Ahead of the start of the 2021 Women’s Big Bash, The Cricketer pinpoints who you should be keeping an eagle eye on
When one thinks about the standout players from Sydney Thunder’s title-winning season in 2020, the names Heather Knight, Sammy-Jo Johnson and Hannah Darlington rightly spring to mind. If the question is 'great WBBL spinners', Molly Strano’s name is deservedly front and centre – she is, after all, the only player to date with more than 100 wickets in the competition.
However, somewhere away from the limelight, Sydney Thunder spinner Samantha Bates has been quietly going about her business with little recognition. The 29-year-old has been among both Thunder’s top three wicket-takers and the top four spinners in the entire competition for three of the past four seasons. Indeed, she was the leading spinner in 2020, taking 18 wickets and conceding just 5.94 runs per over, while her career WBBL stats make for impressive reading: 71 wickets at an average of 21.87 and an economy of 6.15.
Bates can consider herself very unlucky not to have been capped Australia – a testament to the strength and depth of the country’s cricket production line. However, if she can produce a third successive 15+ wicket season in 2021, surely, she won’t be overlooked for much longer? If the selectors need pointing in her direction, she’s the spinner ripping it up in the powerplay.
Melbourne Renegades badly struggled for runs last seasons. Four batters – Lizelle Lee, Courtney Webb, Sophie Molineux and Amy Satterthwaite – passed 200 runs but no one came close to crossing the 300-mark. However, after missing WBBL 06 following the birth of her first child, Jess Duffin is red and black for the 2021 season.
The 32-year-old is well known for hitting boundaries – only Danni Wyatt and Molineux have scored more fours and sixes for the Renegades. However, she enjoyed something of a purple patch in WBBL 05, scoring 544 runs – the third-most in the competition – at a strike rate of 138.77 and passing 50 on five occasions.
Her previous three seasons yielded 248, 238 and 263 runs, respectively, so it will be interesting if she can recreate her form from 2019 and cement her reputation as the Renegades’ very own Glenn Maxwell – an explosive striker of the ball with the stamina to go the distance. If she can, both Renegades fans and neutrals could be in for a boundary-laden treat.
Alana King (left) and Issy Wong (right)
Central Sparks and Birmingham Phoenix pacer Issy Wong has long been touted as a future England international and the 19-year-old came on leaps and bounds in 2021. For Central Sparks, she picked up a team-leading 14 wickets in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy and posted a healthy economy of 4.68. In the Charlotte Edwards Cup, she added a further four wickets (economy 6.4) while in The Hundred with Birmingham Phoenix, she shone with bat and ball, taking six wickets and scoring 65 runs at a strike rate of 132.65.
However, in embarking on her maiden Women’s Big Bash campaign, Wong now faces a new set of challenges. At Sydney Thunder, she’ll not only be playing in unfamiliar Australian conditions but will also have to fill the sizeable shoes of Shabnim Ismail in a team whose winning formula has been shaped around a different player – no easy task for a young player. However, the biggest challenge will be testing herself against a plethora of highly rated young speedsters, including Maitlan Brown (Sydney Sixers), Darcie Brown (Adelaide Strikers), Tayla Vlaeminck (Hobart Hurricanes) and even her own teammate, Hannah Darlington.
And, at the back of her mind she’ll know a strong showing in Australia could boost her hopes of England recognition in the not too distant future. An important six weeks for the teenager.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Amanda-Jade Wellington is only 24 years old. The Adelaide Strikers bowler already has six full seasons of WBBL cricket and she’s taken 10 or more wickets in five of those. In fact, only two spinners – Molly Strano and Jess Jonassen – have taken more wickets than her 80 and with a five-year age gap between her and Strano, it’s surely a matter of not if, but when she will overtake the Hobart Hurricanes bowler as the leading spinner in WBBL history.
However, it was with the bat that Wellington caught the eye last season, scoring a career-best 164 runs, including 13 fours and four sixes, in 13 innings at a strike rate of 138.98. With Adelaide possessing no dedicated finisher, this could be the Australia international’s chance to shine and establish herself as a bowling allrounder – a move which could open the door to her return to the national side.
Of the seven Indian players contracted for the 2021 Women’s Big Bash, young Richa Ghosh was probably the biggest surprise of all. She’s not a seasoned veteran like Harmanpreet Kaur nor a star like Shafali Verma or Poonam Yadav, whose reputations are backed up by impressive ICC rankings. She’s not even in the same boat as Jemimah Rodrigues, who took the world by storm in The Hundred. In fact, the 18-year-old is a relative unknown to anyone outside India.
However, Hobart Hurricanes were short on explosive batters last season, relying on retired New Zealand international Rachel Priest to do all of the heavy lifting, and the Indian teenager could be the answers to their prayers. Ghosh, like Priest, is also a wicketkeeper, and boasts a T20I strike rate of 114.40 from her brief international career. She’s also shown flashes of her potential against Australia over the past few weeks, scoring 17 not out off 13 balls in the rain-shortened first T20I after previously scoring a 50-ball 44 and 32 not out (29 balls) in the ODIs.
What she will produce in her first WBBL season is anyone’s guess but it’s worth keeping an eye on Hobart’s first few matches just to find out.
Last season, Melbourne Stars boasted quite the star-studded squad, with Meg Lanning, Nat Sciver, Katherine Brunt, Mignon du Preez, Ellyse Villani and Annabel Sutherland all pulling on the famous green jersey.
However, their second-highest wicket-taker in 2021 was something of a surprise: Alana King. The 25-year-old leg-spinner took 16 wickets, conceded just a run a ball, and produced best figures of 3 for 16 in the semi-final as well as scoring 62 lower-order runs at a strike rate of 187.87 across 12 appearances.
What will disappoint Melbourne fans, therefore, is that King is no long a Star. Instead, the Victorian will be wreaking havoc in the middle overs for Perth Scorchers after joining Sophie Devine’s team on a two-year deal. She has a tough job on her hands replacing Sarah Glenn’s 17 wickets from 2020, but after admitting as a 23-year-old that her five-year plan included establishing herself as a regular bowler in the national side, Perth fans can expect big things from the Australian.