State final will be no picnic
If you go down to the SCG on Saturday you're sure of a big surprise (unless you're already a women's cricket follower). Because on show will be the Australian captain Karen Rolton, the vice-captain Lisa Sthalekar... in fact, most of the Australia players, who will be facing off in the state final, the highlight of the domestic season. And they're promising exciting cricket.
"The women's game is changing now, you have to be stronger. Scores of 230, 240 aren't going to really cut it, you have to keep striving to keep pushing for scores over 250," says Sthalekar, the New South Wales Breakers captain who is aiming high against South Australia Scorpions, who are in their first final for a decade and hunting their first title since 1995.
Rolton was playing then and is keen to win once more. "It's been quite a while," she smiles. "It would mean a lot to win, there's been a lot of hard work over the years. It will be quite exciting, it will mean a great deal, and most of the girls haven't been in a final so it's all very exciting."
The Breakers, meanwhile, have been in every final for the last 11 years, winning nine of them. This year, they were defeated just once in the tournament, and are a well-oiled unit, beating the Scorpions twice in the opening round back in November at Bankstown Oval, by seven wickets and 25 runs. They secured a home final by coming top of the pile again.
Despite sweeping all before them - their future looks bright too as they regularly scoop all the junior titles on offer, too - they remain motivated, focussed and committed. "There's a culture of always winning and always striving to dominate but also raise the bar in women's cricket," says Sthalekar. "Our goal this year has been to play exciting cricket which we have done."
They've set the pace as the women's game has developed well over the last few years, offering more entertainment in the form of hitting over the top and a few hostile bouncers - watch out for Ellyse Perry's firebolts - alongside the usual skills of finesse.
And a prediction for the weekend? Sthalekar believes that while the Scorpions have five match-winning players - Australia's Rolton, Shelley Nitschke, Kris Britt and Emma Sampson, and England import Jenny Gunn (who actually plays for Sydney) - the Breakers will have the edge through strength in depth. "I was hoping we would meet them because I think they're the two best teams. It's going to be a tough challenge for us to get on top of them. I think we might have the depth and hopefully that will get us across the line. If we can stay with them ball-by-ball hopefully our talent will come across."
"They may just have the edge," Rolton concedes. "They're a good all-round team and we're developing into that, and our batters are on form. They've definitely got more experience but that doesn't always mean a lot in the final. We've had our chances over the years and this is the best year we've had. We deserve to be there and we will give them a good run for their money."
Indeed, don't write the Scorpions off. In Rolton they have the competition's only centurion of the season, while Sampson is one of the fastest bowlers in the world. South Australia have maintained the side which beat Victoria in the last group round to seal their final spot, while adding Tegan McPharlin.
The game, then, promises to be a tight one after some impressive showings from South Australia in their recent state matches, and they will be backed by a vocal band of loyal supporters. "It's great," says Rolton. "Our support is pretty good out of all the states. To get people over means a lot to us. It will be great to have some red tops on in the crowd, everyone appreciates the support."
Breakers head coach Richard Bates, in his first year in charge, said the team had prepared well. "The key has been making sure that the players are ready to go, mentally and physically, on Saturday morning and ready for the challenge," he says. "It is going to be a terrific game. There are so many great players on both sides who are capable of match winning performances. No doubt it will be case of who puts their hand up when it matters and maybe who has a bit of luck too!"
As for Scorpions' preparations, "We've done nothing differently," says Rolton. "The preparations have gone quite well. It's been hard because last week was full-on, so we've had a bit of cricket. Everyone's prepared well."
Get there if you can.
New South Wales Lisa Sthalekar (capt), Alex Blackwell, Sarah Andrews, Charlotte Anneveld, Sarah Aley, Kate Blackwell, Leonie Coleman, Rene Farrell, Alyssa Healy, Lisa Kuschert, Ellyse Perry, Sharon Millanta, Leah Poulton.
South Australia Julie Woerner, Karen Rolton (capt), Shelley Nitschke, Kris Britt, Leanne Davis, Jenny Gunn, Alicia Dean (wk), Cara Fiebig, Neisha Iles, Fiona McDonald, Stephanie Morrison, Emma Sampson, Tegan McPharlin.
Jenny Thompson is an assistant editor at Cricinfo