England take inspiration from Bazball for Women’s T20 World Cup title bid

There may be a sparkly new kid on the block in the shape of the Women’s Premier League, but for the next four weeks at least international women’s cricket is the focus. Beginning on Friday, at three venues in South Africa – Cape Town, Paarl and Gqeberha – 10 teams will be fighting it out in a 20-over World Cup. Nine of them will be desperately, but probably futilely, hoping to steal the title Australia have held since 2018.

England find themselves in Group B, alongside India, Pakistan, West Indies and Ireland. Progression to the semi-finals will be the minimum expectation, while topping their group will be key if they are to avoid the bear-trap of Australia before the final, scheduled for 26 February in Cape Town.

Three years ago, Heather Knight’s side were left swimming in frustration, when a washout in Sydney denied them the chance to progress to the final. Fortunately, the ICC has learned from that mistake: this time, both semi-finals (on 23 and 24 February) have reserve days scheduled.

Related: Women’s T20 World Cup: a guide to the 10 teams in South Africa

The rest is up to the coach, Jon Lewis, who seems intent on pursuing a strategy akin to Women’s Bazball. In Alice Capsey, playing in her first World Cup complete with a metal plate and seven screws in her shoulder (she broke her collarbone in December), he may just have found the player to pull it off.

In a frenzied warmup against South Africa in Stellenbosch on Monday, England hammered 246 runs in 20 overs. Sophia Dunkley hit 59 off 19 balls, while Capsey top-scored with 61. Dunkley, who is relishing her new role at the top of the order, described England’s new approach: “Take the positive option always, take on the bowlers, and not be scared of getting out.”

Compare that with the last World Cup, when the highest total was 195, and you get some idea of the way England are approaching the tournament.

On the other side of the draw, Group A consists of the reigning champions, Australia, the hosts, South Africa, plus New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Australia suffered a shock three-wicket defeat to Ireland in their own warmup game on Wednesday, but Alyssa Healy – who retired out after hitting 62 from 40 balls – said her team did not set too much store by the result. “We had some different options, trying some different things throughout the innings. Once we get our full-strength XI on the park in their specific roles, I’ve got no doubt we’ll nail that.”

Related: Heather Knight: ‘Watching the Lionesses was remarkable – we want a piece of that’

South Africa have not hosted a women’s World Cup since 2005 and should be heading into this tournament full of anticipation: they made the semi-finals in 2020 and in last year’s 50-over World Cup. Their preparations have been overshadowed by accusations of an inflexible fitness regime. This is thought to have forced big-hitter Lizelle Lee into premature retirement last summer and led to the captain, Dane van Niekerk, being dropped from their squad after failing a 2km time-trial by 18 seconds.

Before this news broke, South Africa’s group match against Australia in Gqeberha (capacity 19,000) was announced as a sell-out. But, given everything, will the locals still respond to the tournament hashtag #TurnItUp by actually #TurningUp?

The wildcard that could throw a grenade into every dressing room is the first Women’s Premier League auction on Monday. That happens to be the same day as South Africa v New Zealand and England v Ireland. (Handily, the BCCI has avoided a clash with any of India’s fixtures. Funny, that.) Suddenly, Knight’s Masters dissertation, which assessed the impact of franchise cricket on the international game, is no longer a theoretical exercise.

Four of England’s squad – Sophie Ecclestone, Danni Wyatt and Nat and Katherine Sciver-Brunt – have selected the maximum reserve price of 50 lakh (roughly £50,000) while 10 others, Knight included, have also put themselves forward. Keeping her team focused on the cricket while 5,000 miles away a group of Indian businessmen are deciding whether she or any of her teammates are worth a life-changing sum of money, could be the biggest challenge of the England captain’s career.