The seventh iteration of the WBBL starts this Thursday with 24 games due to be played on the island of Tasmania, before there are further "festivals" in Western Australia, Adelaide and Mackay, where the rest of the games will be played before the finals in late November. For all the fixtures check out our Fixtures Page.
Covid, of course, has meant that the original schedule has had to be altered, and covid has also shaped the squads for this year's competition with regard to the overseas players within each squad. It is good to see Indian players featuring once again, for the first time since 2017. In fact there are eight of them, more than any other nation, across five different teams. There are no English contracted players this year, but regional pros Eve Jones, Maia Bouchier, Issy Wong, and the capped Linsey Smith, will all have the opportunity to show what they can do on the big stage.
There are also five South Africans including Wolvaardt, van Niekerk and Kapp, who all made their mark in the Hundred, in England, in August this year. The usually high number of Kiwis is reduced to just two - Devine and Priest, at Scorchers and Hurricanes respectively. The prospect of substantial quarantine periods, or potentially not being able to get back into New Zealand at all, obviously weighed heavily on their minds.
Here is the current list of overseas players :-
Adelaide Strikers - Laura Wolvaardt (SA), Dane van Niekerk (SA)
Brisbane Heat - Anneke Bosch (SA), Nadine de Klerk (SA), Poonam Yadav (IND)
Hobart Hurricanes - Richa Ghosh (IND), Mignon du Preez (SA), Rachel Priest (NZ)
Melbourne Renegades - Eve Jones (ENG), Harmanpreet Kaur (IND), Jemimah Rodrigues (IND)
Melbourne Stars - Maia Bouchier (ENG), Kim Garth (IRE), Linsey Smith (ENG)
Perth Scorchers - Chamari Atapattu (SL), Sophie Devine (NZ), Marizanne Kapp (SA)
Sydney Sixers - Shafali Verma (IND), Radha Yadav (IND)
Sydney Thunder - Smriti Mandhana (IND), Deepti Sharma (IND), Issy Wong (ENG)
Each team is allowed five marquee players - overseas and Aussie contracted (with a maximum of three overseas). As for the Aussie contracted players (15 of them) they are distributed like this :-
Adelaide Strikers - Darcie Brown, Tahlia McGrath, Megan Schutt
Brisbane Heat - Jess Jonassen
Hobart Hurricanes - Nicola Carey, Tayla Vlaeminck
Melbourne Renegades - Sophie Molineux, Georgia Wareham
Melbourne Stars - Meg Lanning, Annabel Sutherland
Perth Scorchers - Beth Mooney
Sydney Sixers - Ash Gardner, Alyssa Healy, Ellyse Perry
Sydney Thunder - Rachel Haynes
Given this distribution this would certainly suggest that Adelaide Strikers and Sydney Sixers have good depth in marquee players, with the Renegades not far behind. But five players doesn't make a team, so who are the other key domestic players to look out for. Here are a few :-
Adelaide Strikers - Katie Mack, Tegan McPharlin, Maddy Penna, Amanda Jade Wellington
Brisbane Heat - Grace Harris, Laura Kimmince, Georgia Redmayne
Hobart Hurricanes - Maisy Gibson, Molly Strano, Belinda Vakerewa
Melbourne Renegades - Jess Duffin, Carly Leeson, Courtney Webb
Melbourne Stars - Maddy Darke, Tess Flintoff, Erin Osborne, Elyse Villani
Perth Scorchers - Sam Betts, Heather Graham, Alana King, Chloe Piparo
Sydney Sixers - Maitlan Brown, Erin Burns, Nicole Bolton, Stella Campbell, Lauren Cheatle
Sydney Thunder - Sam Bates, Hannah Darlington, Sammy-Jo Johnson, Phoebe Litchfield
On paper Sixers seem to have all bases covered with a strong international batting and spin-bowlng line-up. But with the exception of Ellyse Perry (who seems to having her own struggles of late) their pace attack looks raw, which could leave them exposed at the death of an innings.
Scorchers have three powerful overseas players who could all be potential match winners. They are light on Aussie contracted players, but their "second-string" is full of very experienced WBBL players, who could all contribute when needed. It makes them a strong "team".
Strikers too have two key overseas players in Wolvaardt and van Niekerk. It would be no surprise to see Wolvaardt at the top of the run scorers at the end of the tournament. Their Aussie contingent are also strong, although Schutt missed the Indian tour due to motherhood intervening so may not be at prime fitness. Will she be back to her metronomic and miserly best? Katie Mack and Amanda Jade Wellington both enjoyed the Hundred in England, with Mack excelling in the field and Wellington getting a hatful of wickets at a great economy rate. She will win Strikers games.
Last year's winners, Thunder, have picked up two very useful Indians in Mandhana and Sharma. Skipper Rachel Haynes also missed the Indian tour, and they will need her to add some stability to their batting, where young Phoebe Litchfield could be a key contributor. Perhaps not the strongest team on paper, but they could surprise people again.
Renegades look a bit short on seamers, which leaves the spin of Molineux and Wareham somewhat exposed. With the bat Rodrigues may be their key player, but she may have a lot to do. Kaur and Eve Jones may have to try and hold things together for the team in red.
Much-changed Hurricanes hope that they can do better than they have done in the last few seasons. The veteran Kiwi Rachel Priest will lead them this year, with a new recruit in off-spinner Molly Strano, leading wicket-taker in the WBBL (although WBBL06 wasn't her best with just 8 wickets), in their ranks. They have home advantage for the first set of games, but will it be enough for them?
Heat have performed consistently in the WBBL and have had an uninterrupted preparation for the tournament. They will miss Amelia Kerr and will hope that Jess Jonassen is fully fit after missing the India tour. Georgia Redmayne is the rock with the bat, while the Harris sisters will provide the fireworks, but the question is how often will they fire?
And finally Stars, who have the Aussie captain Meg Lanning in their ranks, but may still struggle to notch up too many wins. Their batting looks solid, but they look light on the bowling front having lost Alana King and Nat Sciver, their leading wicket-takers last year. Left arm spinner Linsey Smith has had a good 2020 in England, and may be needed to steady the bowling effort alongside Aussie veteran Erin Osborne.
The opening games this week are (UK times) :-
You can see all the games in the UK on Sky Sports and Sky Main Event channels. I'd expect the Sixers to be the happiest team on Sunday evening, whilst the Hurricanes may be wondering how to get their season off the ground.