Defending champions England ready to take on Sri Lanka

Mumbai, Jan 28 (IANS) Defending champions England will start as favourites to qualify for the Super Six stage of the ICC Women's cricket World Cup from Group A, which also includes hosts India and qualifiers the West Indies and Sri Lanka.

The second and third places will be a hard fought contest with the West Indies a vastly improved side from four years ago and India and Sri Lanka all vying for the Super Six placings, with the sub-continent sides perhaps more confident due to the event being hosted here.

England, winner of the tournament in 1973, 1993 and most recently in 2009, will begin their latest campaign against Sri Lanka on the second day of the tournament here. A day later in the feature match of the group Charlotte Edwards, featuring in her fifth successive World Cup, will lead England against 2009 third-place finishers India before concluding the group stage matches against the West Indies Feb 6.

England's matches against Sri Lanka and India will be played at the Cricket Club of India (CCI).

On the opening day, the hosts will take on the West Indies at the CCI. Sri Lanka will meet the West Indies Feb 4 at MIG while Feb 6 Shashikala Siriwardena's side will face India at CCI.

Sri Lanka won the right to compete in the tournament when they finished in the top four of the World Cup Qualifier in Dhaka in November 2011. The side beat South Africa in the third/fourth play-off to occupy the fourth spot in Group A while the West Indies qualified for the third spot in the group after completing the tournament undefeated.

At the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, the West Indies finished in the top four after a tight semifinal against Australia last October. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka managed just one win throughout the whole event, ironically against the West Indies in Galle.

The England squad for the World Cup features familiar faces including captain Edwards while there are eight players from the original winning squad of 2009 including the in-form Twenty20 Player of the Year 2012 Sarah Taylor, who will once again lead the side's batting line-up.

Edwards requires a mere 61 more One-Day International (ODI) runs to usurp Belinda Clark of Australia to become the most successful run-scorer in women's cricket. Clark's record of 4,844 runs has stood since 2005.

The bowling attack features No.1 ODI bowler Katherine Brunt, who currently has 76 scalps, along with the talented slow left-armer Holly Colvin, who happened to also hit the winning runs for England back in 2009 when they defeated Australia in the final of the event.

India women are to be led by Mithali Raj, the women's No.1 batter, while former captain Jhulan Goswami also features again in the side. Others to watch out for include the diminutive batter Punam Raut and her state teammate wicketkeeper-batter Sulakshana Naik plus bowlers Gouher Sultana and Nagarajan Niranjana.

The West Indies side features a mixture of youth and experience including the only twins in the event, Kycia and Kyshona Knight of Barbados. The side is led by Trinidadian Merissa Aguilleira while ODI Player of the Year 2012 Stafanie Taylor is her deputy.

In-form spinner Anisa Mohammed will be one to watch. The 24-year-old claimed 7/14 in the final of the Women's World Cup Qualifier 2011 against Pakistan and will be hoping the sub-continent conditions will suit her style of bowling.

Finally, Sri Lanka's side will be hoping for a positive tournament under the leadership of Siriwardena. The side is once again coached by Harsha de Silva while the players to watch out for include the likes of wicketkeeper-batter Dilani Manodara and top-order batter Yasoda Mendis.

When it comes to the bowling attack, Siriwardena will be key for the side in the sub-continent conditions with her off-spin as will medium-pacer Sripali Weerakoddy, who has represented the side in 37 ODIs.

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