The fifth ICC European Womenís championships get under way this week in the Leinster region of Ireland. Three countries, Scotland, The Netherlands and hosts Ireland are participating in what promises to be an exciting four days of top level action.
In an innovative move, the competition will be played with a mixture of both 20 and 50 over games, a format which proved a great hit with both players and spectators alike in the Under 17 tournament last week in The Netherlands.
Ireland will start favourites, and their squad looks pretty formidable at this level, with a good blend of youth and experience.
Skipper Heather Whelan is once again at the helm following a break from international action, and the 32 year old pace bowler will form the spearhead of her sideís attack. Her sister Jill Whelan is also a more than useful performer with the ball, and left armer Isobel Joyce is a potent force.
The back up bowling options include Marianne Herbert and Melissa-Scott Hayward, who didnít enjoy the best of series against Pakistan and Nottinghamshire, and will be looking for strong tournaments to re-establish themselves in the Irish set up. Suzanne and Amy Kenealy are relative newcomers to the team, and have the potential to become regulars. The spin bowling options for Ireland look very limited, with only Eimear Richardson an established wicket taker.
The Irish batting is their much stronger suit, and in Cecelia and Isobel Joyce, they have two of the most consistent and classy stroke players in the womenís game. Clare Shillington is a powerful and confident player who has represented her country on no fewer than 70 occasions, while Emma Beamish will be hoping to recapture the form which made her such a dominant force a few seasons ago.
The Netherlands have made a quite magnificent start in their debut season in the ECB Womenís county championships, winning their fixtures against Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire by convincing margins.
They too have a lot of vastly experienced players in their ranks, complimented by a sprinkling of talented youngsters. Heliem Rambaldo skippers the side, and she is a fine middle order player.
Wicket-keeper Violet Wattenberg will open the innings, and she has been in prolific form both for the national team and in domestic cricket in the Netherlands.
Cheraldine Oudolf will probably be her opening partner, with Annemarie Tanke, Alarda Mol, Miranda Veringmeier, and Mandy Kornet providing a strong and balanced batting line up.
The Netherlands can boast of a varied and talented bowling contingent, and the skipper will have an embarrassment of riches from which to draw.
The new ball pairing of Jolet Hartenhof and Mandy Kornet will be charged with the task of taking wickets up front, while Laura Brouwers, Danielle Braat, Annemarie Tanke and Evelien Gerrits can be relied upon to provide quality back up.
Scotland will be skippered by the prolific talent of Kari Anderson, who has been her countryís leading player over the past decade. Indeed she is the only player of the current squad to have scored a century at international level. In fact she has two to her credit, in addition to seven fifties. Her 1193 runs at a more than healthy average of 32.24 show why she is regarded as one of the most talented cricketers of her generation. Add in her 51 wickets, and it is easy to see why she is the player that the other countries will be targeting this week.
Kathryn White is the other stand out performer in the Scottish ranks, and she is currently in excellent form with the bat, having recorded three half centuries in her last six games against English county opponents, including a match winning unbeaten 71 against Worcestershire earlier this season. A more than useful bowler, she also proved her match winning ability with the ball while taking 4 for 15 in Scotlandís 9 wicket victory over Hampshire in May.
Other players to watch in the Scottish ranks are opening bowler Abbi Aitken, who took a hat-trick for Scotland just last season, and her ability to swing the ball and get movement off the seam make her a formidable foe.
Wicket-keeper batsman Charlotte Bascombe has been selected for the ICC Europe team to play the ECB Academy side, and her unbeaten 21 was crucial in the win over Hampshire.
Fiona Urquart is a superb bowler, as evidenced by her 4 wicket haul against Worcestershire in the County Championships, while great things are expected from the prodigiously talented teenager, Leigh Kasperek, who has been in scintillating form in the ECB Under 17 competitions.
It should be a quite competitive tournament, with not much between three highly talented squads. Ireland will be the slightest of favourites, but will need to be at their best to see off the determined challenge of both Scotland and The Netherlands.