Harris hundred highlights second week of WBBL
Harris fords on to chew back a deficit after playing her hand solo
Intergalactic lasers may be dominating cinemas, but the special effects began on the WBBL's second weekend, when Grace Harris hit hyperdrive to smash the league's first century. Her 103 from 55 balls gave a new hope to Brisbane Heat after three losses to start the season, and a force awakened as they won their next three in a row.
We've been waiting for something special from Harris, the most exciting new talent to come on the scene for some time. She's an untidy looking cricketer, with her amble to the crease and her slump-shouldered stance, but she uses her height to generate tremendous power through the ball, and can produce a late cut as delicate as anyone's.
Her long-hitting reputation preceded her first international appearance, as an injury replacement for Delissa Kimmince in the T20 segment of the 2015 Women's Ashes. Mostly batting at No.6 or No.8, she only got to face 58 balls across the tour, but hit six of them out of the arena. A debut duck was her only innings with a strike rate below 100.
For the WBBL, she was given the responsibility of opening the innings, and on this broader canvas expressed herself so vividly in Game 8. Four sixes and 14 fours, ranging from the cleanest of straight hits to the dirtiest of slogs, but connecting so consistently that four Sixers bowlers went at more than 10 an over.
Then when the Sixers were flying in the chase, with New Zealand international Sara McGlashan on 61 from 29 balls, who should hit the stumps in her first over? That was just after dismissing the unfortunate Sarah Aley, whose bowling Harris had helped sack for 35 runs off two overs. You have much to learn, young padawan.
Not content with pummelling the Sixers once, Harris doubled down in the weekend's second game against them with three more wickets, then smacked 43 off 33 in a successful chase. Harris currently tops the competition for runs and wickets, and the only player to top her batting strike rate of 164.58 is Kristen 'Laser' Beams who has faced two balls. Can't wait for Harris to destroy the Melbourne Death Stars.
Knight shows up in shining armour
Before the tournament, English all-rounder Heather Knight introduced herself modestly as Hobart Hurricanes skipper by saying she hoped her charges could finish in the top four. After four wins to top of the ladder ahead of more fancied rivals, it's time to up those expectations.
Knight has led from the front in every way. Three times she's won the toss and set a total big enough to account for travelling opposition. Every game she's scored between 25 and 50. With the ball, efficient and effective middle over spells have netted six wickets and a pair of player of the match awards.
Both times the Renegades chased, the games were in the balance. First time around the result was defined by a single moment. If you haven't seen Corinne Hall's catch, look it up. She claimed the ball in the end of her fingers after running at full pace with the flight before launching into a full-stretch leap. It set a standard: three run-outs followed, including two from Hall, who was appropriately gonged as best on ground.
The second leg was far closer, with eight needed from two deliveries. South African Dane van Niekerk (45) got the first away via a reverse sweep, but was caught sweeping conventionally on the last ball, the visitors falling four short.
In Saturday's second game Adelaide's Megan Schutt demolished Hobart's top order, picking up three home batsmen for ducks in her first eight balls. But again through Knight (50) and Emma Thompson (41) there was consolidation then acceleration to reach 7 for 117.
With Sarah Taylor at the crease anything is possible, and with her even-paced 34 the Strikers should have walked it in from 1 for 83 with five overs to go. But the bowlers held their nerve for another triumph, this time by two runs.
Demoralised after twice having the game in their hands, Adelaide was pushed over for 83 in the rematch. Hobart cruised to a nine wicket win. All aboard the Cane Train.
Sixers and sevens in Sydney debacle
The contrast is stark for the competition's self-proclaimed razzle-dazzle franchise the Sydney Sixers, who have slumped to a 0-4 start after losing twice to the Heat and once to the Scorchers in their ill-fated trip to Perth.
The most alarming part is the bowling: in four innings they have struck just six times while leaking 7.65 an over.
Puzzling too is that this comes with the world's best fast bowler in at the helm. Ellyse Perry, player of the series in the Women's Ashes earlier in 2015, is yet to claim a wicket and has gone for plenty. Grace Harris took Perry apart during that century, and nearly broke her hand with a thunderous drive.
Out of sorts with the bat as well, three of Perry's four innings in the tournament haven't got past seven; in that doomed chase of 190 against the Heat Perry's quick 24 was her one meaningful contribution.
There's no bigger name and no greater all-round talent in women's cricket, so it wouldn't surprise to see this hapless opening become motivation for a powerful rally. But it will have to start soon. Another weekend like the last two, and they'll be an early exit from finals contention.
WBBL arrives in your lounge room
Carrying on from earlier cinematic references, there's another screen premiere this weekend: the first two women's domestic games ever to appear on free-to-air television. Big Bash League broadcaster Channel Ten will show the Heat taking on the Adelaide Strikers on Saturday afternoon Australian time, while late Sunday morning will see the Sixers try to improve their season on home ground against the Scorchers.
That's part of what will make Week 3 of the WBBL the biggest of the season. Eleven games across three days in two carnivals in two cities. All eight teams will be involved, and the table will make a bit more sense when we're done, though we'll still have the Sydney Thunder on four games to Brisbane on nine.
The Heat are hosting one of the carnivals, with the Renegades, Thunder and Strikers visiting the Gabba and Allan Border Field. The Sixers host the other, with the Scorchers, Stars and Hurricanes taking the competition to the SCG, Drummoyne Oval and Blacktown. As the season moves on, there will be plenty of games in Adelaide, Hobart and Melbourne to come.