Graham Croker

Universities Cricket Club captain Lisa Sthalekar and team-mate Alex Blackwell will be key members of the Australian squad defending the ICC Women’s World Cup when the tournament commences in Sydney on Sunday.
Australia is playing host to the 2009 World Cup, with matches scheduled for Sydney, Newcastle, Bowral and Canberra during the next month.
And, as the reigning World Champions and current world No.1 ranked team, the Southern Stars have been placed in Group A along with New Zealand, West Indies and South Africa. Group B contains India, England, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
The Southern Stars will open their World Cup defence with a Trans-Tasman clash against New Zealand at North Sydney Oval on March 8 before completing their Group A commitments with matches against South Africa and West Indies in Newcastle and Drummoyne.
Providing they make it through their Group matches to the Super Sixes stage, the Australians will play three more matches before the final and play-off matches.
This year’s World Cup is the first played under the auspices of the ICC and the ninth overall. Australia is the defending champion and have claimed women’s cricket’s ultimate prize on five occasions, including a 1988 victory in Melbourne.
The Australians are highly fancied to add another World Cup title to their collection.
Boasting an excellent combination of youth and experience, the side will be led by Karen Rolton who was part of Australia’s team that won the World Cup in 2005.
Sthalekar, one of the leading all-rounders in the world and twice International Women’s Cricketer of the Year, is a right-handed batswoman and off-spinner.
Big things are also hoped for of Alex Blackwell, whose twin sister Kate narrowly missed out on selection for the squad.
The Women’s World Cup has been running for longer than the men’s version and was first staged in England in 1973, when it was won by the hosts.
Since then there have been a further seven tournaments with Australia winning five of them (1978, 1982, 1988, 1997 and 2005), and England (in 1993) and New Zealand (2000) both triumphing once.
The tournament has been staged twice each in England (1973 and 1993), India (1978 and 1997) and New Zealand (1982 and 2000) as well as Australia (1988) and South Africa (2005).
Australia’s World Cup winning men’s captains Allan Border, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting have sent good-luck messages to Karen Rolton’s side in their quest for a sixth title.
Border, who captained Australia to the first of its four ICC Cricket World Cup titles, hopes the players will give their best performances.
“If I had one piece of advice for the players it would be this: the World Cup is the pinnacle of any career and you may only get one chance to play in it and win it,” he said.
“So on that basis, just make sure you leave no stone unturned, get your preparations right and leave nothing in the locker room. There is no point in having regrets after the event.”
Waugh, who played in 168 Tests and 325 ODIs and steered Australia to victory in the 1999 World Cup, said: “I’d urge the girls to be positive in their approach and everything they do. It’s all about challenging the opposition and getting them out of their comfort zones by doing things they don’t want you to do. I’d also tell the players to enjoy the whole experience. Playing in a World Cup is the ultimate honour, there are plenty of others who would love to get that chance, and so they should take it all in.”
Waugh’s successor, Ricky Ponting, who inspired Australia to World Cup titles in 2003 and 2007, also wished Rolton and her side best of luck. “On behalf of the Australia cricket team I would like to wish Karen and her players every success for the ICC Women’s World Cup. We will certainly be supporting them while we are in South Africa,” he said.
“If I can offer Karen any advice at all, it would be to stick to what she has been doing so successfully in the past. Under Karen’s leadership the side has been a very powerful unit and I am sure if she continues to do what she knows works, the team will again be very difficult to beat.”