Dubai [UAE], January 22 (ANI): Ten teams will head to South Africa for the ICC Women's T20 World Cup 2023, looking to follow in the footsteps of Australia and lift the coveted trophy.
Three years after Beth Mooney and Alyssa Healy inspired Australia to the title on home soil, they remain the team to beat. However, nine teams will have other ideas, with just one change from the line-up in 2020 as Ireland takes the place of Thailand, having come through a nail-biting qualifying tournament to book their spot.
The first team to clinch a place were South Africa, as hosts, and they were joined in automatic qualifying by the world's top seven teams in the world rankings on 30 November 2021.
That meant Australia, the defending champions, India, the 2020 runners-up, as well as England, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the West Indies, would all join South Africa in the tournament.
Two spots still had to be attributed, with 37 teams scheduled to battle it out across five regional groups. The winners of those five Regional Qualifiers were joined by Thailand and Bangladesh, the two lowest-ranked teams who had competed at the 2020 ICC Women's T20 World Cup, in the Qualifier.
The final spot at the Qualifier went to the remaining highest-ranked team who had not qualified through Regional Qualifying, meaning that Ireland joined a group with Bangladesh, Scotland and the US.
The other group was made up of Zimbabwe, Thailand, Papua New Guinea and the United Arab Emirates.
Nigar Sultana was outstanding for Bangladesh as they won all three of their group games, scoring 157 runs at an average of 78.5.
They were joined in the semifinals by Ireland, who prevailed in a winner-takes-all clash with Scotland by 19 runs thanks in large part to Gaby Lewis' 37-ball 66.
Group B saw a tighter contest, with every team losing at least one match. Kelis Ndlovu's performances with bat and ball were crucial in Zimbabwe's opening two victories over Papua New Guinea and Thailand.
Qualifying for the semifinal alongside Zimbabwe were Thailand, thanks to a 12-run win over PNG in a straight shootout for the last four. Nattaya Boochatham was the hero as she took four for eight.
Serving as deciders for the final two spots in South Africa, both semi-finals were tense affairs, with Ireland edging past Zimbabwe by four runs.
Having made 137 for six batting first, Ireland looked up against it with five to go when Zimbabwe were 99 for three. But some tight bowling left Zimbabwe needing 15 from the final over and that proved too tall a task as Ireland clinched a spot at the main event, having earned the final spot in the Qualifier.
In the other semifinal, Bangladesh were pushed hard by Thailand after making 113 for five from their 20 overs - even skipper Sultana struggled, making 17 off 24 balls.
That proved enough though as Thailand were quickly reduced to 13 for three and fell way behind the required run rate. Natthakan Chantham's 64 from 51 balls was not enough to get them back into it as 11 runs beat them.
Having already secured qualification, Bangladesh and Ireland then met for the second time in the tournament final, with the same result as the Asian side got home by seven runs to win the tournament.
Their reward is a place in Group A in the tournament, alongside champions Australia, hosts South Africa, as well as New Zealand and Sri Lanka.
In Group B, Ireland joined England and India, finalists at the last T20 and ODI World Cups respectively, as well as the West Indies and Pakistan. (ANI)