauty of this team is having not just good cricket players but great people, we're all here for the same reasons and we just want to win the World Cup."
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo