England relish favourites tag
Charlotte Edwards has shrugged off the pressure of being favourites for the women's first World Twenty20 which begins next week. England are the hot tip following their success in the World Cup in March and the announcement of a settled squad for this home tournament.
Rather than being burdened by the tag Edwards, England's widely admired captain, welcomed the situation. "I'd rather be in our position than not to be honest," she told Cricinfo. "It's new territory for us, but we're not feeling the pressure from it at all."
Australia have been used to dominating world cricket but underperformed at home in the World Cup, while England's strong campaign impressed everyone and moved them to the No.1 seat. A typically straight-talking Edwards added: "I honestly don't know how it will affect us as we have never been in this position before. We want to enjoy it and play some good cricket like we did in winter and then hopefully we'll have continued success."
With such a strong foundation of ongoing support and the confidence-boosting player contracts, England have played consistent cricket in recent years, including a record winning streak in ODIs. The strength-in-depth of the talent pool and the ECB's and Cricket Foundation's significant investment in the elite players as well as the women's game in general, has left England the envy of the world and a constantly dangerous opposition.
For the World Twenty20, Edwards and Claire Taylor, the world's No. 1 batsman and Wisden Cricketer of the Year, will again provide the solid backbone of the batting department. The openers Caroline Atkins and Sarah Taylor forged a useful alliance at the top in Sydney and will seek to take that form into this tournament.
Katherine Brunt, Isa Guha, Jenny Gunn and Nicky Shaw are the pace options. Shaw, England's vice-captain, will expect to play more games in the World Twenty20 following her heroics in the World Cup final where she took four wickets as a late inclusion for the injured Gunn. The spin attack is strong - with the reliable Holly Colvin and Laura Marsh, who took the most wickets at the World Cup - providing a heavy challenge.
The only change to the squad which won the World Cup is the last-minute swapping of one teenager for another. Danielle Hazell has been included in place of the injured Anya Shrubsole but the change should not disrupt the side too much.
England - whose Twenty20 record is middling at six wins and five losses - have been warming up with many Twenty20 games of late. They have played against the Sussex Academy, Brighton College, Surrey Academy and Dulwich College and the England women's Academy. They have also hit the gym hard and had weekly nets with coaching staff Mark Lane and Jack Birkenshaw.
They will not expect home advantage to make a huge difference given that it is Twenty20 cricket, the shortest format. "I don't think it will have much of an impact," said Edwards, "but we're hoping for lots of home support."
England will certainly get that if they make the semi-finals and then the final where they could potentially play before sell-out crowds ahead of the men. The group stages, tucked away in Taunton, may prove less conducive to large audiences although the county ground is the official home of English women's cricket and there can be decent local following.
Twenty20 is, of course, the most unpredictable format of all cricket and, with such a short tournament anything can happen. However, England have the strongest chance of any team to take the title.
Jenny Roesler is a former assistant editor at Cricinfo