CHARLOTTE Edwards struck an elegant 93-ball 72 for England women in a losing cause against Australia in Australia during the build-up schedule of games before the World Cup on March 7-22.
England lost by 25 runs after the holders Australia opener Alex Blackwell hit a flawless 91 not out off only 112 balls in a 50-overs total of 214 for eight at The Village Green club in Sydney. England in reply were cruising nicely at 152 for four before Erin Osbourne (2-31) and Shelley Nitschke (2-31) started a collapse, with the last six wickets falling for 37 runs in a total of 189 all out. Edwards, the captain, was the key to the good start and Claire Taylor also showed signs of good form in a 47-ball 35. Lydia Greenway contributed 23.
At Old Kings a New South Wales team defeated the West Indies by two wicketswith one over left. West Indies recovered from a precarious 75 for eight to 145 all out after tail-ender Afy Fletcher top scored with 36 not out from 80 balls, adding 42 with Anisa Mohammed for the last wicket.
On arriving in Australia Edwards said she believed England were peaking at the right time and that the key players were firing consistently.
England, champions in 1973 and 1993 on home turf, are pooled in Group B with India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, who they meet first on March 7 in Canberra.
Group A is made up of defending champions Australia, New Zealand, West Indies and South Africa. The top three sides in each group will go forward to the Super Six stage where each side then plays the teams which have qualified from the other group. The top two sides from the Super Six go forward to the final.
Edwards, 29, ICC Womenís Player of the Year of 2008, reckoned the tournament would be the toughest yet, with the format guaranteeing that only the two best teams would qualify for the final. "The World Cup is all about peaking at the right time and dealing with the pressure of big matches," she said. "I think the four pre-tournament favourites --England, Australia, India and New Zealand -- are equal in strength, which brings it down to the fact that the difference between winning and losing will be whose key players excel on match days."
Edwards was speaking with the experience of 117 one-day internationals. "Itís obviously nice for England to be spoken as favourites, but I think Australia are favourite, especially because they will be playing on home turf. Australia have dominated international cricket for the past 10 years and being on home soil thy are the team to beat.
"I also think the West Indies will be the surprise package. We played them in the summer, and I was really impressed with them, especially with their bowling and fielding."
Officials will include the ICC international umpires Steve Davis, Tony Hill and Brian Jerling. There is one female umpire -- Kathy Cross, of New Zealand -- who will be the first woman to stand in a World Cup event. The other umpires are Shahul Hameed and Sarika Prasaad (Associate and Affiliate panel), Lakani Oala and Neil Harrison (East Asia-Pacific panel), Jeff Brookes, Andrew Craig, Tony Ward, Mick Martell (Australia National Panel) and Gerard Abood (Australian first class umpire). Referees are Brian Aldridge and David Jukes.
Charlotte Edwards (capt), Caroline Atkins, Katherine Brunt, Holly Colvin, Lydia Greenway, Lauren Griffiths, Isa Guha, Jenny Gunn, Laura Marsh, Beth Morgan, Ebony-Jewel Rainford-Brent, Nicola Shaw, Anya Shrubsole, Claire Taylor, Sarah Taylor.