The sun is out, the footy finals have finished, and we start to switch our attention from the various oval-ball games to the national sport of this country, cricket.
With the Australian men having already won their first T20 against Pakistan and the Matador One-Day Cup beginning, we need not wait too long for the Women’s National Cricket League and the Women’s T20 domestic competition to commence.
Next weekend sees both competitions kick off, with the Lend Lease Breakers arguably still the front-runners in both formats. The Breakers are embarking on a special season as they try to secure their tenth consecutive WNCL title. Yet this year there is a different feeling surrounding the competitions, with many teams securing the services international players for the summer.
Over the past year national boards have followed Cricket Australia’s lead in supporting their leading female cricketers with either full-time or semi-professional contracts.
However, the WNCL and WT20 are the only domestic women’s cricket competitions in the world that financially support the players with match payments and small retainers. Therefore, it’s not surprising to see international players making the journey to Australia to test their skills against our finest.
“I think it's great for the competition,” Commonwealth Bank Southern Stars and VicSpirit captain Meg Lanning told cricket.com.au
“It lifts the standard a little bit with those internationals coming in and allows local cricketers to be exposed, especially within the squad, to how the elite players train.
“I really think the Australian competition is one of the strongest in the world and people want to be a part of it.
“The competition is now real even so I think this season is going to be really hotly contested.”
The Tradies ACT Meteors will continue their strong ties with New Zealand in 2014-15, re-signing allrounder Nicola Browne and picking up Sara McGlashan.
McGlashan is a top order batter who is quick between wickets and excellent in the field. She will want to prove her worth to the Meteors and find some form after a lean period with the bat.
The Cripps Tasmanian Roar have secured the much-needed services of Heather Knight. Named as vice-captain of England during their summer, she will not only strengthen the Roar’s top order, but has also proven to be a handy off-spinner.
South Australia is the state that has made the biggest changes this off-season. The South Australian Cricket Association decided to employ their coach, Andrea McCauley, on a full-time basis, and have secured Sarah Taylor (Eng) and dual-international Sophie Devine (NZ).
The ICC Player rankings have Taylor ranked inside the top three batters in both formats. While Taylor is known as one of the best wicketkeepers in the game, it is her ability to destroy a bowling attack that will keep opposition on edge.
“Sarah Taylor is a really elite batter and one of the best in the world,” Lanning said.
“We (VicSpirit) come up against them in the first round so it's going to be a real challenge.
“I'm sure she'll dominate many games.”
The same can be said for Devine; a strong hitter who can easily clear the boundary. Together, they have the ability to singlehandedly lift the Scorpions passed last year’s three-win mark – simply due to their batting prowess.
The Alcohol Think Again Western Fury, have managed to secure the services of Charlotte Edwards and Suzie Bates, both current captains of England and New Zealand respectively as well as superstars in their own right.
Both players will provide wonderful leadership to a relatively young Fury side who lost their 13/14 captain, Nicole Bolton, to Victoria. Edwards has an ability to bat through the innings and, with Bates at the top of the order, they have the potential to continue the Fury’s recent success.
Three teams, the Breakers, Commonwealth Bank VicSpirit and the Konica Minolta Queensland Fire have all have decided to stick with their local talent.
While the majority of the attention may follow the international stars, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jodie Fields stand out this year. Despite having retired from the Commonwealth Bank Southern Stars, Fields has decided to pull on the maroon cap for another season.
The Fire have a young and enthusiastic team and will want to continue the winning feeling they felt last year when they clinched their first WT20 title.
Players like Delissa Kimmince, Grace Harris, Beth Mooney and Jemma Barsby have been marked as potential stars of the game, but it will be Fields who will have to lead by example if the Roar want to repeat last year’s T20 success in the longer format.
One of the toughest decisions Vic Spirit will need to make this season is deciding what their batting order will be.
Boasting names such as Bolton, Lanning, Villani, Cameron, Applebee and Inglis, simply fitting them all in the same lineup – and giving them opportunities will be a challenge for the VicSpirit hierarchy.
Whilst their batting order is something most teams would love to have, their bowling department could do with more depth and no doubt throughout the season this will be tested.
If Meg Lanning can win the toss and they can consistently score over 280 and 150 in WNCL and WT20 respectively that will go a long way in securing finals berths.
Even with all of the above player movements, I feel the Breakers still have the depth in both departments to start as favourites this season.
With Rachel Haynes losing her Cricket Australia contract and Leah Poulton possibly playing her last season of cricket, I wouldn’t be surprised to see both of them dominate this season and guide the Breakers to an 18th WNCL title and just their second WT20.