Geoff Lemon is a writer and radio broadcaster on history, sport and politics. He edits the Australian literary publication Going Down Swinging
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It has to be said: the three finals to wrap up WBBL03 were collectively a damp squib. Each game involved one batting side falling to pieces, though at least the Sydney Sixers and the Perth Scorchers made the first innings of their respective semi-finals a spectacle. The games were also a great demonstration of the power of bowling pressure.
As we highlighted last week, the atmosphere wasn't helped by the final being played at a neutral venue, and far too early in the day, to accommodate a reality TV show after the men's final.
There is work to do. Once again, players left the tournament early for international duty. An exclusivity window akin to the IPL has been discussed at Cricket Australia, but talk needs to become actions.
None of this detracts from the quality on the field, from the opening weekend in North Sydney when enormous tallies broke every imaginable record. Scoring rates ebbed back as the season went on, but it remained the highest-scoring tournament of its kind. Seven players passed 400 runs, while Ellyse Perry and Elyse Villani passed 500.
Or take another metric: of players who had a bat, the first season saw 43 of them hit at least one six, while 69 of them didn't. The second season, 48 hit a six and 59 didn't. This season, 51 hit a six and 56 didn't. More players are coming to grips with the level and the format.
Spin was as effective third time around for the WBBL. South African leggie Dane van Niekerk claimed 20 wickets before leaving the Sixers for international duty, while Amanda Wellington (Adelaide Strikers), Molly Strano (Melbourne Renegades), Stafanie Taylor (Sydney Thunder), Emma King (Melbourne Stars), and Samantha Bates (Thunder) all won matches.
Once again the standard-bearer from start to end, a brief mid-season stumble was put aside to claim back-to-back pennants. Perry was the rock at the top, allowing Alyssa Healy (421 runs) and Gardner (347 including the fastest century in WBBL history) to attack around her. Erin Burns made a seamless move from Hobart Hurricanes in the middle order, while van Niekerk and compatriot seamer Marizanne Kapp (12 wickets at an absurd and league-leading 4.72 runs an over) were the league's best imports.
Aley ploughed on as ever, saving her best for the business end. That was when Sarah Coyte returned to cricket after having retired. Another good news story was Ireland seamer Kim Garth, the only regular pick in the league to have started as an ICC rookie.
They recruited big, but fell at the final hurdle again, and in truth were lucky to get that far after an underwhelming home and away campaign. A home semi-final despite finishing third was a massive four-leaf clover. Heavily reliant on leaders Villani and Nicole Bolton at the top of the list and Brunt with the ball, all three stepped up to deliver but too often lacked support.
A lasting riddle of this league is why Natalie Sciver can't find runs the way she has for England in the last couple of years. Heather Graham embodies the team, good enough to win a match with bat or ball, but not enough to bank on. Next season they add Meg Lanning to the the top of their list, but some next-tier players must emerge.
A funny old season, where the Thunder at times topped the league but never looked more a threat than their Sydney rivals. They were dealt an awful hand in having to play their semi-final in Perth despite finishing second - the hardest road trip in the country. The winning captain from the first WBBL, Alex Blackwell struggled with the bat after finding herself out of national T20 calculations during the Ashes.
Her replacement in that team, Rachael Haynes, punished the bowling in a way she hasn't done before, finishing top five for tournament runs at a great clip. Naomi Stalenberg played some attacking knocks, Nicola Carey had an outstanding all-round campaign, and Samantha Bates was a revelation with her left-arm spin. Stafanie Taylor was down on her usual output, used as a floater in the batting order, and Rachel Priest would have wanted a better first season with the club. Near enough for long enough, but a twist of luck away.
So close. The tenacity of this side cannot be questioned, consistently finding a way to defend small totals with a frugal bowling line-up led by Australian swing star Megan Schutt, who at times seemed to be operating the ball by remote control. Amanda Wellington's massive leggies were always a threat, while Devine was perhaps more influential with ball than bat this season, though we noted her six-hitting exploits above.
Suzie Bates was the steady batting presence with her 434 season runs, England's 50-over opener Tammy Beaumont started to find her way in the format, and Tahlia McGrath was handy with bat and ball. But no one from the Strikers scored at a rate that would frighten a bowling team, and, as Sixers keeper Healy observed on the on-ground commentary mic, the top order panicked in their semi-final collapse.
Time and again this column was convinced the Heat were hot enough to back up their finals appearance from last season with another. But in reality, any side that comes to rely on one player as much as this team comes unstuck in the end. Beth Mooney was that player, keeping wicket and opening the batting to smash 465 runs at a strike rate of 143.51, the fastest in the league among specialists.
Her opening partner Kirby Short was solid but not as influential as previous seasons. One-time West Indies star Deandra Dottin was a faded force. An all-rounder on the fringes of the national team, Delissa Kimmince did her part across the disciplines, but the more established Jess Jonassen has never quite brought the same level to Big Bash as she does in green and gold.
South African opener Laura Wolvaardt was a bust in eight appearances, the teenager accustomed to more time in the 50-over form. Up to eight players were required to share the load when bowling, such was the impotence of the attack. Another team with thinking to do.
Inconsistency is Red Melbourne's hallmark, and it got them in the end, after looking finals-bound for much of the season. Recruiters got them a dream batting line-up on paper - the flowering Sophie Molineux teaming up with Sri Lanka's brutal Chamari Atapattu and the class of former Australia star Jess Cameron (aka Duffin) at the top, with skipper Amy Satterthwaite calling the shots from the middle.
Winning a couple of close ones looked like turning an important corner. But the Renegades contrived to lose to the Stars and the Hurricanes, the worst teams of the year, and fell out of the four by the final weekend. It was especially disappointing for the young band on the fringes of Australian selection: Maitlan Brown (15 wickets), Molly Strano (14 wickets) and Molineux (318 runs and 6 wickets) are yet to experience Big Bash finals.
For a club that relied entirely on Meg Lanning, there's not much left when you lose Meg Lanning. A few administrators probably wept in their cars when Australia's skipper signed for the Scorchers, though she busted her shoulder and wouldn't have played this tournament anyway. Sciver followed Lanning, though she had always been more promise than delivery to the Stars.
But what did they have left? Lizelle Lee was a good pick-up, clobbering 17 sixes in her 349 runs before she had to leave for South African duty. There was the strange recruitment of Georgia Elwiss, a player England used in the recent Ashes as a Test specialist. Annabel Sutherland, daughter of the CA boss, grabbed nine wickets in seven games at 5.48 per over, that rate leaving her fourth in the league for frugality. Not bad when you're still in high school. Kristen Beams tried hard as skipper but lost the knack of taking wickets. Erin Osborne was a good recruit with a solid all-round season. But there was rarely a sense of threat from the Stars, who didn't compete for much of the season.
It started badly. Before the season was underway, current England captain Heather Knight became a coach thanks to a busted foot, Satterthwaite swapped purple for red, and key all-rounder Burns followed the glitz of the Sixers and flourished. This exodus was from a club that has never had a current Australian team member don its shirt.
The Grapes had punched above their weight in seasons one and two, but finally hit the canvas. Aside from wicketkeeper Georgia Redmayne, who battled hard all season, local players couldn't reach the standard. Some nominally good imports - West Indies' Hayley Matthews, England's Lauren Winfield and India's Veda Krishnamurthy - barely fired a shot. The Hurricanes need an intervention, and CA has to help get the relatives around the kitchen table. If not, next season could be no better.