Jostling for position
Scheduled at a time when all other international tours have come to an end - ahead of the World Cup in the West Indies - the women's Quadrangular tournament has India, New Zealand, Australia and England competing for what could be a psychological edge in the run-up to the women's World Cup in 2009.
Admittedly the attention of most cricket lovers is diverted towards injury exits and possible replacements in the men's World Cup squads, but if you are craving live cricket - rather than speculative - the Quadrangular in Chennai is something to look forward to.
Below is an update on what the four teams have been doing since the previous World Cup in South Africa in March-April 2005 and the players to watch out for.
Of the four sides, the hosts have played the highest number of one-day matches in the period between April 2005 and January 2007. Apart from the 2005-06 Asia Cup in Pakistan, India toured Australia, New Zealand, England and Ireland, playing only ten matches at home and 20 away, including three at neutral venues. Nine wins out of 10 at home give them an obvious edge in the Quadrangular even though one-day cricket doesn't always favour those familiar with the conditions. India come into the tournament having comprehensively won their second successive Asia Cup in Jaipur this December. They not only went unbeaten in the tournament but won by huge margins and restricted the opposition to a total below 175 in each of their five games. Nine out of the 14 picked for the Quadrangular were part of the World Cup squad two years ago in which India finished as runner-up.
Players to watch
Mithali Raj: India's captain and star batsman, Raj has played in all 30 one-dayers that India have played since the World Cup final. She's scored a hundred and six half-centuries during this period at an average of 43.61.
Anjum Chopra: The left-handed batsman has played 100 ODIs - the highest by an Indian woman. In the period between the World Cup and the Asia Cup, Chopra played 10 matches at home, the same number as the captain, but averaged a lot higher with 59 compared to Raj's 47.75. Also a reliable fielder, her place in the side is unquestionable.
Jhulan Goswami: Despite her slight frame, Goswami is the fastest bowler in women's cricket and apart from generating movement off the pitch she worries batsmen by getting the ball to bounce that extra bit. Her best ODI figures came against England at Silchar where India won by 10 wickets after Goswami had taken 5 for 16. Since the World Cup she has taken 34 wickets at 20.64, a figure that dips to 13.13 in her nine matches at home.
Nooshin Al Khadeer: An offbreak bowler, Al Khadeer is ten short of reaching 100 wickets in one-day cricket.
MD Kamini Picked for five Asia Cup games at home, 16-year old Kamini has got eight wickets at 10.87 with her legspinners.
In the given period, New Zealand have played the least number of matches with five at home and five away and none in the subcontinent. Seven out of the 14 are touring India for the first time though nine of them were part of World Cup campaign. Their four wins since then have all been at home. With so many players unfamiliar with the conditions in India and their overall lack of match practice, New Zealand are unlikely to make it to the final on March 5. However, if the current performance and morale of their male counterparts rubs off on them, some hats and predictions will have to be swallowed whole.
Players to watch: To get a better picture we take into account domestic performances of the New Zealand women in the State League this season.
Maria Fahey Fahey topped the State League with 380 runs from 10 games for Canterbury at 42.22. Incidentally, Fahey began her ODI career in India where she scored three centuries in four games in December 2003.
Rebecca Rolls: Rolls, a wicketkeeper, has played 98 matches and is 17 runs short of the 2000-run mark in ODIs. She is certain to reach the landmark during the Quadrangular - going by her 372 runs at 46.50 for Auckland this season - and will become the fourth New Zealand woman and 12th overall.
Though Australia have only played two more matches than New Zealand and, like their neighbours, have seven players yet to play in India, the course that the two teams have taken since the World Cup is different. Australia have an impressive win-loss ratio of 12:2. The seven members of the squad who have toured India before were part of the victorious World Cup 2005 squad.
Players to watch:
Karen Rolton: Australia have won all seven matches in which she has led between 2001 and 2007. In February 2006 she replaced Belinda Clark as captain and took Australia to a 3-0 home series win against India. With her left-arm medium-pace bowling she has taken 85 wickets and is currently tied with Jhulan Goswami as the fifth highest wicket-taker. Rolton's batting average of 56.66 for 11 matches since the World Cup is at par with her overall average and her second-highest score of 151 was also made during this period against Ireland at Dublin.
Lisa Sthalekar: Australia's Women's Cricketer of the Year, Sthalekar was born in India in 1979 but emigrated to Australia in 1983. She was appointed vice-captain to Rolton in 2006 and the selectors should have no hesitation in handing over the reins to Sthalekar when the time comes. Appearing in all 14 matches that Australia have played since the World Cup, Sthalekar has scored a hundred and three half-centuries at 43.72 and taken 12 wickets with her part-time offspin.
Leah Poulton: Leah Poulton, 22, has played only five one-day games - all in Australia - but with a domestic season average of 32.5 in 10 innings was impressive enough to win her a place in the Australian side. Though she began her one-day career with a duck, Poulton made sure the selectors did not regret picking her by scoring a hundred in her third match and helped Australia clinch the Rose Bowl series against New Zealand with two games to spare.
England are the only team in the Quadrangular to have toured India after the World Cup though they lost the series 4-1. And when India visited England in 2006, the scoreline was similar though 4-0 in England's favour. In the 17 matches that they have played in the given period they have won nine and lost seven.
Charlotte Edwards She had the highest aggregate in the World Cup with 280 runs at 46.66 and carried on her form in India where she scored two half-centuries in five matches. But between that she has a string of low scores and no centuries in 17 matches. Appointed captain just ahead of the tour to India, Edwards has led the side to seven wins from 12 matches.
Claire Taylor: A poor performance in India - her highest score was 17 - does not reflect Taylor's true talent, especially since she holds the record for the highest one-day score at Lord's (156 not out).
Sarah Taylor: Seventeen-year old Taylor will play her first international match outside England in the Quadrangular tournament. Out of the five matches she's played, she kept wicket in two and scored 101 runs at 50.50. Taylor is being groomed as the next wicketkeeper in the England side and playing alongside Jane Smit, the regular keeper, at the Quadrangular will only help her reach that position faster.
Nishi Narayanan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo