The opening match of the Women’s Cricket World Cup on Friday will mark the end of one countdown and the start of another.
Seven visiting teams traveled to New Zealand, going through week-long stints in controlled isolation where, with one exception, they were unable to train.
But having completed their pre-tournament media duties and a series of warm-up matches at Canterbury over the past week, they are now ready for the real deal.
The White Ferns and the West Indies will kick things off at the Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui, in the first of 31 games scheduled over 31 days in six different cities.
* Women’s Cricket World Cup 2022 team guides: Australia’s top favorites
* The history of the Women’s Cricket World Cup
* White Ferns star Amelia Kerr and the disturbing case of the Spark Sport curse
* Australian cricketer locked in toilet cubicle ahead of World Cup warm-up match
Getting everyone to this point in good shape has been a challenge. Getting them to the end of the final on April 3 at Hagley Oval in Christchurch is next.
There is a lot of irony in the fact that the tournament is taking place as Covid-19 cases peak in New Zealand, with 22,000 cases reported on Thursday and another 23,000 reported on Friday. If it had taken place last February and March, as originally planned, it would hardly have been touched.
The virus now looms large in the background of this World Cup – and everyone involved is hoping and praying that is where it remains.
Attendance will be limited to 10% of site capacity. Contingency plans are in place for matches to be rescheduled if necessary. There is also a last resort option for teams to play with nine players, instead of 11, but it will be a sad day if that happens.
Australian all-rounder Ashleigh Gardner was the first player to be forced into solitary confinement for 10 days on Thursday after testing positive. She certainly won’t be the last, but it will be a hit if she’s one of the few.
If the cases of Covid-19 pile up and the impact of the isolation periods is felt deeply, this tournament will be tarnished, and that would be a shame, because it has all the makings of a real humdinger.
Women’s cricket has grown steadily since the last World Cup, in England in 2017, where the hosts triumphed with a resounding win over India in the final.
Your guide to the White Ferns Women’s Cricket World Cup team and fixtures.
Australia are the heavy favorites this time around as they are set to receive their record of the past five years, which reads: 33 played, 31 won.
During this time, however, they did not face South Africa, who were the big player of the game. The outgoing finalists, England and India, are the two teams to have beaten them.
Then there are the hosts, the White Ferns, who have struggled for form in recent years but seem to have found it at the perfect time, beating India last month to claim their first ODI series win since 2017.
The West Indies, Pakistan and Bangladesh round out the lineup, while a thought should be spared for Thailand, which could have imagined its chances of being there, if the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 had not not sabotage the qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe in November.
All the action starts on Friday, where the White Ferns will be looking to start strong against West Indies, who they beat 3-0 on their last visit to New Zealand in 2018.
From there until the end of the round robin on March 27, there is a game scheduled almost every day.
As long as Covid-19 is kept at bay.
Women’s Cricket World Cup – the opening weekend
Friday, 2 p.m.: White ferns against West Indies; Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui
Saturday, 11 a.m.: Bangladesh versus South Africa; University of Otago Oval, Dunedin
Saturday, 2 p.m.: Australia versus England; Seddon Park, Hamilton
Sunday, 11 a.m.: Pakistan versus India; Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui