Sydney Thunder have enlisted the services of England international Fran Wilson as they lose India star Harmanpreet Kaur for the business end of the Rebel WBBL season.
Kaur has joined the India ODI squad ahead of their tour of South Africa, with Wilson – a member of England’s Ashes squad – linking up with the Thunder after a stint with Wellington in New Zealand.
After nine matches the Thunder sit on top of the table, with five regular season games left to play.
They’ll take on the second-ranked Adelaide Strikers in a double-header in Wagga Wagga on Saturday and Sunday, where they’ll look to sure up their place in the top four.
The loss of Kaur is unlikely to faze the Thunder and captain Alex Blackwell believes balance will be the key for the team as they approach the business end of the season.
“We’ve got a really well-balanced squad who are really stepping into their roles and understand that sometimes they won’t be required on any given day,” Blackwell told cricket.com.au earlier this month when asked the secret behind the Thunder's success.
“Even for me (batting at No.3), sometimes we’ve chased down a few totals where the opening batters have done the job. Sometimes you need a bit of patience as a T20 batter.
“Nicola Carey again has been really strong with both bat and ball, her 47 off 17 (on opening weekend) and all her class in that innings was very impressive early on.
“She’s been a standout bowler for us for two years already and she’s worked really hard on her batting.”
Australian stars Blackwell and Rachael Haynes have led the way with the bat for the Thunder in WBBL|03, while new opener Rachel Priest has been a valuable addition at the top of the order.
But even when those players have fallen cheaply, the likes of Naomi Stalenberg and Nicola Carey have stepped up, while international Stafanie Taylor – whose opportunities with the bat have been limited – has yet to fully fire.
That ability to step up when required was perfectly illustrated in last Saturday’s Sydney Smash, when Stalenberg, who had batted just four times in eight games, came to the crease with her team 3-21 and fired off a match-winning 48 from 41 deliveries.
That balance is similarly demonstrated in the Thunder’s bowling – their top-wicket taker is Taylor, who sits ninth on the table overall with 10 scalps, but she’s closely followed by teammates Rene Farrell, Sam Bates and Carey with eight apiece.
“Rene Farrell the way as our senior bowler has been ever reliable … and Stafanie Taylor has provided a strong option for us as a spinner.
“The first couple of years she was more of a part-timer but this year she’s provided me with an option to even open the bowling and to close out games, so she’s showing a lot of value there.”
Despite the Thunder’s strong position, Blackwell is under no illusions that the run home to finals will be an easy one, with matches against fellow finals contenders Adelaide Strikers, Melbourne Renegades and Brisbane Heat still to come.
“We understand that as a group, we’re sitting nicely on the table but it’s going to be a really tough run home.
“I always thought Strikers had a really good group from the beginning, with the additions of Suzie Bates, as a leader she does heaps for every team.
“They’re a very dangerous side and with Megan Schutt in such good form coming off the Ashes, they’re a team that I look at and go ‘wow, ‘that’s a really strong line-up’.”
WBBL|03 Squad: Alex Blackwell (c), Sam Bates, Nicola Carey, Belinda Vakarewa, Stafanie Taylor, Hannah Darlington, Maisy Gibson, Lisa Griffiths, Rachael Haynes, Rachel Priest, Naomi Stalenberg, Rene Farrell, Fran Wilson, Rachel Trenaman, Hannah Trethewy