Perfectly promoted, perfectly poised
There was a determined effort from administrators to give the Women's Big Bash League the best chance to build on the gains made in season one. First, they carved out an opening weekend free of interference from the men's international calendar. Then they threw as much of it as possible on live television for a chance to quickly capture hearts and minds. It worked a treat.
The marquee game of the four shown on Network Ten's main station was Sydney Thunder versus Melbourne Stars on Saturday prime time, which generated nearly 680,000 viewers across the country at its peak, with an average just over half that number. It also happened to be the match of the round.
Generating back-page newspaper coverage in the process, with 6000 spectators coming through the gates at North Sydney Oval across the six-game carnival, the foundation for WBBL02 has been laid. The quality and evenness of the contests followed, each team finishing the opening flurry of fixtures with a win and a loss. It is a season perfectly poised.
Big guns bring ammo…
As with any domestic hit-out, much of the success hinges on performances of the biggest names from home and abroad, and they didn't miss out at the first time of asking.
Caribbean crusher Deandra Dottin's unbeaten 60 in 44 balls enabled the Brisbane Heat to rally from a parlous situation to chase down the Sydney Sixers, including a blow off Ellyse Perry that nearly ended up on the moon.
In both clashes between Adelaide Strikers and Melbourne Renegades, Sophie Devine saved the former's innings with her blade at number six, the New Zealand international carrying on where she left off last season with two brisk hands of 43 and 41 not out.
Perth Scorchers' stacked batting came correct in their second fixture against Hobart Hurricanes, thanks to 48 from Kiwi captain Suzie Bates and a fine half-century from Australian opener Elyse Villani. Bajan sensation Hayley Matthews won the first of those rubbers for the Tasmanian side, racking up a brisk 48 at the top of the order after taking two wickets.
To cap off the round it was Perry's turn, converting her consistently brilliant performances from the international arena to the WBBL with an unbeaten 45, squaring the ledger for her Sixers against the Heat.
…but small arms can still win skirmishes
That's right, it wasn't all about the big-name players. Emerging sorts and new arrivals put themselves firmly in the public eye, none more so than a Renegade with a new claim to all-rounder status.
Sophie Molineux's weekend got major real estate in both major Melbourne newspapers. First she bowled tidily with 0-24 before making 37 not out as her team collapsed around her chasing 117. The next day, annoyed at the loss, she grabbed the first four wickets in the rematch with Adelaide, ran out their star import Charlotte Edwards, then smashed 28 not out from 18 balls to ensure this target of 129 was run down without incident.
Teammate and fellow Molly (Strano) had a decent weekend alongside, with 3 for 16 in the first game and 1 for 20 in the second, meaning the two Mollies share the top of the league's wicket-taking table. Another level with them is Harmanpreet Kaur, hardly classifiable as 'emerging' after her exploits with India, but a new face in this league.
She delivered with immediate effect for Sydney Thunder, not just with four wickets in their second-game win over Melbourne Stars, but her brilliant batting. The target of 147 set by Stars in the first match was steep, especially from 87 for 4 with 32 balls remaining, but Kaur very nearly ran it down, her 47 from 28 including a couple of gorgeous sixes over cover. In the rematch, she belted a couple more sixes in a score of 30 not out to stroll past Melbourne's 116.
To infinity and beyond
Thankfully this year has no more of the strange scheduling that saw teams sometimes playing twice in a day, but they are often playing back to back. They're also getting around the country, after visits to Drummoyne and Albury in this first few days.
This coming weekend gets some more locations on the list. Adelaide Strikers and Sydney Thunder kick things off on Friday at Penrith, then back it up again on the Saturday. The other sides each start on Saturday, then rematch at the same venue on the Sunday: Perth Scorchers host Brisbane Heat at the WACA, Melbourne Stars host Sydney Sixers in the very south-east corner of their hometown down in Cranbourne, and Melbourne Renegades escort Hobart Hurricanes on a road trip to Bendigo, which will hopefully be a bonding experience and rite of passage in which both sets of players learn to put aside their differences and grow as people in the process. Directed by John Hughes.