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'It's been a difficult preparation' - Melbourne Renegades coach on Covid challenges ahead of WBBL

Lachlan Stevens is keeping an open mind going into the tournament but knows the squad has an "ace in the pack"

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
Courtney Webb and Molly Strano celebrate Melbourne Renegades' last-ball victory  •  Getty Images

Courtney Webb and Molly Strano celebrate Melbourne Renegades' last-ball victory  •  Getty Images

Melbourne teams in the WBBL, the Renegades and Stars, will venture a little into the unknown this weekend when they begin their tournaments having done the majority of their preparation amid strict Covid-19 lockdown in Victoria.
Although Victoria-based players, who were not part of the Australia squad for the recent series against New Zealand, have been able to train during Melbourne's stage 4 restrictions it has been a far from ideal lead-in for the competition that will be staged in a Sydney-based hub over the next five weeks.
There have been some protocols other teams have needed to follow, specifically those in Sydney, but far less restrictive than Melbourne over the last three months while the Perth Scorchers, Adelaide Strikers, Hobart Hurricanes and the defending champions Brisbane Heat have largely been able to train as normal in their home states.
The teams have all been in Sydney this week so have been able to train at full tilt ahead of starting the competition on Sunday, but Renegades head coach Lachlan Stevens knows it has been a tough build-up.
"It's a really difficult question to answer," he told ESPNcricinfo about how ready the Victoria-based players would be. "First and foremost we are very grateful to everyone who has gone out of their way and helped us come into the tournament, helped us train before the tournament even though it was with restrictions and a lot of protocols because of what was going on down in Melbourne.
"We are all really lucky to be here, both the girls in the Stars and the Renegades teams. It's certainly been a challenge and I've certainly felt for them in that regard so I'm really hoping once they get out there, and I know they will, they compete as hard as they can but it's been a difficult preparation."
While Stevens expected the will to win to be as strong as usual, he conceded that the pandemic and the challenges of the last seven months brings a different outlook
"It's not that we are not here to try and compete and everyone will be doing their best to win matches," he said, "but certainly I think you'd be a pretty harsh judge if you walked away from a tournament where everyone was safe and happy expecting any more than that. We want to provide an environment where they can do the very best they can and then whatever comes of that. Priorities have changed a little bit as they have for everyone in the last 12 months."
There will be challenges on the field for the Renegades from the outset with New Zealand pace bowler Lea Tahuhu not set to feature for at least the first half of the competition due to the side injury she picked up against Australia and is doubtful for the whole tournament. Stevens hopes to cover her absence from within the squad rather than dipping into the replacement-player pool that is available.
They will also have to contend with missing last season's leading run-scorer Jess Duffin following her pregnancy, but do have the return of Amy Satterthwaite as captain plus a potent spin attack of Georgia Wareham, Sophie Molineux and Molly Strano.
"With Lea and Jess being out they [the spinners] are our ace in the pack," Stevens said. "If we can get them enough runs on the board to be able to do what they do well, and likewise if we are bowling first hopefully they can take some wickets for us and be restrictive, then it gives us an opportunity in the game. They are certainly holding a large key for how we go about our work over the next few weeks."
Wareham and Molineux were both outstanding in the recent internationals against New Zealand in Brisbane and Strano is the leading wicket-taker in WBBL history with 96 in 72 matches at 17.10. She was a late addition to the T20 World Cup squad after injury to Tayla Vlaeminck, but given the strength of Australia's resources can't command a regular place.
"She's just one of the most wonderful team people in the history of cricket," Stevens said. "She brings energy, enthusiasm and competes as hard as she possibly can every time. And with a smile on her face. I love watching her play.
"What she does well is understand where batters' strengths lie and how she can control them. She reads the play and batters very well and that goes a long way towards her record."

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo