At the end of the year there is always a tendency to look back at what has been, and it is true to say that 2015 has been a watershed year for women's cricket, not so much perhaps on the pitch, but in it's coverage and it's credibility as a standalone, entertaining and financially-viable product. Press and television coverage of the Women's Ashes was unprecedented. Every ball was on the television, including the Test at Canterbury (much to the annoyance of some patronising know-it-all journalists - who actually know very little at all about women's cricket). Every national newspaper had match reports, and carried interviews and background pieces on the players.
The Ashes was followed by the inaugural Women's Big Bash in Australia, which has been a huge success so far, with television audiences beyond anyone's expectations. The tournament looks set to stay and to grow and is a fantastic advert for women's cricket.
But enough of looking back. Let's look forward. 2016 is jam-packed with some great cricket. Here is a quick run-down of what to look out for over the coming 12 months.
The Final of the Women's Big Bash
After 56 T20 games the semi-finals of the WBBL will be played on 21st and 22nd January and the final will be on Sunday 24th January. Who will get there? Well my money would be on the Hurricanes, the Heat, The Thunder and, maybe, just maybe, the Strikers. First team to take home the trophy? I have to stick with my original pick and say it will be the Heat. Whoever it is it has been a great step forward for women's cricket.
Australia v India
Just two days after the Big Bash finishes the Aussies start a three match T20 series against the Indians, followed by three ICC WC ODIs. It could be carnage! The Aussies will be in prime T20 form, a format that the Indians don't seem to like much. The Aussies also sit top of the ICC WC standings and they are likely to hand out a 3-0 drubbing to the Indians in this slightly longer format of the game. With three ICC WC ODI series to play after this the Indians will be staring down the barrel at the bottom of the ICC WC standings.
January should also give us some more details about the new Women's Cricket Super League (WCSL) T20 competition planned by the ECB for August.
South Africa v England
No sooner will the England players have returned from their WBBL experience than they will be on the plane to South Africa for England's first tour under new Head Coach Mark Robinson. England have just renewed the contracts of the current 18 players, plus added Fran Wilson as the nineteenth. Squad, and then team, selection will be interesting and one hopes that the England players will be up for the challenge. Languishing in fifth in the ICC WC table, no less than three wins in the three ODIs will be acceptable.
New Zealand v Australia
Two weeks after their last encounter with the Indians the Aussies will be playing their first ICC WC ODI game in New Zealand. It should be a good series. The Kiwis demolished a poor Sri Lanka side in November and will be keen to nick at least one ODI off their local rivals, if not the series win, as they did to England last February. Under new Head Coach Haidee Tiffen New Zealand look a rejuvenated unit, but the Aussies will be strong favourites to extend their lead at the top of the table.
South Africa v West Indies
As England leave South Africa so the West Indians arrive for three ICC WC ODIs and three T20s. The Windies will be keen to cement their place in the Top Four (they sit equal top as I write this), but South Africa will know that they need the points too, with New Zealand and Australia their final two opponents. Stafanie Taylor is world class for the Windies, but she cannot win the series on her own. I think the Saffers might just pip them 2-1 on home soil.
Women's World T20
Hard on the heels of all the ICC WC ODI action comes the Women's World T20 Cup in India. This is the fifth time the competition has been held and the Aussies have won the last three. They will be hot favourites to make it four in a row. But T20 is a tough game to call.
Ten teams will fight it out for the World Champions crown - the top eight, plus Ireland and Bangladesh, who qualified in December. The groups are :-
Group A - Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Ireland
Group B - England, West Indies, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh
The top two teams in each group make it to the semi-finals, with the final being played on 3rd April at Eden Gardens, Kolkata.
Anything less than a place in the final for either Australia or England will be a disaster. The West Indies and South Africa made it to the semis last time in Bangladesh, but they will have to fight tooth and nail with New Zealand to make it this year. India will hope to perform well on home soil (especially now that they too are contracted players), but T20 is not really their thing.
Let's hope the crowds are better than the last time India hosted a World Cup (50 overs in 2013), when the grounds were almost empty for every game.
After a short lull the English domestic season will start on 1st May with nine county teams each playing each other to become County Champions. Last year Yorkshire won the title, and this year newcomers Somerset and Staffordshire will find themselves slugging it out with the best in the country in Division One.
England v Pakistan
June will see the arrival of the Pakistan team in England for three ICC WC ODIs and three T20s. England will expect to pick up all the points, but it could be a good series for England to introduce some fresh faces to the squad, before the 2017 World Cup to be held in England. Coach Robinson will have found his feet by this time, so it will be interesting to see his first proper squad selection.
India v Sri Lanka
Sometime before the end of July Sri Lanka have to return to India to play at least their three ICC WC ODI games. Both sides will be desperate to get some points. Sri Lanka had seemed to be making progress as a team, but their recent results have been disappointing to say the least. It may be too little too late for India, who will finish their first ICC WC campaign with series against Pakistan and then the West Indies. A top four place may be out of sight for them by this time.
Women's Cricket Super League
The much-heralded WCSL should kick-off in England with a two week, six team, T20 competition in August.
The franchise-based tournament aims to bring together the best of the best, but the details are still sketchy. Applications have been invited to run the teams and are now being considered. The winning bidders will be announced in January, but it looks like there will be two London-based teams, one on the south coast, one in the south west, one in the north-west and one in the midlands.
With the success of the Big Bash the pressure will be on the ECB to bring the same pizazz to the WCSL. But the ECB are starting from scratch unlike Cricket Australia who tagged the WBBL onto the existing successful Men's Big Bash teams and structure. The plan is to extend the WCSL to the 50 over game the following season, but I just cannot see this happening for a whole host of reasons.
South Africa v New Zealand
This is the first of the 6th round games in the ICC WC and is already pencilled in to start on 8th October. The rest of the games in the round are below and they have to be played by the end of October 2016.
West Indies v England
Pakistan v India
Sri Lanka v Australia
England will almost certainly go to the West Indies in late September/early October.
The final round of ICC WC games have to be played in October and November. The fixtures that remain are :-
Australia v South Africa
Sri Lanka v England
India v West Indies
New Zealand v Pakistan
The teams that finish in the top four positions in the table will automatically qualify for the World Cup in England in 2017. The other four will have to compete in the ICC Women's World Cup Qualifier 2017, where they will be joined by six regional qualifiers. The ten teams will be competing for the final four places at the Women's World Cup. It means the bottom four could still get through, but teams like Ireland, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Scotland may have other ideas.
And so we return to the WBBL. No doubt WBBL/2 will be bigger, better and even more fun than WBBL/1!!