Aussies can rule the world
The organisation has been a shambles - the final tournament schedule was only confirmed a week before the event gets under way - but the Women's World Cup 2013 begins in India on Thursday.
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There are eight teams contesting the event, with two groups of four initially before the top three from each group move forward to the Super Six.
Each team that reaches the Super Six carries through the points won against their fellow qualifiers before playing the other three teams to produce a six-team league table where everyone has played everyone else. The top two then contest the final.
This has a couple of important repercussions. First, the group draw is largely irrelevant: everyone will play all the main contenders, and every match bar one will count.
Secondly, a format without semi-finals makes it highly likely that the cream will rise to the top during the league stage.
That leaves an England v Australia final as much the likeliest for the February 17 showpiece at Mumbai's Brabourne Stadium.
England are defending champions and favourites. They are the most professional side in the women's game, have eight of the victorious 2009 squad still around, are superbly led by Charlotte Edwards and have a team packed with match-winners including the brilliant keeper-batsman Sarah Taylor who has made headlines recently by declaring an intention to play men's cricket.
But at odds-on they offer no pre-tournament value. If they were, as we expect, to come up against Australia in that final they should only be slight favourites. If Australia have won the Super Six encounter between the two, England could well go off no shorter than their current price and may even be underdogs.
Australia, though, can be backed outright at a hugely generous 5/2. They too have a squad packed with match-winners like Ellyse Perry, Lisa Sthalekar and Meg Lanning. There's a compelling blend of experience and youth in the Aussie ranks, and they've won 19 of their last 20 completed ODIs against sides other than England, a record that rubber-stamps their status as near-certain finalists regardless of the Super Six result against their fellow heavyweights. England's recent record against sides other than Australia, for comparison, is 16 wins and four defeats.
But it is Australia's record against England that makes them must-bet material at the price offered, because it suggests such a match-up is a pick 'em affair.
Australia have won three of the last five, England six of their last 11 and - as if to drive home the point - if you go back to take the record over the last 20 clashes the Ashes foes have 10 wins apiece.
These two contested the World Twenty20 final last year, with Australia prevailing that day. A repeat looks the value call.
Further down the betting, India, on home turf, are the likeliest threat to the big two but look short enough at 5/1. What value there is probably lies with the fast-improving T20 semi-finalists West Indies. They are an inconsistent but dangerous outfit, and in Stafanie Taylor boast arguably the women's game's pre-eminent all-rounder: she averages 46 with the bat and 16.50 with her off-breaks.
Anisa Mohammed offers another high-quality spin option which is always a plus on the sub-continent.
However, their batting is inconsistent and, unlike England's and Australia's, heavily reliant on one or two key players. That makes a heavy net run rate-damaging defeat along the way a real danger, and they will probably need to beat both India and New Zealand as well as one of the big guns to reach the final.
- The tournament is being televised live in the UK on Sky Sports.