In a mouth-watering rematch, Group A winner and 2009 champion England will play two-time runner-up New Zealand in the first semi-final of the ICC Women's World Twenty20 at R Premadasa Stadium on Thursday. The two teams met in the final of the first ICC Women's World Twenty20 in 2009 at Lord's, where England beat New Zealand by six wickets.
In Group A, England defeated Pakistan in its opening match by 43 runs, then India by nine wickets, and, in a big hitting final match of the group stage, successfully chased down Australia's total of 144 to win by seven wickets, with 11 balls remaining.
New Zealand finished second after losing its opening match to group-winner West Indies by seven wickets. The side bounced back to beat South Africa by 22 runs and then Sri Lanka by eight wickets.
England's Laura Marsh, an all-rounder who opens the batting with captain Charlotte Edwards, said on the eve of the side's semi-final against New Zealand: "The team is looking really good at the moment and we have been playing some brilliant cricket in the tournament and lots of people have contributed to our wins in the tournament so far which is great. I think we've had a few things to work on over the games but we've continued to work on those things, and hopefully it will pay off against the Kiwis tomorrow."
Marsh, who herself bowls off-spin, has been particularly pleased with her side's bowling attack, saying: "What's so great about our side is we've got so many bowlers that we can vary things with spinners and medium pacers, plus the likes of Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole who are a little bit quicker so hopefully once we've played a few overs on that pitch we will be able to adjust with the ball accordingly.
The 25-year-old, however, wasn't underestimating New Zealand and said it was a very good side, capable of rising to big occasions. "We've played the Kiwis a few times and had a few close encounters with them in the past and we're going to have to be at the top of our game, especially with the likes of Suzie Bates who is a potential match winner for them plus they've got some powerful hitters of the ball so we are definitely going to have to be at the top of our game tomorrow."
After losing its opening game to the West Indies, New Zealand captain Suzie Bates was pleased with her team's bounce back against South Africa: "We were a little nervous coming into the game for sure. It is such a relief to get back on track."
Bates is confident that that her team is in good form in the lead up to the clash with England: "I think we know that England is the number 1 side in the world at the moment. We're under no illusion that England's not going to be a really tough team to beat. But we also understand that with our line up, if we execute our plans and play to our potential, we can really challenge them."
While wary of the strong England batting line up, the New Zealand skipper is aware that anything is possible in Twenty20 cricket: "Any team is beatable, especially in Twenty20 cricket when one or two overs can change the game. I think if we can get a couple of early wickets, some of their batters haven't batted at this tournament, so we can hopefully put them under some pressure."
The semi-final will be played on the same day as the first men's semi-final, between host Sri Lanka and Pakistan, a prospect that the New Zealand team is very excited about: "I think we're really lucky in that a number of our players played at the last World Twenty20 in the West Indies, and were part of a final there where we played after the men and had a reasonable crowd and the pressure of a final.
"Sri Lanka is playing after us in the men's semi-final, so there might even be a bigger crowd, and that excites us that we have the opportunity to play in front of a home crowd."
The England side is also excited ahead of the double-header: "There's lots of excitement in the camp, you come to these events to win the trophy. Tomorrow will be a massive event for us and playing ahead of Sri Lanka versus Pakistan, I think they've had some massive crowds so far so I think that will be a big boost for us, playing ahead of the first men's semi-final," said Marsh.
In the second semi-final, to be played at R Premadasa Stadium on Friday, West Indies will face defending champion Australia. The women's fixture will take place ahead of the second men's semi-final which is also between West Indies and Australia.
West Indies finished top of Group B after a rocky group stage, beating New Zealand in its first match by seven wickets, before losing to Sri Lanka by five runs in a rain-affected match (D/L method), and then finishing with an emphatic victory against South Africa, winning by 10 wickets.
Australia finished second in Group A, after winning its opening matches against India by eight wickets with 16 balls remaining, and Pakistan by 25 runs in another rain-affected match (D/L method). However, the side lost its final group match against England by seven wickets, with 11 balls remaining.
West Indies, which qualified for the tournament after winning the ICC Women's World Cup Qualifier in Bangladesh in 2011 without losing a match, will be looking to its big hitters to lead the way.
West Indies captain Merissa Aguilleira, said the team's bounce-back, after losing to Sri Lanka in the group stages, was a matter of keeping things simple and playing with an uncluttered mind. "We knew we had quality and ability. The match against Sri Lanka wasn't up to our standards, so we just spoke about improving and playing without any worry."
Similarly, Australia's loss to England in the group stages is in the past now, and the focus of the team, and captain Jodie Fields, is on the dangerous West Indies side. "We are quite happy to be in the semis right now and it's great that we are playing West Indies," said Fields after the team reached Colombo.
Looking forward to the semi-final, the Australia captain is wary of West Indies' dangerous players: "West Indies is a very talented side and they have a couple of very talented players like Deandra Dottin and Stafanie Taylor," said Fields. "So we need to go deep with our planning, train harder and if we have a disciplined performance and dominate throughout the match, we should win."