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Indian cricketer Niranjana Nagarajan (center) celebrates the dismissal of West Indies' Deandra Dottin during the opening match of the ICC Women's World Cup cricket in Mumbai, Maharashtra on Thursday.
Indian cricketer Niranjana Nagarajan (center) celebrates the dismissal of West Indies’ Deandra Dottin during the opening match of the ICC Women’s World Cup cricket in Mumbai, Maharashtra on Thursday.

England will be defending its title in the 10th Women’s Cricket World Cup, which began Thursday in Mumbai with a match between India, the host country, and the West Indies.

Though England is heavily favored, New Zealand, India and Australia are considered strong contenders to knock the defending champion off its perch. The four teams qualified for the Cricket World Cup by finishing in the top four spots in the last World Cup, held in Australia in March 2009.

They are joined by Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the West Indies, who made it to the World Cup through the qualifier played in Bangladesh in 2011.

India is playing host to the quadrennial event for the third time, having held the World Cup in 1978 and 1997. All 25 matches, including the final, will be played in Cuttack and Mumbai until Feb. 17. India took the first match, by 105 runs.

India, England, Sri Lanka and the West Indies are in Group A, while Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa are in Group B. The top three teams from each group will clash in the Super Six stage.

India’s captain, Mithali Raj, a veteran of 141 One-Day Internationals, in which she has scored 4,490 runs at 48.27 average runs per match, will not only have to lead from the front and make the most of the home conditions and comforts, but also to score runs consistently, being the mainstay of her team’s batting.

Her predecessor, Jhulan Goswami, an experienced medium-paced bowler who has taken 145 wickets at an average of 21.87 runs given per wicket in 126 One-Day Internationals, is expected to spearhead India’s attack.

India has never won the World Cup, and this may be its best chance. “Since the tournament will be held in India, our team is quite familiar with the conditions. The weather is a plus point,” Ms. Raj told The Times of India.

Charlotte Edwards, who has played a record 160 One-Day Internationals, is leading the defending champion England. England is a powerful all-round team, packed with some excellent batswomen and bowlers.

Though they will have to conquer the warmer weather and slower Indian pitches, analysts would not be surprised if the English women retain the title. In wicketkeeper-batswoman Sarah Taylor, who wants to play men’s cricket, they have a formidable player.

New Zealand, who lost to England in the last World Cup, is a very experienced side, with outstanding players like captain Suzie Bates (who is in terrific form, having scored a century and two fifties in her last five One-Day International innings), Nicola Browne, Sophie Devine and Sara McGlashan in its ranks. New Zealand won the World Cup in 2000 but has failed to win on three other occasions despite reaching the final.

Australia, led by Jodie Fields, also prides itself on its overall strength. Also, having already won the World Cup twice and beaten England in the World Twenty20 final last year, the Aussie women can fancy their chances, although the subcontinental conditions might pose a challenge to them.

West Indies, Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka, which were unimpressive in the last World Cup and occupied fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth positions, respectively, at the end of the tournament, still look like the minnows of women’s cricket. They will have to put up an extraordinary performance to look more impressive this time, though it will not be easy, considering the might of the other four teams.