Australian Shelley Nitschke is looking to win the ICC Women's T20 World Cup for the first time as a coach. (Photo: Cricket Australia)

The 2023 Women’s T20 Cricket World Cup got underway last night in South Africa, with the Australian Women’s Cricket Team kicking off their title defence off early on Sunday morning (Australian time).

The Inner Sanctum previews the tournament from Australia’s standpoint including what they have to do win a third consecutive title.

The eighth ICC Women’s T20 World Cup has begun in South Africa with the host nation as well as Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the West Indies all vying to call themselves the best T20 team in the world.

Will the favourites in Australia win or will a new champion be crowned? Can qualifying nations Bangladesh and Ireland surprise everyone, or will the inaugural champions England walk away with their second title?

Big Picture

Australia enter the tournament as the heavy favourites, looking to repeat their 2020 World Cup performance to win the title for the third consecutive time. The team boasts a star-studded line-up in both facets of the game, which included three players who made the 2022 ICC T20 Women’s Team of the Year.

With the bat, the team will be led by returning superstars Alyssa Healy and Meg Lanning. While Beth Mooney and Tahlia McGrath (if required) are bound to deliver good knocks in the power-play overs.

The bowlers will be led by the likes of Darcie Brown, Kim Garth and Alana King. King is one of the best spinners in the world and is looking to prove herself on the world stage. Also, trying to prove herself is Kim Garth. Garth has failed to cement her spot into the starting team but becoming another option to bowl a variety of overs across the tournament could showcase her talent well.

Unfortunately, Australia will enter their first game against New Zealand off a shock loss to Ireland, despite this head coach Shelly Nitschke isn’t concerned about their performance during the practice games.

“I think there are a lot of things to take out of the warm-up,” Nitschke said.

“We went down in the game, so there are going to be some learnings to come out of that. I think it’s a really timely reminder of T20 cricket. If you’re not quite on, the game can get quite big on you.”

Looking back to 2020

The previous edition of the Women’s T20 World Cup occurred in 2020, with Australia going back-to-back to claim their fifth title. Surprisingly, Australia was defeated in their opening group-stage game against India, losing by 17 runs. However, for the rest of the tournament, they illustrated why they are the best female cricketing nation in the world.

Heading into the finals, they smashed Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and New Zealand, the latter being the hardest challenge out of those three games. Managing to make it into the knockout stage of the World Cup, they would play South Africa followed by India in the finals.

Just making it out alive against South Africa with a five-run win via the DLC method, they put a clinical performance in the final. Batting first, Beth Mooney top-scored with an unbeaten 78 runs to get Australia to a supreme total of 184. Hoping not to lose against India again, they made quick work bowling them all out for 99, with Megan Schutt’s figures (4/18) being the best of the bowlers.

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Key Players

Alyssa Healy

Having returned from a calf injury that ruled her out of the ODI and T20 series against Pakistan, Alyssa Healy showed she is back to her best. Healy scored a half-century against Ireland in their second practice match to prove any doubters wrong.

The wicket-keeper and the opening batter has been a crucial piece to Australia’s dominance for years. Playing over 130 T20 matches at the international level, she has scored 2300 runs. This includes an average of 23.46 and a strike rate of 127.91. As an opening partner for Beth Mooney, the partnership they form at the top is crucial for the Australians, if they get off to a good start with the bat it will set up the rest of the innings.

“It was fantastic,” Nitschke said about Healy’s return.

“It’s been a tough seven weeks for Alyssa, she’s had that calf injury, but to see her back out there keeping wickets, batting, making runs and hitting the ball as well as I’ve seen for a while is exciting for her and it’s exciting for our team.”

“She’ll be happy where she’s at, at the moment and look forward to seeing her getting into the tournament as well.”

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Meg Lanning

The captain of the Australian team is looking to go back-to-back-to-back after a monumental return to the game after a break last year. An instrumental piece of every World Cup she has been a part of, Lanning will be key to another T20 World Cup title, not only will she play a major role with the bat but her role as a leader within the squad is immense.

She returned to her brilliant best in the series against Pakistan where she demonstrated her hunger for runs and 360 degree game. Still only 30 years old, Lanning has scored 3256 runs in T20Is and has the highest individual score in a Women’s T20 World Cup with 126 runs. Knowing her competitive nature, Lanning will look to top it during this World Cup.

“She’s really relaxed and she’s enjoying her cricket and I think that’s probably what makes everyone all the more happy to see her enjoying her cricket again,” Nitschke said.

“She marshals the troops and she’s such a good strategic captain. It’s really good to see her back in and around the group.”

Beth Mooney

Another opening batter, Beth Mooney is a must-watch player at the top of the order. Mooney was named the Player of the Tournament during the previous World Cup after scoring a competition-high 259 runs. This featured an unbeaten 78 runs in the final against India that awarded her team the title.

Currently, in prime form, she will be eager to replicate her 2022 season. One of three Australians named in the ICC T20I Women’s Team of the Year in 2022 she averaged 56.12 runs with the bat in 14 matches for Australia.

Even if Mooney struggles to get going during the group stage, you know she will bounce back when it matters the most, as she always seems to find her name on the top of the scoresheet when the game is on the line.

Australian batter Beth Mooney during the Pakistan series in January (Picture: Australian Women’s Cricket Team)

Georgia Wareham

Returning to the squad from an ACL injury in late 2021, Georgia Wareham has had limited game time at the domestic and international levels since her comeback. Despite this, the 23-year-old is always a player to watch with the ball. Depending on how many matches she plays, she could be a defining factor for the Aussies.

“Georgia’s had a fantastic recovery. She’s worked so hard, it’s a credit to her and the staff at Big Cricket to get her where she is now,” Nitschke said.

“Every time I think she plays a game of cricket at the moment she’s getting more and more comfortable with being back out there in the middle.”

“She brings so much to the group, we saw her bat really well against India, she bowled well yesterday and she’s a fantastic filler so it’s great to have her back cause she offers so much versatility.”

Returning leg-spinner Georgia Wareham(Photo: Cricket Australia)

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The Biggest Competition

Luckily for the defending champions, their biggest challenge won’t appear in their group, meaning the only time they will face them will either be in the semi-final or final. Entering the World Cup as 2020 runners-up, India can be expected to give the Aussies a difficult challenge.

Another fierce rival to give Australia a challenge is England. Led by ICC ODI Player of the Year Nat Sciver-Brunt, England should never be counted out. The inaugural winners of the T20 Women’s World Cup back in 2009 have struggled in recent tournaments, however, they are always determined to get one over their rivals.

The Squad

Meg Lanning (c), Alyssa Healy (vc) (wk), Darcie Brown, Ashleigh Gardner, Kim Garth, Heather Graham, Grace Harris, Jess Jonassen, Alana King, Tahlia McGrath, Beth Mooney (wk), Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland, Georgia Wareham

Predicted XI

Beth Mooney, Alyssa Healy (wk), Tahlia McGrath, Meg Lanning (c), Ellyse Perry, Ashleigh Gardner, Grace Harris, Jess Jonassen, Alana King, Megan Schutt, Darcie Brown

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