Bring it on: Harris, Heat primed for title defence
Big-hitting Brisbane Heat batter Grace Harris is ready for new challengers as her side seeks to lead from the front in WBBL|05
12 June 2019, 05:55 PM AEST
Brisbane Heat blaster Grace Harris insists the WBBL|04 champions will "thrive on the challenge" of defending a title she initially gave the squad little chance of winning.
The Heat today announced the re-signing of Harris on a one-year deal while also unveiling former Australia men's paceman Ashley Noffke as the new head coach, replacing Peter McGiffin. It comes the same day the first WBBL standalone season was confirmed by Cricket Australia.
Noffke said Harris, who hammered 374 runs last Big Bash season – including a record-breaking 42-ball century – was representative of the brand of cricket his side would be looking to play throughout WBBL|05.
"Having Gracie re-sign is an X-factor for our team," said the new mentor, who has worked extensively with Queensland Cricket in the past as well as with the national women's side.
"I put her in that Andrew Symonds mould – people want to watch her play.
"Having said that, there's a lot of girls underneath her that have that same potential but probably don't yet have that freedom that Gracie shows.
"It's going to be an exciting game (we play) this year and she's certainly going to lead the team as an X-factor."
The Heat weren't highly-fancied title contenders at the beginning of last summer but gathered momentum at the right time to storm home and take out a thrilling final against Sydney Sixers. Harris said belief grew within the camp as the campaign wore on.
"At the beginning of the season, I definitely didn't think that we had the depth to get through 14 games – a couple of injuries and we might have been relying heavily on a few inexperienced girls," she explained.
"But come the round against the Renegades (before Christmas), it was about then that I actually started to think 'yeah, we're a pretty good chance – we've got the right squad'.
"All the girls kind of came together and it was the right chat around the group, and with winning teams sometimes you just have a feeling throughout the season. It was the same feeling we had in the T20 comp we won with the Queensland Fire before the Big Bash started."
Harris said improvements will be necessary if the Heat are to defend their title, however she added that the idea of being 'the hunted' is something that sparks her competitive fire.
"You feel a little bit more that you're under pressure (as defending champs), but if we won it last year doing what we did, then we know we can win it again this year … you just might have to be 10 per cent better because teams know what you did, so you have to improve that little bit," she said.
"But otherwise, you always thrive on the challenge – this is what you train for, isn't it? To win the big tournaments, to get to the finals and to be a dominant force, so I'm enjoying it.
"I'm looking forward to it – they can challenge us all they want. Bring it, I reckon."
The right-hander was among the competition's most intimidating batters last summer; a whopping 74.86 per cent of her 374 runs came via boundaries (16x6s, 46x4s) to put her on the cutting edge of players who are advancing the big-hitting element of women's cricket. But Harris knows with the increasing professionalism and funds being poured into the sport, it could only be a matter of time before the next generation take power hitting to a new level.
"Female cricket is getting a lot more explosive," she said. "We're seeing bigger totals and batters are playing with a lot more freedom and a bit more risk to their games.
"I'm as competitive as ever, so if I see (Australia allrounder) Ash Gardner clear a boundary, I go 'Alright, I want to clear it 10 rows further back'.
"I'm probably a bit stronger than some of the younger girls in our squad at the moment, but you never know – there's a lot of sports science around these days and the girls spend a fair amount of time in the gym, conditioning for this stuff.
"Power hitting is definitely my forte in the game but I wouldn't be surprised if we're caught pretty soon."
And with Noffke at the helm, Harris hinted at adding some more innovative stroke-play to what is an already damaging game.
"Ash has definitely been challenging me already in some sessions," she said. "He's trying to get me to do some laps and some sweeps, and definitely step outside my comfort zone.
"I've been ramping a few balls into my head so I'll be working on that for the season."