Play more to win more
It began with political unrest in Pakistan, which led to uncertainty over whether the tournament would be played at all. That was followed by a three-month postponement and a shift to South Africa. Now after a week of cricket between eight sides, the Women's World Cup Qualifiers have ended with South Africa and Pakistan making it to next year's World Cup in Australia.
The tournament featured South Africa, Pakistan, Ireland, Netherlands, Scotland, Bermuda, Papua New Guinea and Zimbabwe. At stake were not only the two World Cup places but also a chance to gain ODI status for the next four years.
As things now stand at the end of the tournament, South Africa and Pakistan will travel to Australia, with South Africa gaining a higher ranking of the two. Ireland and Pakistan were placed third and fourth respectively and they will retain their ODI status till 2012. Scotland, Bermuda, Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea were unable to shake up the rankings and push their way into the top ten.
Though nothing seems to have changed, when you look at the bigger picture, there are worrisome details that all the teams must introspect on. In the pool phase alone, where the teams played three games each, a whopping 669 extras were conceded. Bermuda topped the list with 165, followed by Ireland (114), Scotland (107), Zimbabwe (78), PNG (70), Netherlands (64), Pakistan (39) and South Africa (32). The nine run-outs in Ireland's opening game against Pakistan can't all be put down to excellent work on the field. And then there was Bermuda's imploding batting line-up, which scored 13, 85, 44, 112 and 74; and most of these totals were boosted by extras. To be fair, Bermuda's men have also fared just as badly in recent times, but that simply reflects on the poor training and lack of competitive cricket in the country.
Among the positives were Cri-zelda Brits' maiden one-day hundred, some fine bowling by Sana Mir, Alicia Smith and Caroline de Fouw, and Urooj Mumtaz's hat-trick against Zimbabwe. PNG came up with a few respectable totals and beat Bermuda twice in the tournament to win seventh-place honours. Most importantly, the players got to shake the cobwebs off their cricket gear and play some reasonably competitive cricket.
Once they are home, though, unless they carry forward from where they left off in Stellenbosch, the qualifiers will be meaningless. For associate nations, money and time off to play cricket are luxuries they can hardly afford, but if their game has to improve they have to play more often. Ireland could play Scotland in a format like the Rose Bowl, or the two could play Netherlands in a European version of the Asia Cup. Zimbabwe and South Africa could have bilateral series, or like in the men's circuit, Zimbabwe could join South Africa's domestic league. For Bermuda and PNG, the ICC may have to step in and review their situations. Only when the qualifiers are as bitterly competitive as those in men's football, will there be better quality and subsequently more interest.
Nishi Narayanan is a staff writer at Cricinfo