England v Australia, Women's World T20, Semi-final, Delhi March 29, 2016

Much more at stake than bragging rights

The Women's World T20 has been far from ideal but the semi-finals provide a chance to put on a much-needed spectacle

As an opportunity to showcase all that is best about women's international cricket, the World T20 in India has been an uncomfortable anticlimax. The itineraries have been stretched, the pitches have been poor, and though the tussle to reach the knockout stages was a lively affair, with India and South Africa both falling short of their own expectations, the dearth of outright quality has been hard for any team to deny.

But the sharp end of the tournament is now upon us, and as has been customary since the inaugural Women's World T20 in 2009, the double-header format means that the focus can finally fall on the hardy itinerants of England, Australia, New Zealand and West Indies, whose travels (and travails) have had them criss-crossing the country from Bangalore and Dharmasala to Chennai and Nagpur, but with none of the fanfare and entourage that the men's event has generated.

They've been out of sight and out of mind in too many cases, and in New Zealand's case, out of luck with their internal flights as well - a 12-hour journey from Chandigarh to Nagpur required two aeroplanes and three stop-overs before they finally arrived to beat Australia in one of the key match-ups of the opening rounds.

But as Charlotte Edwards and Meg Lanning faced the media in Delhi, the sense of occasion was, at long last, unmissable. The game's two oldest rivals are set to battle for a solitary slot in Sunday's final in Kolkata, and there's far more at stake than simple bragging rights.

For England, an ageing team led by a legend in her own lifetime, there's a palpable sense of change in the air. Mark Robinson, newly installed as head coach after making his mark in a decade at Sussex, has brought with him new ideas and new impetus, but for the time being, no new blood.

Since the 2014 World T20 in Bangladesh, in which England lost to Australia for the second final in a row, England have played 16 further 20-over matches and handed out not a single new cap. Moreover, with no global trophies in the ECB's locker since the heady days of 2009, there's a creeping sense that a golden generation must front up now or face the call for change.

"The depth is there, but your best players are your best players," said Edwards, who is now fast approaching her 20th anniversary as an international player. And seeing as she goes into the semi-final with a tournament-leading tally of 171 runs at 57.00 in her four games to date, it was a point she was able to make from a position of some authority.

Besides, she was adamant that Robinson's impact was already being felt by her squad. "He's come in and he's got his own take on women's cricket," she said. "He wants us to be more aggressive, he has asked for more from me at the top of the order and has put me in with Tammy Beaumont, who has been brilliant.

Charlotte Edwards is currently the joint-leading run-scorer in the tournament © International Cricket Council

"He's very relaxed, but wants us very focused in terms of training. It's a really good environment, we have grown as a team in every single game, and the two coaches with him, Ali Maiden and Ian Salisbury, have been brilliant. They are quite a calming influence around the group, they've taken pressure off me and that's certainly shown in my cricket."

But that does not deflect from the need for England, in particular, but also the women's game as a whole, to put on a performance to savour tomorrow. Edwards was content to concede that Australia are favourites, but she won't be content with the current state of their rivalry. The Aussies hold every trophy for which the two sides are capable of competing - the World Cup, the World T20 and the Ashes to boot, surrendered rather meekly last summer after a heady defence Down Under in 2013-14.

"We are not putting too much pressure on ourselves," said Edwards. "One learning of the summer was dealing with expectation, which we didn't do very well. But Australia are favourites for tomorrow and we've taken a bit of pressure off ourselves. That will help us going into the game."

Lanning, Australia's captain and star batsman, wasn't quite so convinced of England's underdog status, however, pointing to the fact that they finished top of their group - albeit after a couple of serious scares along the way.

"I'm not sure we'd be favourites," she said. "England are unbeaten in this tournament and finished on top and we finished second. World Cup games are always very close and tough contests, so it's going to be no different tomorrow. We usually play in finals, but we're playing in a semi this time around, but we always look forward to playing against England because of the rivalry there, which has built up over a long time."

One match in particular stands out where their rivalry in T20 cricket is concerned - England's astonishing run-chase at The Oval in the corresponding semi-final of 2009. It was a match of utmost quality, played in front of a steadily growing crowd and an increasingly absorbed media who had initially been gathering ahead of that evening's showdown between West Indies and Sri Lanka, and by the time Claire Taylor and Beth Morgan had sealed their pursuit of 164 in the final over of the game, the cause of women's cricket had gained a whole new bandwagon of supporters.

"It has quite a similar feel to 2009," said Edwards, who made 25 from 23 balls in that match. "We didn't play that well through the group stages and got Australia in the semis, which wasn't predicted at the start of the tournament. But we hope for a similar result, and to put on a good spectacle for the game, because so far this tournament the wickets haven't been particularly great and conducive to proper strokeplay for women's cricket."

It is a valid and vital point that can be overlooked when trying to judge the women's game by the same standards as the men. The absence of raw power as a factor in scoring runs and taking wickets means pitches have to offer something for bat and ball. But all too often in the tournament to date, scores of barely a run a ball have been standard, with sluggish surfaces drawing any sting that the contests could have hoped to generate.

That's not to say that such wickets don't create dramas of their own, and England's extraordinary malfunction against West Indies at Dharmasala last week was a case in point - at one stage they were cruising on 63 for 1, needing 46 runs from 66 balls. Then, after a collapse of 8 for 43, they were relying on a scrambled leg-bye from the final ball of the game, with only the No.11 Rebecca Grundy keeping Natalie Sciver company.

"You want a bit more in the wickets than there was up in Dharmasala," said Edwards. "You can't have 18 overs of spin, which happened up there. There's got to be something for the seamers, that's what we'd have liked to have seen. The Delhi wicket probably has something in it for bat and ball."

A further subtext to the contest lies in the players' experiences at the inaugural Women's Big Bash League in Australia this winter. Many of England's finest - Edwards included, as well as Sarah Taylor and Katherine Brunt - took part in the franchise league and played alongside tomorrow's rivals. There were few secrets between the two sides before this winter, but the relationships have got just that little bit more tangled in the interim.

"Frenemies we are now," said Edwards. "It's been brilliant to go out and play in Australia with a lot of the Australia girls, we've gained a lot from that experience. It's been a long winter but a lot of our girls performed brilliantly out there so they are going in tomorrow very confident, both teams know a lot about each other. It's all about who plays best tomorrow."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets @miller_cricket

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