Eight teams will participate in the first-ever standalone edition of the WBBL. © Getty Images

The Women’s Big Bash League is upon us. Eight franchises are set to compete in a bigger, more colourful event — the first-ever standalone edition of the tournament. The fifth season, which will be followed by the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in Australia next year, will commence under lights at North Sydney Oval on Friday (October 18) and close with the Grand Final on December 8.

Each team — Adelaide Strikers, Brisbane Heat, Hobart Hurricanes, Melbourne Renegades, Melbourne Stars, Perth Scorchers, Sydney Sixers and Sydney Thunder — will face each other twice in a group stage format. The top four sides will then progress to the semi-finals where the first placed team will play the fourth, while the second placed team will meet the third and the winners of those games will clash in the final on December 8.

The tournament will see several home favourites and overseas stars in action. Brisbane Heat, the reigning champions, will look to defend their title while Sydney Sixers, who have made it to the finals in all four editions of the tournament, will aim to regain their lost crown.

Sydney Thunder are just behind their local rivals, Sixers. With an addition from Pakistan and a subtraction from India, the team’s composition remains unaffected on paper.

Perth Scorchers, Melbourne Renegades and Adelaide Strikers are once again boosted with world class performers who can change the fortunes at any given point. Hobart Hurricanes and Melbourne Stars will attempt to change the perception of spectators and take off with early wins to make their presence count.

Women’s CricZone looks at some of the major talking points ahead of the tournament:

 

New captaincy

All of Thunder, Renegades, Stars and Hurricanes, will see new players at the helm this season. Stars not only roped in Elyse Villani earlier this year but also handed her captaincy duties as Kristen Beams will be playing her last season before bidding adieu to the domestic circuit. New skipper Villani has a point to prove to make a comeback in Australia squad after not getting an opportunity to play a single game during the Ashes and subsequently being dropped from the squad during their recent series against West Indies and Sri Lanka.

Hurricanes have given Corinne Hall  the reigns of the team. She will take over from Sasha Moloney. Renegades, on the other hand, will miss the services of its skipper and New Zealand’s Amy Satterthwaite, who is pregnant with her first child. As such, Jess Duffin will lead the team in the forthcoming tournament.

Rachael Haynes has taken over from Alex Blackwell to lead Thunder. The tournament will either build on Haynes’ confidence coming from her maiden ODI century or challenge her mental strength as she needs to both lead this new-look side and carry her form in to the fifth edition. 

 

Plus Pakistan, minus India

India internationals Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana will not be returning for this year’s edition owing to international commitments — India tour of West Indies. However, their absence means more opportunities for other overseas players. Thunder enlisted Pakistan all-rounder Nida Dar, who became the first woman to earn a WBBL contract from her country, on board as a replacement of Kaur. Meanwhile, Hurricanes managed to get England’s Fran Wilson and South Africa’s Chloe Tryon, who are expected to strengthen the side and heal the pain of Mandhana-less Hurricanes. If Hurricanes progress to the finals, the team will receive the services of West Indies’ Hayley Matthews, who will come in as a replacement player for Wilson, who then has to return for international duties.

 

Young and new sign ups

 

All eyes will be on Darcie Brown, the youngest player to sign with Strikers. The 16-year-old has so far impressed with her speed — bowling at close to 116 kmph — and also represented Australia Under-19 during their tour to New Zealand earlier this year.

Another teen — Phoebe Litchfield, who is also just 16-years-old — has been signed by Thunder. She, too, has played for Australia Under-19 and was part of the Governor-General’s XI. The left-hander has been identified as one of the more promising young batters on the circuit, even earning her maiden contract with New South Wales.

Heat have dropped the South Africa duo of Sune Luus and Laura Wolvaardt, and added New Zealanders Amelia Kerr and Maddy Green to strengthen them en route to defend and claim second consecutive title. With the likes of Delissa Kimmince and Jess Jonassen leading the bowling department, Kerr, an exciting option, is expected to bring more control in the unit along with being handy with the bat.

Renegades will see an addition at the top order with England batter Tammy Beaumont coming in for Satterthwaite. She is expected to boost the top order along with her compatriot Danni Wyatt, forming a formidable duo. Wyatt holds the key for Renegades’ big totals as she is a T20 specialist. Her ability to score big and quick will be vital throughout the team’s journey. Thunder have got South Africa fast bowler Shabnim Ismail on board. She will replace West Indies’ Stafanie Taylor in the squad, who has made the move to Adelaide Strikers.

 

Point to prove

Amanda-Jade Wellington, who will play for Strikers, will be in spotlight this time around. The Australia leg-spinner lost her Cricket Australia contract earlier this year. Having been in great form lately during the Women’s Cricket Super League in England, Wellington, who played for Southern Vipers, has a point to prove with the World T20 coming up next year.

The tournament will serve as an audition for Heat’s Jonassen to claim her spot in Australia’s XI going in to the World T20 on home soil next year as she warmed the bench during the last marquee event when Sophie Molineux had become the first choice left-arm spinner. Similarly, the WBBL will be a test for Molineux to return into Australia squad following her shoulder injury that interrupted her at times throughout the season. Although she made her Test debut during the Ashes, her surgery forced her to miss subsequent series against West Indies and Sri Lanka. There will be an extra pressure on the left-arm spinner as she now faces a tough competition from in-form Jonassen to lock her spot in Australia’s XI going in to the T20 World Cup. 

 

Shuffling and returns

Strikers have got West Indies captain Stafanie Taylor on board. Although Taylor, the second highest run scorer in T20Is after Suzie Bates, will play in the initial games, she will return only in time for the last two league matches due to international commitments. During her absence the team will receive the services of England’s Lauren Winfield as a replacement player.

Hurricanes, meanwhile, got Australia’s Nicola Carey and Tayla Vlaeminck in the line-up. Carey, who almost took Thunder to semi-final win, and Vlaeminck, who played for Renegades, could be seen leading the charge of the bowling unit. Carey also possesses the ability to quickly add runs down the order.

Scorchers looked back and recalled England all-rounder Natalie Sciver, who is expected to play a vital role in the middle along with skipper Meg Lanning. Sciver and Heather Graham will lead the bowling unit. The English woman possesses the ability to apply dot pressure and is extremely handy with the bat as she can turn the tables single-handedly. Graham, on the other hand, who is a big name in domestic circuit, has been impressive with her wicket-taking ability. 

 

Festival weekends

There will be seven festival weekends during this edition of the WBBL. Sydney festival weekend will run from October 18 to 20 at North Sydney Oval, AB Field will host Brisbane festival weekend from October 26 to 27, and WACA will see Perth festival weekend from November 1 to 3. Adelaide festival weekend will be hosted at Karen Rolton Oval from November 9 to 10, Drummoyne Oval will host Sydney festival weekend from November 15 to 17, Hobart festival weekend will be at Blundstone Arena from November 22 to 24 and Junction Oval will see Melbourne festival weekend from November 30 to December 1.

 

There is much to look forward to in the upcoming tournament. Australia’s premier domestic T20 competition will once again, no doubt, provide non-stop entertainment to the viewers this season.

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