Cuttack: Forced out of their original base due to security concerns, Pakistan will have to keep off-field issues in the backburner to put up an inspired performance against formidable Australia in their opening Group B match of the ICC Women's World Cup here on Friday.
Pakistan had to deal with unwarranted tensions even before their arrival here after some political parties asked the organisers not to allow them to participate in the event in the wake of the recent tensions at the Line of Control. The entire squad is staying in the club house of the Barabati stadium here after right-wing groups reportedly threatened hoteliers in the twin cities of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack not to house the Pakistani players.
Cuttack was added as a last-minute venue after the Shiv Sena threatened to disrupt Pakistan's matches in Mumbai, where the entire eight-nation tournament was originally scheduled to be played. But keeping the off-field matters behind, the Sana Mir-led Pakistani side would be hoping the sub-continental conditions would suit her team of talented bowlers, including spinner Nida Dar and uncapped medium-pacer Diana Baig.
The all-round skills of vice-captain Bismah Maroof will also prove important for the side if the team is to remain in the competition past the group stage. But it won't be easy for the Pakistanis against the 2012 Women's World Twenty20 champions and five-time World Cup winners Australia, who are favourites to qualify for the Super Six stage from Group B.
Besides Australia, New Zealand, who lifted the trophy back in 2000 and were runner-up in the last Women's World Cup in 2009, will also be front-runners to qualify for the Super Six stage of the event from this group. Pakistan and South Africa qualified for the event after finishing second and fourth in the qualifiers staged in Dhaka last year.
Pakistan made the final of that event, losing to the West Indies in the final by 130 runs. Of the Australia squad heading to India, led by Jodie Fields, two -- Lisa Sthalekar and Alex Blackwell -- have tasted World Cup glory, having featured in the 2005 team that lifted the trophy.
Besides Blackwell and Sthalekar, another member of the 2005 winning team is also with the side, Cathryn Fitzpatrick, who is now the head coach. The youngest member of the team is 17-year-old Holly Ferling, while all-rounder Ellyse Perry and batting duo of Alyssa Healy and Jess Cameron were members of the recent ICC Women's World Twenty20 winning side.
One player to watch out for is in-form batter, Meg Lanning, who recently scored the fastest century by an Australian player in an ODI. She smashed her way to a 45-ball 100 in 55 minutes against New Zealand in December last year.
Meanwhile, in another Group B match last year's runners-up New Zealand will take on South Africa at the DRIEMS Ground here.