Australia’s most promising young talent will be out to impress when the Women’s National Cricket League season gets underway on Friday.
The eight members of the inaugural Women’s National Performance Squad head into the domestic season fresh off an intensive two-week camp in Brisbane and primed to press their cases for higher honours.
One member of the WNPS is already establishing herself at the highest level – South Australia and Sydney Sixers allrounder Ashleigh Gardner – while Cricket Australia high performance coach Leah Poulton believes the future is also bright for the remaining seven members: NSW’s Belinda Vakarewa and Rachel Trenaman, Victoria’s Sophie Molineux, ACT’s Maitlan Brown, SA’s Tahlia McGrath and WA pair Heather Graham and Piepa Cleary.
"In terms of where (Australian cricket) sits moving forward, I think it’s really exciting," Poulton told cricket.com.au.
"There’s the diversity of skill sets there as well. It’s not like we’ve got a huge continent of fast bowlers or batters or spinners, we’ve literally got the lot at the moment."
During their two weeks at the Bupa National Cricket Centre, the WNPS players Spent time with the Queensland Police’s Special Emergency Response Team, visited the Gallipoli Barracks in Brisbane, met other elite athletes including Olympian Emily Seebohm and Paralympian Grace Bowman, before spending a week training and playing alongside Australia’s Commonwealth Bank Women’s Ashes squad.
"The camp wasn’t just about getting them up here and improving their skills, it was about developing them as people," Poulton explained.
"The experience we had with the Queensland police was acknowledging the fact these kids will be leaders and key athletes in Australian cricket for a number of years.
"They also had access to Australia’s coaches and staff. It was important for those guys to see how the best go about it at close quarters, to see how they go during a session and how they recover."
When those international call-ups do hopefully come for the WNPS players, Poulton hopes they will be now be better prepared to thrive at international level.
"Hopefully it will feel a bit more familiar for them, not just from a skills perspective but because they’re forming relationships with the Australian players," she said.
"You can forget how these guys look up to some of these players like Meg Lanning, Ellyse Perry and Alex Blackwell, so to train alongside them was really valuable."
For 21-year-old Western Australian quick Cleary, the camp was a chance to get herself primed for the WNCL season.
"It was perfect preparation (for the domestic summer) to get up there with a good bunch of cricketers," Cleary sad. "I learnt a lot about my game and about myself.
"Seeing how (the Australia players) go about their training, it inspires us and they’re just an awesome group of people to be around.
"It makes you work harder and I’ll try and bring that back to my state training."
Gardner already has 13 international matches to her name and is set to play a key role in Australia’s Women’s Ashes campaign. Here’s what Poulton had to say about the WNPS’s other rising stars:
Belinda Vakarewa (NSW)
"Belinda excites me every time I see her. After that experience she had in England (with Australia’s World Cup squad), I can see her growing as a cricketer and a person. She’s so much more confident in her game at the moment and I’m really excited about this season for her. She’s definitely one to watch."
Tahlia McGrath (SA)
"She hasn’t been doing a great deal of bowling lately, she’s still recovering from injury. But Tahlia is a genuine allrounder. She could make teams for her batting or her bowling. That’s her biggest upside. We saw a lot of her batting at the camp because she’s still building up her loads but she’s really exciting, she’s a genuine top-order bat who can also open the bowling or come in at first change."
Rachel Trenaman (NSW)
"She’s a leg-spinner who really rips them. In the skills testing we do, she’s in the top three of our bowlers who put the most revs on the ball, she gets a great deal of side spin. She’s similar to Amanda-Jade Wellington in some ways; Wello tosses it up more and puts it in the batter’s eyeline, whereas Rachel is flatter and quicker but they both put really big revs on the ball. It’s exciting to have two leggies who spin the ball, but they’re not the same bowler so it’s not as though you have to play one but not the other, similar to Kristen Beams and Wellington at the moment."
Piepa Cleary (WA)
"Piepa is a tall fast bowler, she gets really good movement with the ball and I was actually really impressed with her batting as well. She’s a clean striker of the ball. She impressed everyone with her point of difference, even some of the Australian players struggled with her extra bounce and movement off the pitch."
Heather Graham (WA)
"Heather is a top-order batter and a medium pace bowler. Her point of different is that she hits to different areas and she’s strong through the leg side but can go inside out through the covers as well. She’s great with some of the less traditional shots like ramping, laps, sweeps and getting the ball behind her. Her medium pacers are really handy too, she’s got great changes of pace and her strength is probably her variations."
Sophie Molineux (Vic)
"She’s an opening batter for Victoria and she opened for the Renegades as times last summer as well, while she also bowls left-arm orthodox. She’s definitely one to watch across both of those areas."
Maitlan Brown (ACT)
"She’s a right -arm fast bowler who bowls with pretty good pace and nice away swing. Again, she’s also one of our more powerful strikers of the ball and she played a couple of damaging innings for the Renegades last year. I think we’ll see that more and more into the future."
Commonwealth Bank Women's Ashes
First ODI Allan Border Field, October 22
Brisbane Charity Partner: Lord Mayor's Charitable Trust
Second ODI Coffs International Stadium, October 26
Third ODI Coffs International Stadium, October 29
Day-Night Test North Sydney Oval, November 9-12
First T20 North Sydney Oval, November 17
North Sydney Charity Partner: McGrath Foundation
Second T20 Manuka Oval, November 19
Third T20 Manuka Oval, November 21
Canberra Charity Partner: Lord's Taverners ACT