As we prepare for a bumper WBBL06 season hosted in a Sydney hub, cricket expert Mary Konstantopoulos breaks down each team and their key acquisitions.
The sixth instalment of the Women’s Big Bash League is going to be the most unpredictable so far; and it’s not just because of a pandemic.
COVID-19 has certainly impacted the competition. All eight WBBL teams will be Sydney-based in a hub at Olympic Park with games played at Drummoyne Oval, North Sydney Oval, Blacktown International Sports Park and Hurstville Oval.
Promisingly, Cricket Australia has committed to a full 59-game season. The season will be shorter by one week, meaning a congested summer; something teams will need to be mindful of in their preparation.
The main reason this season will be so unpredictable is because there has been an unprecedented level of player movement during the contracting period. Almost every squad in the WBBL looks different and with some of the competition’s biggest stars changing clubs, it’s anyone’s game.
It’s also heartening to see that despite a pandemic, a strong contingent of international players have returned.
Let’s see how the squads look ahead of the competition’s commencement this weekend.
After their title success in WBBL04 and WBBL05, the Brisbane Heat will be striving for a three-peat. But their three-peat hopes started on shaky ground. At the start of the contracting period, their only contracted player was Delissa Kimmince.
Since then, the Heat have managed to retain plenty of familiar faces from previous campaigns including Grace Harris, Maddy Green, Amelia Kerr and Laura Harris.
Following a stand-out 12 months in the green and gold, Jess Jonassen will also have additional responsibilities, assuming the captaincy following Kirby Short’s retirement.
But the big question is whether the Heat can fill the gap left by Beth Mooney who departs for the Perth Scorchers. In WBBL05, Mooney was the Heat’s highest run scorer by a significant margin with an average of 74.30. Grace Harris or Jonassen may step into the opening batter role, but for Jonassen, who is already assuming the captaincy, this may be too much of an ask.
Keep an eye on their new wicketkeeper too. Dr Georgia Redmayne joins the Heat after a season with the Scorchers.
The Heat will also have some new faces in their bowling attack including Nadine de Klerk and Nicola Hancock.
What does a WBBL franchise do when it loses one of the best cricketers in the world in Meg Lanning?
That’s easy. Simply go and recruit the two highest run-scorers from WBBL05; Sophie Devine and Mooney. Both were incredible in WBBL05 with Devine scoring the most in the competition with 769 runs at an average of 76.90. Mooney was not far behind on 743 runs at an average of 74.30.
In what is a major coup for the Scorchers, these two women will likely open the batting and I cannot wait to see them bat together (this may be the first time they have had this opportunity). These additions add significant depth to an already experienced batting line-up which includes Amy Jones and Nicole Bolton.
Devine will also assume the captaincy with Lanning’s departure.
As well as batting depth, the Scorchers also have an experienced bowling attack.
In the pace column is Devine, a new addition in Sarah Glenn, Piepa Cleary and Heather Graham. The Scorchers also have several off-spinners including Bolton, Emma King and Jemma Barsby.
With depth in bowling and batting, the Scorchers will be formidable opposition in WBBL06.
In a season riddled with change, one club whose roster has remained stable is the Strikers.
The one glaring omission is Devine and her departure has left a noticeable gap in the Strikers top order.
The Strikers do have the players to fill that gap including the remaining ‘Smash Sister’, Suzie Bates and Stefanie Taylor, who may have had an underwhelming WBBL05, averaging just 16.50, but is one of the most explosive batters in the world on her day.
Tahlia McGrath will also be hoping for a big season with the bat after being rewarded in 2020 with her first Cricket Australia contract.
Another batter to watch is Laura Woolvardt. The South African international joins from the Heat where she failed to make an impact. Despite that, there were positive signs in her ICC T20 Women’s World Cup performances, particularly her 41* in the semi-final against Australia. She also has my favourite batting stance in the WBBL; once you see it, you’ll know what I mean.
For any depth lacking in their batting line-up, the Strikers make up for it with their bowlers and a potent core group of Bates, Megan Schutt, McGrath and Amanda-Jade Wellington. This group will be bolstered by Maddy Penna, a leg-spinner from the Melbourne Stars who delighted in her debut season last year, most notably snaring 4/20 against the Sydney Thunder in her first game.
After finishing seventh in WBBL05, the Hurricanes will hope their new look batting line-up will be enough to guide them to a top four finish.
After recruiting Nicola Carey, Maisy Gibson and Belinda Vakarewa from the Sydney Thunder in WBBL05, in WBBL06 Naomi Stalenberg and Rachel Priest will also join the Hurricanes.
Priest is a particularly handy acquisition given historical instability at the top of the order for the Hurricanes and will also fill the wicketkeeper role.
Chloe Tryon, the South African international has also re-signed and I’m excited at the prospect of seeing her and Priest bat together as both players are known for their power hitting.
There may be added pressure on the Hurricanes batting this season given some unfortunate news about two of their star bowlers, Gibson and Tayla Vlaeminck who will miss WBBL06 because of injury.
That means other bowlers like Vakarewa will need to step up, just like she did in WBBL05. Vakarewa had an outstanding WBBL05, taking 20 wickets (the third highest in the competition). She was also included in the Australian squad for the recent series against New Zealand.
Given their injury woes, the Hurricanes have also been able to sign three local replacement players, so keep an eye out for Chloe Abel, Nell Bryson Smith and Emily Smith who will travel with the squad to Sydney.
The Stars are the only WBBL franchise to have never played finals. But that could change in WBBL06 with seven players departing the squad (including the retired Kristen Beams) and a new coach in David Woodhill.
There are a couple of big ins, but none more so than Australian captain Lanning who has returned home after three years at the Scorchers. Lanning scored 531 runs in WBBL05 but as well as classy batting will also provide much needed leadership to a squad full of young players including Georgia Gall, Annabel Sutherland, Tess Flintoff and Lucy Cripps.
But the experience doesn’t stop with Lanning. She will play alongside Mignon du Preez, Erin Osbourne and Elyse Villani who have opted to stay with the Stars.
Another boost for the Stars batting is Natalie Sciver who was the second-highest run scorer for the Scorchers last year. She is also handy with ball in hand, as is their other English recruit Katherine Brunt, who will add some much needed pace to the attack. This pace will complement the spin of Alana King.
My player to watch is Sutherland, who has just turned 19 years old. In the past, Sutherland has juggled her WBBL commitments with school, but after finishing last year she has had more time to focus on her craft and had a full pre-season. She is one of the highest rated players coming through the Australian system and is one to watch.
With a group of younger players including Sophie Molineaux, Georgia Wareham and Molly Strano (all re-signed), the Renegades once had a reputation for being the youngest squad in the WBBL. I wonder whether this still applies now given that the Renegades have three mums in their squad.
Amy Satterthwaite returns as captain after taking a year off to give birth to Grace, her first child with wife (and teammate!) Lea Tahuhu. No doubt the squad will be bolstered by the presence of baby Grace who will join her mums and surely be head cheerleader.
Jess Duffin remains in the squad but won’t play after signalling she was not ready to return to elite sport following the birth of her daughter Georgie. Duffin will be missed after scoring 544 runs at an average of 68 in WBBL05.
Despite this, the Renegades batting line-up remains strong. South African power hitter Lizelle Lee joins from the Stars. Last year she scored two centuries and the Renegades will likely promote her to the top of the order alongside Molineaux.
Erin Fazackerley is also an option as she opened for the Hurricanes last year.
The Renegades bowling attack continues to be strong with a core group of Molineaux, Wareham and Strano.
Perhaps keen to maintain the moniker of the youngest squad in the WBBL, the Renegades have also re-signed Courtney Neale and Makinley Blows. All-rounder Ella Hayward, who is just sixteen years old is also a new face in the squad.
The Thunder have a new look squad this year after losing several players and I must say, I’m impressed.
Rachael Haynes had a tough WBBL05, averaging just 15.09 with the bat. It was her first season as captain of a young squad though and I’m looking forward to seeing her more settled in the role this year.
Whilst the Thunder have lost Stalenberg, Lisa Griffith and Alex Blackwell, their batting ranks still look strong with the additions of Tammy Beaumont and Heather Knight. Whilst I would label her a bowler and not a batter, Sammy-Jo Johnson is also a new addition and will entertain the Sydney crowds with her unorthodox batting style.
Johnson and Shabnim Ismail will also be a formidable pair as two of the most talented pace bowlers in the competition.
The Thunder’s bowling attack will also benefit from the inclusion of Lauren Smith who is looking for more opportunity after leaving the Sydney Sixers.
My player to watch is teenager Phoebe Litchfield who delighted in her debut season, particularly when she batted alongside Blackwell. She’ll also be easy to spot with the teen dying her hair green ahead of the season commencing.
Whilst the Renegades may have a young squad, almost half the Thunder’s squad is 20 years old or younger including Hannah Darlington and Tahlia Wilson. This bodes well for the future, particularly with the additions of Olivia Porter and Anika Learoyd who have both signed their first WBBL contracts.
Another squad that has remained stable is the Sixers. Why change things up when you have one of the best rosters in the WBBL?
Despite the strength in this roster, the Sixers did lose Ellyse Perry mid-way through last year’s WBBL and did not make the finals for the first time in the franchise’s history. No doubt the team will look to rectify that this year.
Their batting line-up is one to envy and includes Alyssa Healy, Erin Burns and Ashleigh Gardner. This batting line-up will be bolstered by the addition of Lisa Griffith who joins the Sixers from cross-town rivals the Thunder.
Marizanne Kapp and Dane van Niekerk also return. I’m looking forward to seeing them play after their impressive showings during the T20 World Cup.
What is exciting for the Sixers is the next generation of players coming through. Teen sensations Hayley Silver-Holmes and Stella Campbell return alongside Maddy Darke and are the next generation of players who have grown up watching women’s cricket.
Sixers fans will still be sweating on the fitness of Perry, who recently missed the Australian series against New Zealand due to that hamstring injury sustained during the T20 World Cup. Perry has not played cricket in seven months but has declared how keen she is to play every game of the Sixers campaign.
They will certainly need her as they compete for the title.