A stunning turnaround in form earned Victoria Spirit the right to host this year's Women's National Cricket League finals but to make the most of their chance the Spirit will need to defy history. In the ten years of the WNCL's current format, the New South Wales Breakers have won the title eight times and it is the Breakers that Victoria face in the best of three finals series starting on Friday.
But this season New South Wales have not been the powerhouse they have been in past seasons and almost missed out on a place in the playoffs after finishing two bonus points ahead of Queensland Fire. The Breakers have played in every finals series since 1996-97 and have only lost twice, both times to Victoria. They are also the defending champions but Lisa Sthalekar, the captain, said winning at Melbourne's Central Reserve at Glen Waverley would be a challenge.
"At the start of our season we weren't playing that well but we've come into some form," Sthalekar said. "Our top order seems to be firing and our bowlers have got back their line and length. Because of our experience in finals and winning some close ones, if it comes down to the wire I'm hoping our experience from previous finals will get us over the line."
The Breakers are on a roll, having won their last four games. Victoria won five straight but dropped their final match against Queensland. New South Wales' batting has been their strength this year and with eight former or current Australia players in their line-up - Victoria have five - they will pose a threat to the Spirit's outstanding attack.
Cathryn Fitzpatrick, the veteran Victoria fast bowler, said hosting the final was a big bonus after the Spirit finished fourth with only two wins last season. "We're just a bit smarter with how we've approached it this year," Fitzpatrick said. "We had an open and honest review process because we were very disappointed with last year."
She said although the focus for all players would be winning the title, with a four-nation tournament in India starting next month the finals could "make or break" a place in the national squad for some players. The finals series continues with games on Saturday and, if required, on Sunday.
Victoria Spirit squad Sarah Edwards (capt), Kelly Applebee, Jess Cameron, Jodie Dean, Cathryn Fitzpatrick, Jane Franklin, Rachel Haynes, Julie Hunter, Emma Inglis, Melanie Jones, Megan Pauwels, Clea Smith.
New South Wales Breakers squad Lisa Sthalekar (capt), Sarah Aley, Sarah Andrews, Charlotte Anneveld, Alex Blackwell, Kate Blackwell, Leonie Coleman, Rene Farrell, Nicole Goodwin, Michelle Goszko, Julie Hayes, Leah Poulton, Jenny Wallace.