Friday, 4 December 2015

WBBL 2015 Preview

This article first appeared in my column ''Seamstress" for Wisden India

Come 5th December, all eyes in the women’s cricket community and beyond will turn to the southern hemisphere. The first ever Women’s Big bash League, or WBBL, will blast off, taking domestic women’s cricket into a new dimension. Cricket Australia can already take a bow, even before a ball is bowled. Judging by the buzz the tournament has  generated on social media platforms, they seem to have laid the foundations to create the world’s most lucrative, most followed and most competitive female T20 domestic league. 

The tournament will feature the same eight teams as the BBL, as CA has aligned the women’s teams with the existing men’s clubs. Players from Australia’s women’s cricket team, the Southern Stars have been spread out across the eight teams, to ensure a well balanced competition. With teams allowed to sign up to three foreign recruits and a maximum of five internationals, a number of the biggest names in women’s cricket have jumped on board. Here’s a quick look at some of the high profile players in each team:

· Adelaide Strikers :
Sarah Coyte, Sophie Devine (New Zealand), Shelley Nitschke, Megan Schutt, Sarah Taylor (England)

The strikers broke new ground when they lured former southern stars all rounder Shelly Nitschke out of retirement. With more than 100 international caps under her belt, her experience will be invaluable to the likes of in-form wicket keeper Sarah Taylor. 

· Brisbane Heat:
Jessica Jonassen,  Jodie Fields, Holly Ferling, Delissa Kimmince, Kate Cross (England), Lauren Winfield (England).

The Heat will feature former Southern Stars captain Jodie Fields, along with current internationals Ferling and Kimmince. Englishwoman Kate Cross is likely to lead their strong pace bowling unit. 

· Hobart Hurricanes:
Julie Hunter, Heather Knight (England), Hayley Matthews (West Indies), Amy Satterthwaite (New Zealand)

The hurricanes will have serious strength to their batting unit, with all three internationals likely to feature in the top four.  With mostly home grown Tasmanian talent forming the rest of their squad, the expectations from the international stars will be high. 

· Melbourne Renegades
Sarah Elliott, Dane Van Niekerk (South Africa), Danielle Wyatt (England), Rachel Priest (New Zealand)

Their two international all-rounders are both spinners, and they will be relying on Priest’s experience behind the wickets to make a serious mark. The Renegades will be led by super mom and Aussie Test opener Sarah Elliot.

· Melbourne Stars:
 Meg Lanning, Mignon DuPreez (South Africa), Morna Nielsen (New Zealand), Natalie Sciver (England).

The stars snagged the big fish, Aussie skipper and precocious batter Meg Lanning. At just 23, she has already stamped her authority on the world game by claiming a number of batting records. Leading the stars, she will have the services of South Africa skipper DuPreez, and a host of local talent from a strong Victoria Spirit side. 

· Perth Scorchers:
 Nicole Bolton, Suzie Bates (New Zealand), Katherine Brunt (England), Deandra Dottin (West Indies), Charlotte Edwards (England), Elyse Villani. 

The Scorchers will unleash some serious firepower in their both departments, with White Fern skipper Suzie Bates likely to open the innings with the bat, and fast bowler Brunt with the ball. Bates will be replaced by Deandra Dottin when she will be unavailable due to international duties. They will also benefit from the vast experience of England skipper Edwards, although Nicole Bolton will lead the side. 

· Sydney Sixers:
Alyssa Healy, Ellyse Perry, Lisa Sthalekar, Marizanne Kapp (South Africa), Sara McGlashan (New Zealand), Laura Marsh (England)

The sixers will feature the services of the world’s best all-rounder and dual international Perry. They have also coaxed out of retirement Lisa Sthalekar, a legend in the women’s game, and now a prominent commentator.  Joining them is White Fern McGlashan, who recently collected her 200th international cap. Alyssa Healy , now the first choice keeper for Australia, will don the gloves. 

· Sydney Thunder:
 Alex Blackwell, Stafanie Taylor( West Indes), Rene Farrell, Erin Osborne.

With one international signing yet to be disclosed, the Thunder squad already looks good. Led by veteran batter Alex Blackwell, who is also the Australian vice captain, they feature many members of the New South Wales Breakers squad who won the WNCL title for 10 consecutive years. And now joined by Windes captain Taylor, one of the best all-rounders in world cricket, they are set to make a big impression.

The WBBL will last for a month and a half, with games to be played on some of the most historic venues across Australia, including the SCG, the Adelaide Oval, and the WACA.  In her column for the Brisbane times, Southern Stars and Brisbane Heat fast bowler Holly Ferling  said, ”2015 has been the year of female athletes with many successes coming from female sporting teams and taking over the media coverage. In terms of women's sport, this is arguably the biggest step forward to commercialising and professionalising a women's domestic competition.
You definitely do not want to miss this.’’

By taking the decision to align the teams with the existing BBL, CA have given the women’s competition access to existing set ups, fan bases and rivalries. In turn, having been handed a new team to bring up from scratch, the franchises have all responded with a slew of initiatives, which are likely to amplify the effect of the WBBL. Here’s a look at some of them:

· The two Melbourne based franchises have gone a step further to raise the tempo of the rivalry between the two clubs. When the Renegades and Stars face off in January, they will be vying for the Lanning-Elliot Cup, christened after the two captains of the Melbourne based teams. 

· Most franchises have signed on dedicated sponsors for their women’s teams. In fact, both Sydney teams have the same sponsor (XVenture), and both Melbourne teams will also sport the same name on their shirts (VicHealth). 

· WBBL franchises have created their own pathways into their female squads. For instance, the Brisbane Heat launched the Heat Girls Cricket League to get more young girls involved in cricket, and thus nurture the grass root level talent. Coaching clinics in local clubs conducted by the franchises’ star players, have given young children a chance to connect with their role models, and deepen the fan-star bond.

· Former Australia all-rounder Lisa Sthalekar will appear in all the televised games of the WBBL, albeit behind the microphone. When not playing and training with the Sydney Sixers, she will be calling the BBL games as well. 

· The WBBL clubs will offer eight talented cricketers from associate and affiliate countries an opportunity to train for two weeks with the WBBL squads, as part of their rookie program.  They could even debut in the competition, if a contracted player is ruled out due to injury. 

Arguably the biggest takeaway that women’s cricket will gain from the WBBL is creating a high profile domestic cricket centrepiece, which will provide a clear pathway for young women in cricket. The Southern Stars have already established themselves among the best female sports teams in the country, and have provided young girls some fine role models. The WBBL will provide a platform where young girls can aspire to rub shoulders with their heroes, as well as a galaxy of other international stars. According to the CA website, Big Bash league boss Mike Mckenna said, "We're pretty keen to see how the broadcast goes and what it looks like on television but the most important thing is that it's inspiring girls to play cricket." "If we see recruitment numbers going up at clubs and school or girls playing at the park or the beach, that's what we're looking to see and that's what would constitute a successful first season," he goes on to add.  

 With eight of the 59 games being televised live as double headers with the respective BBL games, the WBBL promises to provide a wonderful exhibition of the women’s game. We must now wait till the 24th of January next year, to see who grabs the rights to call themselves the first, ever, WBBL champions. 

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