Friday, 30 November 2018

WBBL04 - Preview & Round One Games

The fourth edition of the Women's Big Bash League (hence WBBL04) kicks off this weekend with all eight teams in action at the CitiPower Centre at the Junction Oval in St Kilda - the home of both the Melbourne Stars and the Melbourne Renegades.

The opening match-ups are :-
Perth Scorchers v Hobart Hurricanes
Sydney Sixers v Melbourne Stars
Adelaide Strikers v Brisbane Heat
Melbourne Renegades v Sydney Thunder

Perth Scorchers v Hobart Hurricanes

made it to the final last year on the back of major batting contributions from openers Ellyse Villani and Nicole Bolton, and 23 wickets from England's Katherine Brunt. Villani and Bolton return, but Brunt does not, which leaves a gaping hole in the Scorchers bowling line-up. Not only did Brunt take the most wickets (alongside Sixers' Sarah Aley), but she also had a staggering economy rate of just 4.83 runs per over bowled. Only Sixers' Marizanne Kapp (12 wickets) had a better economy rate in WBBL03.
The Scorchers have recruited England's Kate Cross to try and fill the hole, and will be looking to medium pacers Piepa Cleary and Heather Graham to step up. It will be a tough ask.
In addition to Villani and Bolton, the Scorchers will also have the services of Aussie captain Meg Lanning, who signed for the franchise last year, but was unable to play due to her shoulder injury. Lanning was the leading run scorer in both WBBL01 and WBBL02 with over 500 runs. Her presence in the Scorchers line-up will send fear through all their opponents, and her wicket will be the most prized. 
Last year Scorchers could also call on the services of England's Nat Sciver, but she will not return for WBBL04. This year they have turned to England keeper and number 3 bat Amy Jones. After her showing in the recent Women's T20 World Cup it looks like a shrewd signing, both from a batting and a keeping point of view. Scorchers have to be one of the favourites for the trophy, despite their thin bowling resources.

Hurricanes finished plum last last year, winning just two of their 14 games. Overseas recruits Veda Krishnamurthy and Lauren Winfield failed to provide the team with the volume of runs they needed and they do not return. Windies vice-skipper Hayley Matthews does, and she will hope for a better return than last year with both bat and ball. In addition former Cane Heather Knight returns, and her Western Storm teammate, Smriti Mandhana, is an exciting addition to the batting line-up. Mandhana was outrageously good in the 2018 KSL in England, and showed a little of what she can do with her 83 against Australia in India's defeat of the ultimate champions in the group stage game of the Women's T20 World Cup. Mandhana tends to ride her luck, favouring the aerial root to the boundary, but, on her day, she is unstoppable.
Recruiting principally three international batsmen - both Knight and Matthews will bowl some off-spin too - leaves the Canes rather short on bowling, particularly having lost last year's leading wicket-taker Nicola Hancock to the Melbourne Stars. Fazackerley, Pyke, Fryett and Hepburn took just 17 wickets between them last year, with all of them getting some tap on the way. Expect Canes games to be run-fests - some they'll win and some they won't.

For this opening encounter the Canes are without both Heather Knight and Smriti Mandhana, who have yet to arrive in Australia, which is going to make their task even harder. I'd expect the Scorchers to win at a canter.

Sydney Sixers v Melbourne Stars 
Sixers were last year's champions and with pretty much the same squad as last year they will be tough to beat again. They have Aussies Alyssa Healy, Ellyse Perry and Ash Gardner, alongside married Saffers Marizanne Kapp and Dane van Niekerk. Sarah Aley capitalised on Kapp's parsimonious bowling last year by coming on after the powerplay and taking a hat full of wickets and Erin Burns showed that she is no mug with the bat. Add to this former Kiwi batsman Sara McGlashan, and Aussie left-armer seamer Lauren Cheatle, and you can see that they are going to be a force to be reckoned with yet again. Another shot at the title looks very likely for the Sixers.

Stars were fairly pitiful last year, and with few changes in personnel WBBL04 may not be any better for them. Overseas players Lizelle Lee, Mignon du Preez and Georgia Elwiss all return, despite not doing anything very noteable last year. Lee and du Preez showed no great upturn in form in the T20 World Cup, and Elwiss was not even selected for the England squad. Let's not forget of course that Lee did score a magnificent 100 in the KSL final last September, but since then she has had a pretty lean time of it. When she is a hit, she is a big hit, but far too often she is a miss.
As for the bowling side of things spinners Erin Osborne and Alana King were the top wicket-takers last year and they will be required to perform as well, if not better, this year. Elwiss managed only seven wickets in more than 35 overs of seam, but she may be helped this year with the recruitment of Canes' Nicola Hancock and former Aussie Holly Ferling from Brisbane Heat. Hancock is steady, but Ferling has consistently disappointed, and cannot even get into the Queensland Fire WNCL team at the moment. They won't frighten too many batting line-ups and 2018 looks like being another tough year for the Stars.

Sixers are likely to open their WBBL04 account with a very comfortable win. If they bat first then who would rule out an Alyssa Healy 100 on the opening day of the tournament?

Adelaide Strikers v Brisbane Heat

Strikers will have been disappointed last year to have won only eight of their 14 league games, and then to have crashed out to the Sixers in the semi-final played at their home ground in Adelaide. That day none of the top order, with the exception of Tammy Beaumont, came to the party. Beaumont does not return this year, but Kiwis Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine do, and a lot will rest on their very broad shoulders, and Tahlia McGrath will have to prove her worth with both bat and ball.
Megan Schutt and new recruit,  England off-spinner Dani Hazell, will lead the bowling attack, alongside leggie Amanda Jade Wellington, plus McGrath and Devine, with a sprinkling of Bates, when she feels like it, which seems to be less and less often.
On paper the Strikers look a decent team, but they did so last year and didn't really hit the heights. It could be another hit and miss season for them.

Heat have three of the current Aussie T20 squad in Jess Jonassen, Delissa Kimmince and Beth Mooney as the backbone of their squad, but the recruitment of South Africans Laura Wolvaardt and Sune Luus seems a bit wide of the T20 mark. Wolvaardt has found it tough to adapt her classical, methodical batting style to T20 cricket, and had no great success in the six games she played for Heat last season. Sune Luus has had no great form with the ball (legspinner) or the bat over the last couple of years, after starting her international career with a flourish. She has not bowled her full allocation of 4 overs in her last 18 internationals, and on nine of those occasions has not bowled a single over. It will be a tough ask for either of them to have a massive impact on this competition.
Heat's batting looks hideously light, which will put added pressure on Mooney at the top of the order, who had a magnificent WBBL03, but has been out of touch recently. Unfortunately their bowling doesn't look to be their strength either, so it is difficult to see how they will win many games.

This opening clash is likely to go the Strikers, who will probably have just a little too much for the Heat, but if Heat can remove Bates and Devine early it could well be a battle, albeit not a very pretty one!

Melbourne Renegades v Sydney Thunder

Renegades relied heavily on skipper Amy Satterthwaite last year, with fellow overseas player Chamari Atapattu never really hitting her straps to help her out. Sophie Molineux, better known for her darting left-arm spin, also played a prominent hand with the bat, opening the innings, and may be required to do so again, although the addition of England opener Danni Wyatt to the roster looks intriguing.
Molineux is one of three very young current Aussies in the squad. She is joined by leg-spinner Georgia Wareham and quick Tayla Vlaeminck (who is yet to play a WBBL game, although she has one T20I cap under her belt). There will be a lot of pressure on all three of them to perform on the domestic stage, having been given the opportunity to do so on the international one. Both Molineux and Wareham have shown they have no fear of putting their heads above the parapet. In a young team they will already be looked upon as leaders.
Amy Satterthwaite's other half, Kiwi Lea Tahuhu, will lead the bowling attack, alongside the untried Vlaeminck. Tahuhu is undoubtedly quick, but has a tendency to lose her radar at times. She will need to perform on the big occasions.
Renegades look an intriguing mix, and they might just pull off a few shock results if they play carefree cricket. The problem may be if they actually have some success, then the pressure will begin to mount, and it will be how they handle it.

Thunder fell at the semi-final stage last year, despite not getting the most out of their three overseas players - Stafanie Taylor, Harmanpreet Kaur and Rachel Priest. All three return this year with points to prove.
Taylor has not had a great 2018 - she did not sparkle in the KSL, nor the Women's T20 World Cup. She would like to get back to the form that she had in 2016/2017 in the shortest format of the game.
Kaur scored a magical 103 for India against New Zealand in the opening game of the T20 World Cup and looks to be in fine touch with the bat, but the burdens of captaining the Indian T20 team have been sorely felt, since India's defeat to England in the semi-final of the same competition. She may not be the right sort for captaincy, but she can certainly bat. If she can clear her head of all the extraneous stuff, then she might be able to prove that she is world class in this format of the game.
As for Priest she was unceremoniously dropped from the Kiwi squad in October 2017 due to "fitness issues", and then lost her Kiwi contract. She will be keen to show the Kiwi management what they are missing.
In Rachel Haynes Thunder probably have one of the best, most adaptable, and most consistent T20 batsmen in the world today. For Australia she comes in in the middle order and finishes innings or games off. For Thunder she opens the batting with a flourish with Priest, finishing WBBL03 with 426 runs at a strike rate of over 120. 
With the squad very much as it was last year Thunder will be eyeing a place in the final, but skipper Alex Blackwell, who has retired from international and WNCL duties, may have to a back seat and allow Haynes, the overseas players, and the youngsters like Naomi Stalenberg, Nicola Carey and Rachel Trenaman to take centre stage.

This could be the best game of the opening weekend, with one stellar performance taking the game for either side. It seems that Kaur will not be in the Thunder XI, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Rachel Haynes make the most of being back out in the opener's slot and taking the Thunder to the first of many victories.

Martin Davies


  1. Is there any live streaming of games available in the UK?

  2. Think you will find all the games will be livestreamed on the Cricket Australia website, certainly the ones not on tv on 7.