Any concerns about Steve Smith’s form, fitness and ability to adapt to a new batting role have evaporated over the past three weeks as the former Australian skipper has made a sparkling return to high level cricket.
For lovers of cricket it’s very lucky that the completion of the Women’s Ashes was just the start of a long summer of cricket ahead.
The third instalment of the Women’s Big Bash League starts this Saturday with four games to be played in a festival of cricket at North Sydney Oval.
On Saturday at 1:45pm the Melbourne Renegades will take on the Sydney Thunder followed by the Sydney Sixers and Melbourne Stars at 6:15pm. On Sunday at 10:45am the Perth Scorchers will take on the Brisbane Heat, and then at 2pm the Sydney Sixers will play the Sydney Thunder.
All four of these games will be televised on Channel Ten.
To round out the weekend the Adelaide Strikers will take on the Hobart Hurricanes in two matches in Adelaide at Gliderol Stadium on Saturday.
So how is your club shaping up ahead of WBBL03?
The Sydney Thunder have announced a new-look team for WBBL03 with five key additions and five losses heading into the summer.
While the Thunder were more than capable with the bat last year thanks to the efforts of players like Harmanpreet Kaur, Stafanie Taylor and Alex Blackwell, it was their bowling which ultimately let them down.
Nicola Carey was the only bowler to feature in the top 15 wicket-takers last summer. This will need to change this year if the Thunder are to make any impact.
Young players to watch at the Thunder include Hannah Trethewy and Hannah Darlington. Rachel Priest also joins the lime green from the Renegades and will be a welcome addition not just with the bat but also behind the stumps. In WBBL02 Rachel took six catches, two stumpings and made 263 runs.
The Heat ago into WBBL03 with consistency, having only added Grace Harris to the squad (to join sister Laura) and losing Smriti Mandhana.
My player to watch for Brisbane is Beth Mooney, particularly after her strong batting in the Women’s Ashes Twenty20 matches, scoring 86* in the first ODI and then hitting the first ever century in a women’s Twenty20 international. Interestingly, Australian coach Matthew Mott challenged Beth Mooney to ‘boss it’ in those Twenty20 matches just like she would in the Big Bash – imagine what is to come over the summer.
The key for the Heat will be consistency. They may have finished third last year, but they were very hit and miss, able to beat teams once but not twice. They also had some big losses, losing to the Scorchers by eight and nine wickets, losing to the Sixers and Hurricanes by eight wickets and losing to the Renegades by seven.
Traditionally a very young team, the Melbourne Renegades have recruited hard this summer and have brought some experience to the club.
New additions include Amy Satterthwaite, Jess Duffin, Emma Inglis, Claire Koski and Hayley Jensen. With these players available to mentor the next generation, like Sophie Molineaux (just 19 years old and one of the stand-outs in WBBL02 with 256 runs) and Australian player Molly Strano, inexperience should not be an issue for the club this summer.
The Renegades will also be part of history this Saturday when they play the Sydney Thunder. One of their most exciting recruits is Chamari Atapattu from Sri Lanka. This woman scored 178* against Australia in the ICC Women’s World Cup, and despite playing for Sri Lanka over 100 times, she has never played on Australian shores – until now.
The big question that everyone is asking about the Melbourne Stars is how they will cope following the loss of their captain, Meg Lanning, who has gone to the Perth Scorchers on a three-year deal.
The Stars seem to have answered with a big focus on batting in their recruitment leading into this season. Kristen Beams will captain the new-look Stars and I am expecting them to make the finals this year for the first time in the club’s history.
You know the old saying, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. The Sixers have made very few changes to the squad that claimed the trophy in WBBL02, and the club will feature plenty of internationals, including Elyse Perry, Alyssa Healy, Dane van Niekerk, Sarah Aley and Marizanne Capp.
The Sixers welcomes Erin Burns, Kim Garth and Clara Iemma and farewelled Rhiannon Dick, Lisa Sthalekar and Haylee Hoffmeister.
I’m predicting a top-four finish for the magenta again this summer.
The Perth Scorchers are an interesting one. They were dominant last year and lost to the Sixers in the final, but I’m not sure that dominance will continue.
The team has lost one of their most important batters, Suzie Bates, to the Adelaide Strikers and the woman who looked likely to replace her (Meg Lanning) will miss the summer due to injury.
I’m very conscious of writing off any team that includes Katherine Brunt, but I do wonder where the Scorchers batting power will come from.
The Adelaide Strikers have struggled in previous WBBL seasons, having never reached the playoffs. This year not only am I predicting that the Strikers will make the final four but I also think they will feature in the finals.
While some teams in the WBBL are stronger in the field than with bat in hand, the Strikers are potent across the board.
Suzie Bates joins the squad from the Perth Scorchers and will bat alongside Sophie Devine and England opener Tammy Beaumont. Suzie was a stand-out in WBBL02, making 310 runs and taking 13 wickets. She continued that good form at an international level, scoring the most runs for New Zealand in the ICC Women’s World Cup.
The squad also features three bowlers who were part of the Australian women’s cricket team that won the Ashes. Megan Schutt was leading wicket-taker in the Ashes, with 18 wickets in just seven games. She is joined by leg-spinner Amanda-Jade Wellington, who bowled a ball in the Test at North Sydney that some have described as the ball of the century as well as Tahlia McGrath.
The Strikers may have finished last last year, but I don’t see that happening again this year.
If you’re a Strikers fan, I expect to hear you cheering, “Ooh, ah, Tahlia McGrath”.
The Hurricanes have in the past depended on domestic competition, with plenty of Hurricanes coming from the Tasmanian Roar WNCL team. That has changed this year with a couple of new additions and a couple of key losses.
New players to the squad include Veda Krishnamurthy, Lauren Winfield, Stefanie Daffara and Nicola Hancock, and departing the club are Erin Burns, Julie Hunter, Amy Satterthwaite and Heater Knight.
Is this a team that can make the finals for the third year in a row? New captain Corinne Hall will certainly be hoping so.
My weekend plans? I’m going to be camped out at North Sydney Oval on Saturday and Sunday. I hope to see plenty of you there.