Can the WBBL build on its big start?
The principal drawback of success is that people then expect you to have more of it. Right now, the summer of 2016-17 is the 'difficult second album' stage for the Women's Big Bash League. The inaugural edition a year ago was deemed to have exceeded expectations, but that's not so difficult when no one knew what their expectations were. It drew good crowds, surprisingly strong television numbers, and provided a stage for some excellent young talent. Second time around, we might insist it's a minimum requirement to have a legspinner ripping the ball a yard and a half in front of ten thousand at the ground and half a million on TV.
In truth though this season is a consolidation chapter, all part of Cricket Australia's long-term strategy to increase cricket's inclusiveness for women and girls, raise the standard of the women's game for spectators, and help that game support itself with revenue.
Nonetheless, WBBL|02 is positioned to do well. Channel Ten has expanded its commitment to screen 12 games, including a prime-time evening match amongst four to be broadcast on the standalone opening weekend. That first carnival round will feature all eight teams across three days in Sydney, taking the spotlight a week before the men's counterpart competition gets underway.
The opening round aside, the WBBL schedule won't be as crowded this year. Gone are the absurd rosters that saw some teams play twice in a day, though some games have moved to further-flung grounds to make the competition more accessible. Rooty Hill, Glenelg, Cranbourne or Albury might not be mentioned in the same breath as the WACA, Etihad Stadium or the SCG, but this season's locales will range from the most illustrious to the most modest. And with free entry for all but the BBL double-headers, it couldn't be much easier.
The champs of WBBL|01 will defend their title in rude health, losing none of the firepower that won them the competition while adding Indian middle-order dynamo Harmanpreet Kaur. No player does more all-round damage in the women's T20 game than West Indian Stafanie Taylor, returning to the Thunder after topping the runs and most wickets in England's domestic competition mid-year, after holding aloft the World T20 trophy in April.
Led by the always-calm Southern Stars mainstay Alex Blackwell, international experience is present via Rene Farrell's seam and Erin Osborne's spin. On top of that, the Thunder boast two youngsters who made it to the highest level after big tournaments last year, left-arm quick Lauren Cheatle and picket-clearing Naomi Stalenberg. With emerging talent like spinner Maisy Gibson also on their books, they have the matchwinners and depth to make winning a habit.
The pink side of Sydney flipped from competition duds to darlings last season. Facing the earliest possible elimination after losing six games, they went all Mighty Ducks to make the final after winning eight in a row to qualify for the semis. Luckily for the superstitious they've re-signed New Zealand international Sara McGlashan, the star of several of those wins, whose nerveless 79 not out took them into the finals from the last ball of the regular season.
The bowling version of Ebenezer Scrooge also returns in South African opener Marizanne Kapp, and her national skipper Dane van Niekerk has been poached from the Renegades to bolster the middle order. A reasonably handy type you may have heard of named Ellyse Perry is floating about, along with spinner Lisa Sthalekar who continues her Warne-like practice of staving off retirement with occasional T20 appearances.
Another side that has promised much more than delivered, the Scorchers immediately look weaker for losing England champion Charlotte Edwards and West Indies bludgeoner Deandra Dottin. But in adding Anya Shrubsole to her England opening partner Katherine Brunt, the best new-ball pair in international cricket now also lines up for Perth.
Shrubsole's arrival will be delayed due to injury, with England left-arm tweaker Rebecca 'Reg' Grundy taking her place for the opening four games. Batting responsibility falls on the shoulders of experienced trio Suzie Bates, Nicole Bolton and Elyse Villani. Bates is at the peak of her powers as New Zealand skipper - player of the match in the Super League final in England - while the latter pair are vastly experienced Australian openers. Like the Stars, and like last year, the Scorchers look great - on paper.
The strain of elite women's cricket can be seen in Adelaide's ranks, with last year's star England international Sarah Taylor on a break to deal with anxiety, and opening bowler Sarah Coyte recently opening up about her struggles with an eating disorder. Difficult as their experiences are, by speaking about them these women are providing help and reassurance for girls with similar issues.
Another former England player, Charlotte Edwards, has switched from Perth in a swap for Lauren Ebsary, and will combine for batting stability with fellow recruit Sarah Elliott, the Test centurion arriving from the Renegades. Two young Strikers - leg-spinner Amanda-Jade Wellington and all-rounder Tahlia McGrath - just made their ODI debuts for Australia, while swing bowler Megan Schutt is a national fixture. English import Tammy Beaumont is one of the biggest hitters in the game, and New Zealand's Sophie Devine can match her for power. On balance, this might be the most exciting squad in the comp.
There wasn't a side in WBBL|01 that promised more but delivered less. A side led by the best player in the world in Meg Lanning, it made sense the Stars would waltz through the regular season and beyond. They didn't. Foreign recruits underperformed, domestic players didn't make the leap - especially with the bat. But they still have Lanning, and returning international Natalie Sciver is a cricketer reborn since last on these shores, evolving into a batsman capable of taking down attacks in a matter of overs in the revitalised England set up.
Her national team-mate Danielle Hazell joins the squad as a temporary replacement while Australian first-choice leggie Kristen Beams recovers from a finger injury. Kiwi bowler Morna Nielsen was dominant last year, and powerful Australian bat Jess Cameron is making a comeback after a year away from the game. In short: the Stars have no excuses.
The team in red had a poor first season, scraping four wins in some scrappy affairs, though they did roll the Stars in their New Year's game on live TV. Light on for batting, they've lured Australia's biggest hitter in Grace Harris from Brisbane. But one batsman can't carry a team, with diminutive placement player Danielle Wyatt and Kiwi wicketkeeper Rachel Priest the only noted willow-handlers alongside. Hiring the CEO's daughter can't hurt a club in the longer term, but we can't expect 15-year-old Annabel Sutherland to generate more headlines than CA boss James.
Molly Strano and Sophie Molineux, also known as Molly & Molly, could act as a mood enhancer if they land the pill right, but it's been a major comedown losing South African tearaway Shabnim Ismail to a disciplinary suspension from her home board. If they keep their young team together, the Renegades can become something in seasons ahead, but this time around will likely be another struggle.
In Brisbane last year they got hot fast, but cooled quicker, falling away badly when it mattered most. While the Heat have lost matchwinner Grace Harris in the off-season, stylish Indian bat Smriti Mandhana can replace her at the top of the list, while West Indian Deandra Dottin can clatter bowlers just as far.
Beth Mooney's consistency with the bat earned her a national call-up last summer, and she carried that on with a big century for Queensland in the WNCL. She's a player they can and must build a batting line up around. With the ball, Holly Ferling's burgeoning seniority in Australian ranks suggests she is ready to take a step up here, while Southern Stars all-rounder Jess Jonassen has the best straight drive in women's cricket. On their day they're formidable, they just have to ensure that day comes around more often.
The Moneyball side of the WBBL, the Hurricanes have no frills, no mystique and no Southern Stars. It's indicative of domestic cricket's power disparity that not a single national representative has chosen to represent Tasmania. But none of that stopped Hobart putting together an even outfit that most often got the job done, topping the table for much of last year and making the semi-finals.
This was built on consistent contributions from low-wattage players like Erin Burns, Brooke Hepburn, and Corinne Hall, though the latter provided some brilliance in the field. That squad is almost unchanged, with wicketkeeper Georgia Redmayne the lone inclusion. The team's few international stars are England's Heather Knight, who was top ten in the runs and wickets last year; Hayley Matthews, the West Indies teenager who destroyed Australia's bowling to win the World T20; and Amy Satterthwaite, who starred for New Zealand with two ODI centuries less than a month ago.
Geoff Lemon is a writer and radio broadcaster on history, sport and politics. He edits the Australian literary publication Going Down Swinging