India v New Zealand, ICC Women's World Twenty20, 1st semi-final, Trent Bridge June 17, 2009

An opportunity to win new fans

Alice Dean

The opening semi-final of the World Twenty20 gets underway in Nottingham on Thursday with India and New Zealand being the first women's teams to compete in a double-header ahead of the men in a global competition.

Aside from featuring two of the top four teams in women's cricket - whose men's teams failed to progress to the semis leaving them sole flag-bearers - the match represents an unprecedented opportunity to showcase the women's game.

But with that opportunity comes intense pressure - to show the game off and to win - and pressure is something New Zealand know about all too well.

Although New Zealand impressed all who saw them in the group stages in Taunton and should beat India on current form, they will hope that nerves don't get the better of them again, as they did against England in the World Cup final in March.

A jittery batting display left them light on runs and this time, to add to the occasion, they could be playing in front of a packed house at Trent Bridge. But the side will hope to use the painful lessons from the World Cup final in a positive way.

They also have experience of facing Australia in a Twenty20 ahead of the respective men at the SCG last year, while flair batsman Suzie Bates has a further advantage. As an Olympic basketball player, she played in front of sell-out crowds against home team China in Beijing last year. "It sent shivers down your spine," she recalls.

New Zealand captain Aimee Watkins is the form batsman, while newcomer Sian Ruck has impressed with her swing. But all-round depth is the most ominous thing about New Zealand.

India will hope to draw on the experience of facing packed crowds at home. The side is used to playing all forms of cricket in front of 20,000 spectators - and the crowd atmosphere has been surprisingly electric in the group stages - but nothing will compare to large audiences for a semi-final in a world tournament.

Now that their men are knocked out, India have an even greater expectation to do well but they have not enjoyed the best of tournaments to date. They opened with a ten-wicket loss to favourites England and had batting slips against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, both of whom were outsiders.

Their bowling has been consistent, at least, but they have been guilty of too many fielding errors, while the batting has been ordinary at best as they rely on individual performances from the old hands of Mithali Raj and Anjum Chopra.

On the evidence from Taunton, India - who have played the least Twenty20 internationals of the big four - are still warming up but their famously mercurial side know they can rise to the occasion.

They twice beat home side Australia in the World Cup, while Twenty20 can be something of a lottery and they will fancy their chances of causing an upset against New Zealand. While they lack a big power-hitter to take advantage of the first six overs, India's batsmen are adept at taking the ones and twos. New Zealand's batting line-up, however, is also good in this department.

Although New Zealand are the out-and-out favourites on paper, India have every chance of ripping up the book. Either way, it's important that the sides play eye-catching cricket in front of new faces.

While one side will definitely win a place in the final at Lord's, if both teams can rise to the occasion with their best cricket then they are bound to impress new fans - which, ultimately, could be an ever bigger win for women's cricket.