SYDNEY: Mighty Australia enter their home Twenty20 World Cup within the week as overwhelming favourites as they appear to cement their superiority in women's cricket and draw a world-record crowd in the process.
Meg Lanning's defending champions, and four-time winners, were rarely tested through the last half of 2019 once they whitewashed an injury-ravaged West Indies and a developing Sri Lanka team within the short format.
Giving a glimmer of hope to their rivals, they surprisingly slumped to defeat against major rivals India and England this month, before rallying to win the warm-up tri-series.
"To be anesthetize pressure like this heading into a World Cup is extremely good preparation," Lanning insisted.
Despite the recent losses, Australia are widely expected to contest the March 8 final at the Melbourne Cricket Crowd, where organisers hope to draw a world-record attendance for a women's sporting fixture.
The cavernous MCG holds 100,000 fans, while the record stands at 90,185 for the 1999 football World Cup final when the us beat China on penalties in Pasadena, California.
It is hard to seem past Australia -- who are paid the maximum amount because the men's national team, and play domestic T20 cricket within the popular Women's Big Bash League -- together of the potential finalists.
Along with Lanning, Australia boasts wicketkeeper-batswoman Alyssa Healy, all-rounder Ellyse Perry and bowling sensation Jess Jonassen, all among the world's best.
They have been dominant since the planet Cup was introduced 11 years ago, winning four of the six tournaments thus far and crushing England by eight wickets within the 2018 final within the West Indies .
The only other teams to lift the trophy were England on home soil in 2009 and therefore the West Indies in 2016.
Lanning's side open the 10-team tournament on Friday in Sydney against an Indian side boosting teen batting sensation Shafali Verma.
"We play some very different teams during this World Cup who have very different sorts of play, so for us it'll purely come right down to what we feel the simplest combination is," Lanning said on how the side might line up.
"But I'm extremely confident anyone we put out on the park will had best ."
'Our strength is spin'
Australia and India are 2-2 across their last four meetings and Indian skipper Harmanpreet Kaur said her side had improved markedly since the last World Cup , once they lost to England within the semi-finals.
"If I reminisce two years, India's 50-over side was doing well and our T20 was struggling. But within the past two years, we've transformed as a T20 team and are very positive getting to Australia," she wrote during a column.
"All of the teams have strengths -- but so can we . Our strength is spin," she added, with the damaging Radha Radav and Poonam Radav among their ranks.
Seasoned West Indies skipper Stafanie Taylor knows what it's wish to win a World Cup , having led her team to victory in 2016, when she was player of the tournament.
The 28-year-old, who recently notched up her 100th T20 cap and has played at every World Cup , believes her side can repeat the feat, particularly with fellow veteran Deandra Dottin back from injury, along side Shamilia Connell and Shakera Selman.
"It's getting to be a challenge, we as a team know that, but we'd like to form sure that we specialise in ourselves and not what's happening around us," she said before their opener against debutantes Thailand in Perth on Saturday.
"That are going to be the way for us to achieve success over subsequent few weeks."
England, who play South Africa on Sunday, also are candidates for the knockout phase, with skipper Heather Knight warning: "From 1-15, we have got a squad which will win games of cricket."