Suzie Bates is back for New Zealand in a series that could give a major pointer towards the World Cup © Getty Images
One of the biggest years in women's cricket - if not the biggest year - begins with two giants of the game taking on each other in the Rose Bowl series. The annual trans-Tasman match-up starts on February 1 in Auckland as New Zealand host world champions Australia.

It promises to be a huge series, with both sides vying to test out each other before March's World Cup in Australia, when they will face off in Northern Sydney in the first match of Group A.

Australia have taken the last eight Rose Bowls, but the fact is deceptive; matches have been very tight, and this could be New Zealand's year. With a new-look Australia blooding some debutants, it could be an opportune moment for New Zealand - the only other side to have won the World Cup this decade - to stamp some authority.

New Zealand have not played since last year's Rose Bowl but they welcome back strong allrounder Suzie Bates, who was absent from last year's 3-2 defeat through Olympic duty. Bates returns to a settled squad which also includes the recalled Kate Pulford but has lost the retired Helen Watson.

Australia have called up Jessica Cameron and Erin Osborne, both 19-year-olds, and recalled Rene Farrell. They have axed Kate Blackwell, one half of the first identical twins to represent Australia, and whether this will have an effect on her sister Alex, the opening batsman, is yet to be seen.

It was in some senses a surprise - Kate has played in 41 of the 57 ODIs since her debut in 2004 - but on the other hand, she has scored only one fifty in the state league season and made 35 runs in a five-match drubbing against India earlier this season.

The selectors also overlooked Victoria's Sarah Edwards despite her striking 96 against the touring Indians.

Emma Sampson, the fast bowler who has been clocked at 117kph (73mph), is looking forward to the New Zealand series, seeing it as an important opportunity. "Because we've got a few new players, it gives us a good chance to play together and travel together," she told Cricinfo. "We will have been around each other for a while before the World Cup.

"New Zealand are always tough to face as well and, especially because they are our first opponent at the World Cup, it will be good to see where we are at and where they are at."

This Rose Bowl is set to be much more than bragging rights between traditional rivals; it could set the tone for the entire World Cup.

New Zealand (probable) 1 Suzie Bates 2 Aimee Mason 3 Haidee Tiffen (capt) 4 Sara McGlashan 5 Nicola Browne 6 Sophie Devine 7 Sarah Tsukigawa 8 Rachel Priest (wk) 9 Beth McNeill 10 Amy Satterthwaite 11 Lucy Doolan.

Australia (probable) 1 Alex Blackwell, 2 Shelley Nitschke, 3 Karen Rolton (capt), 4 Lisa Sthalekar, 5 Lauren Ebsary, 6 Ellyse Perry, 7 Leonie Coleman (wk), 8 Sarah Andrews, 9 Emma Sampson, 10 Delissa Kimmince, 11 Erin Osborne.

Jenny Roesler is a former assistant editor at Cricinfo