Chances of Success Rating 7.9/10 (2nd)
I fully remember the last time I tried to write a piece about the development of New Zealand cricket. It was for Cricinfo, right before their series against England in early 2015, and was entitled “New Zealand’s frustrating decline in women’s cricket”. It seemed accurate enough at the time. New Zealand have not won a world title since their World Cup win at home in 2000. They were fourth-placed in 2013.
I sent it off. Then I turned on the BBC commentary for the first England-New Zealand ODI. Suzie Bates was in the middle of hammering a century. New Zealand didn't lose a wicket until 157 runs were up on the scoreboard. Frantically, I emailed over edits to my piece - which had proudly proclaimed that England had not lost an international match against the Kiwis in 5 years - while the action unfolded.
I stayed up half the night listening to New Zealand defeating England by 67 runs. They went on to win two of the three Championship matches. I was left rather red-faced.
Something has changed with this New Zealand team over the past couple of years. Perhaps it has something to do with the expanding contract system - while most of the team are still only semi-professional, NZC do now offer remuneration for the core squad of players (the value of these contracts being significantly raised last year). It almost certainly is linked to the appointment of former international Haidee Tiffen as coach in April 2015. Tiffen has played in two World Cup finals and won one - not a bad person to have at the helm right now.
Since Tiffen took over, New Zealand have beaten Australia in six out of 12 international encounters. They also clinically annihilated the Sri Lankans in their Championship series in November 2015. Other results have been mixed - but they eventually finished the Championship a close third behind Australia and England; and there is a real sense that this side, who always possessed some potentially-great players, now have players who are starting to fulfil that potential.
That includes the fierce fast-bowling duo Lea Tahuhu and Holly Huddleston, who has revived her career by performing brilliantly in English conditions for Middlesex. It also includes their power hitting top-order: Amy Satterthwaite, who recently hit four successive ODI centuries against Pakistan and Australia; Rachel Priest, who averaged 158 against the Sri Lankans in that 2015 ODI series; Sophie Devine, returning from injury, who hit an 18-ball half-century against India two years ago. And that is without even mentioning captain Suzie Bates - 2013’s Player of the Tournament.
All of these players have one other thing in common: they form the seemingly never-ending series of Kiwi recruits to the County Championship this season. Alongside Huddleston at Middlesex there is Bates at Hampshire, Devine at Warwickshire, Satterthwaite at Lancashire, Tahuhu at Surrey and Priest at Berkshire. New Zealand know which side their bread is buttered: their top players will be superbly well adjusted to English conditions, come the start of this tournament.
In my view - and I’m going to stick my neck out here - that puts them as favourites to take home the World Cup trophy this time around.