Cricket is making its return to Commonwealth Games for the first time since 1998. All you need to know about cricket at CWG 2022, Birmingham and what are India's chances to win the gold medal.
Will cricket someday be part of the Olympics? We could have the answer to that question soon as the sport returns to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, for the first time since 1998.
But the sport is making its return with two noticeable changes.
At the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, cricket was played in the ODIs format and it was only played by men.
Birmingham shall see cricket's youngest and in some people's opinion most thrilling format, the T20s. This time we only have a women's tournament.
Eight teams are participating in the women's tournament and they have been split into two groups of four each.
Australia, Barbados, India, Pakistan
Group B: England, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka
Each team will play one match against other teams in their groups. The top two teams from each group will qualify for the semifinals. The winner of the two semifinals will fight for the gold medal. The two losers in the semis will play a match to settle for the bronze medal.
Off the eight teams, reigning 50-over and T20-over World Champions Australia start as outright favourites. Other teams in medal contentions will be England, New Zealand, South Africa and India.
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So what are India's chances to win the gold medal?
India and Australia are arch-rivals in women's cricket. The two teams have had fascinating skirmishes in the recent past. In 2020, Australia in front of a packed Melbourne Cricket Ground crowd mauled India to win the women's T20 World Cup. In September 2021, India defeated Australia in Australia in an ODI game to end their 26-match winning streak. In March, Australia beat India in a crucial World Cup match in New Zealand.
One Indian batter who featured in all three matches is opener Smriti Mandhana.
So what does Mandhana think about Australia?
Mandhana is in no mood to lose sleep over that and make their rivals "feel good about it".
Days before women's cricket makes its debut at the multi-sport event, Mandhana refused to call the five-time T20 world champions a big team.
The Harmanpreet Kaur-led side will open its campaign against Australia on July 29, and Mandhana said they have their plans in place for each opposition.
"We have played them (Australia) in the openers in quite a lot of tournaments. "In a T20 tournament, any team can beat any team. I wouldn't term Australia as a big team and make them feel good about that.
Definitely, in our heads, Australia, Pakistan and Barbados matches are important. We will go as they come and will look to win all of them," Mandhana said.
India, though, will enter the Birmingham CWG after winning the T20I and ODI series in Sri Lanka recently, and Smriti said, "Our preparations have been really good and I hope it will lead us to the medal."
"Aiming for gold, not just podium"
Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra's gold medal-winning feat at the Tokyo Olympics last year gave her goosebumps, and Mandhana and her teammates will look to take inspiration from that when they compete in their first multi-sport event.
The star India opener said they would strive to win no less than a gold medal. "We all have watched the Olympics and the CWG, when the Indian flag goes high and we hear the National Anthem, we know the kind of feeling it evokes," the left-hander said during a virtual media interaction on the eve of the team's departure for the UK.
"Definitely we are aiming for the gold. I don't think we will just look for a podium finish because when the flag goes higher, and the National Anthem is played, that's the best feeling you have.
"I literally got goosebumps when Neeraj got the gold at the Tokyo Olympics. We have an opportunity to be there, try and do that -- of course not for the Olympics but for CWG. So, we all are really excited."
On taking part in the CWG, she further said: "It's something very new for me and also the whole team, we never experienced a multi-sport event. "Definitely looking forward to it and catching up with a few athletes at the Games Village and interacting about their training regimen. It would be a good experience for us."
"We are looking to win every match. Not one match and then think of what will happen. We have our plans ready for the three teams. We will try to win all three matches," the 26-year-old said.
"We've a lot of match-winners now"
The best thing to have happened to the Indian women's team in the recent past is the development of a lot of match winners.
"Luckily we have developed a lot of match-winners in T20 cricket. So even if 2-3 batters or bowlers click on that day, it would be our day. "That's one good thing that has happened over the years. We now have a lot of match winners in our team." She further said that the team boasts of multiple wicketkeeper-batters with Yastika Bhatia as the first-choice stumper and Taniya Bhatiya as back-up.
"We have 2-3 people who can keep and bat, that's something we really wanted. I think we are heading towards a good direction as far as a comp for the spots in the team is concerned," she signed off.
(with PTI inputs)