Women's Big Bash League 2018-19 November 30, 2018

From T20 World Cup to WBBL: The party is set to continue

Cricket Australia has had a tough year, but their investment in women's cricket and the WBBL is cause for celebration as season three kicks off

The launch of the 2018-19 WBBL © Getty Images

The Australia women's team have travelled more than 40,000km, played 16 matches across two formats in three continents. All in 60 days.

But just a week after claiming the World T20 title a world away in Antigua, every squad member will turn out in Melbourne for their respective Women's Big Bash League teams as the six-week tournament gets underway this weekend.

The eight teams play 14 games, home and away. Melbourne plays host to all eight sides before double headers in Sydney and Hobart in weeks two and three.

Fatigue? What fatigue?

You could excuse the Australia players if they needed a break. A two-month slog includes a home T20 series against New Zealand, three ODIs and T20s against Pakistan in Malaysia, followed by the T20 World Cup in the Caribbean. But no one's moaning about the schedule.

"I don't think it's going to be difficult at all," Renegades allrounder Sophie Molineux told ESPNCricinfo. "I think we're all hanging out to get back and play cricket in Australia and play in front of Australian crowds."

Brisbane Heat opener Beth Mooney understands the momentum that is building behind women's cricket in Australia. "Everyone is on a bit of a high at the moment so it's probably come at a good time, the WBBL, to get rolling and get straight back into it and not really have much rest," Mooney said. "Everyone is looking forward to it."

"It's a pretty amazing spot to be in. We're really lucky that Cricket Australia has built such a good platform for domestic women's cricket in Australia. Whilst there's some bad that comes with it in the sense that we're not home a lot, I think it's really important to remember how far we've come, and the job that we have to do for Australian cricket to make sure that it's Australia's favourite sport. We've gained the respect from the public as well."

© Cricket Australia/Getty Images

Spin to win

The T20 World Cup highlighted the importance of spin bowling in women's T20s. Ashleigh Gardner was one of the leading wicket-takers in the tournament while Georgia Wareham's leg-spin had a huge impact in the final. South Africa legspinner and Sydney Sixers overseas player Dane van Niekerk had the best economy rate of the tournament, conceding just 3.41 runs per over. Gardner knows she will bowl a lot in the Powerplays for the Sixers this season to allow van Niekerk to do her work in the middle overs.

"Last season I was given the new ball most of the games," Gardner said. "Obviously offspin is a lot harder to face in the powerplay when there's only two players out. I can't see that changing again this year. Obviously, Aussie wickets are a little bit different to the West Indies. They don't turn as much, which sucks being a spinner."

Perth Scorchers opener Nicole Bolton expects to face a lot of spin in the Powerplays. "Definitely, especially left-arm spin, they seem to be like gold in the Powerplay," Bolton said. "A lot of teams seem to open with a left-hander so it wouldn't surprise me to see offies open up against them as well."

"I think with spin you've got to be prepared to be a bit bold and try and work out ways that you can score quickly. I think it's not to get too greedy and I guess because there's only two out in the Powerplay, just really know where your gap is and I think if you're going to go, go hard."

Mooney believes the WBBL is a marker for the evolution of women's T20 batting. "There's a lot that has been spoken about the Australian way of playing," she said. "Especially with women's cricket. We want to play a fearless brand of cricket. So, I think you'll see that come out in the Big Bash teams this year. It's the best competition in the world to play in.

"Obviously, we've got some world class players, not only in the Australian team playing in it, but around the world. So, I think you'll see a really tightly contested series this year in the Big Bash and some high scores and some fantastic bowling."

© Getty Images

The best of the best

There is a host of international stars playing in the WBBL but there was one signing that had everybody talking. "I think Smriti Mandhana is going to be a massive player for the Hobart Hurricanes this year," Gardner said.

Adelaide Strikers bowler Megan Schutt had nightmares about Mandhana's stunning 83 from 55 balls in Australia's only loss of the World T20 to India. "She's clocked us around a little bit so hopefully she can't do that in the WBBL," Schutt said.

Mandhana joins West Indies star Hayley Matthews and England's Heather Knight at the Hurricanes to make them a formidable force. But the Strikers have two power-hitters of their own with New Zealand stars Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine returning again.

"They're huge," Schutt said. "They're obviously two of the biggest hitters in the women's game but I also think Batesy's leadership and Sophie's personality add a lot to any squad and I think we're really lucky to have them both."

The Renegades have experienced Kiwi duo Amy Satterthwaite and Lea Tahuhu to guide their young squad again. The Melbourne Stars have South African pair Lizelle Lee and Mignon du Preez returning along with England's Georgia Elwiss.

The Sixers have South Africans van Niekerk, Marizanne Kapp and New Zealand's Sara McGlashan returning after last season's success. But the Sydney Thunder have arguably two of the best in their midst in India's Harmanpreet Kaur and West Indies Stafanie Taylor.

"Our internationals coming in are coming off a pretty big workload," Thunder star Rachael Haynes said. "But they've also been playing heaps of cricket and I think it's exciting, someone like Harmanpreet Kaur was absolutely smoking it in the Caribbean, Stafanie Taylor as well."

Who wins?

The Sixers are the two-time defending champions with Gardner, Alyssa Healy and Ellyse Perry the headline acts. The Scorchers have added Meg Lanning to their squad giving the two-time finalists an equally powerful top order.

But no one could agree on who would be the biggest threat with six different players naming six different teams as the one to watch.

Ultimately, Cricket Australia may be the biggest winners. In a year that can only be described as their annus horribilis, the long-term investment in the WBBL is reaping huge dividends.

Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Melbourne

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