Mark O'Leary: After setting the women's team at Cardiff MCCU, O'Leary was given the Western Storm head coach position in 2020, having been the assistant during their Kia Super League title-winning campaign in 2019. A former Glamorganand Somersetsecond-team leg-spinner and on the books of Cardiff City as a teenager, O'Leary's reputation in the game is growing and success in The Hundred would take that onto a new level. Replaced Matthew Mott after the Australia coach withdrew from the tournament at the start of July.
Hayley Matthews: A late replacement for Sun Luus, who tested positive for Covid-19, and in many ways Fire have lucked out at the 11th hour. The West Indies star arrives off the back of a century in the Pakistan ODI series, during which she has picked up regular wickets, and is ready to headline a stacked top order. An improvement on her returns in England - she managed 37 runs in five T20s last summer - is required, however.
Piepa Cleary: Has spent the summer with Thunder after turning down a deal with Western Australia so was in a perfect position to pick up a deal. However, bar her 79 against O'Leary's Storm her spell has been underwhelming. Partner of Birmingham Phoenix and England's Amy Jones.
Georgia Redmayne: A very shrewd piece of business and another addition to an impress-looking top order. An opening batter who scored 531 runs for Queensland in the NCL 50-over competition and can take the gloves if required.
Hayley Matthews was a late call-up to replace Sune Luus
Sarah Taylor: September 2019 represented a major blow to the English game as arguably its finest keeper was taking its leave due to the game's rigours. Less than two years later and Taylor has returned, first with a coaching spell with Sussex men, time with Northern Diamonds in domestic cricket and now at Welsh Fire as the stand-out domestic player on the roster. Still with the fastest hands in the west, Taylor has discovered a degree of freedom with her batting. "I've been missing that girl and I wanted to get back to that. I've become a more rounded, balanced person and that has helped me get that girl back. It has been a horrendous time but personally a good journey for me." Welcome back.
Power-hitters: Three of the prospective top four have predatory instincts at the crease. Redmayne is a class act and even has the capacity to bat through if required, but expect her to take advantage of anything loose. Matthews' form in the T20s last summer but a West Indies career which has included 313 boundaries in 105 matches so can be anything but discounted. Add in Taylor's new gay abandon and you have a potentially explosive cocktail on your hands.
Anchor: "I’m quite open about this: she’s one of the best professional cricketers I’ve ever worked with. She’s exemplary in all areas, on the field and off it. Sometimes, she probably over-practises and over-trains, but she’s so driven." Of the existing relationships between those Storm players in the Fire roster, the one which exists between Sophie Luff and coach O'Leary is arguably the most important. The 27-year-old is the glue that holds the top-order together, an assured and consistent performer who can rotate the strike and allow her partners to take the initiative. Luff's county T20 form has stood out in 2021, scoring 211 runs and taking three wickets in six matches for Somerset.
Finisher: Coming in at No.7 for Storm in two CE Cup matches this season is perhaps an indicator that Natasha Wraith could be used down the order by O'Leary during The Hundred. She struck an unbeaten 36 from 24 deliveries against Sunrisers before scoring 20 in the single wicket defeat to Northern Diamonds. The Gloucestershireteenager made her domestic debut aged 14 and works as a tennis coach in her spare time.
Problem areas: Perversely, there might be an issue with roles. While O'Leary will relish having to find the correct formula to accommodate his best batters in the same team, some will be out of their natural position. Bethan Ellis, for example, may have to contend with a middle-order position despite being an opener for Lightning. Adapting to a change in responsibility will be vital and it might be that this order undergoes regular changes during the campaign before a fixed line-up is established.
O'Leary has great faith in Sophie Luff
Speed merchants: Just 22, but there is already a feeling that Katie George is a talent yet unfulfilled. Injury setbacks have restricted her to just seven international outings for England, all of which came in 2018. The Hampshire and Storm seamer is the natural quick in this side. A left-armer is able to produce a decent amount of movement, not to mention pace and is a candidate to take the new ball. She'll be competing with Cleary, who is essentially on a gap year in the UK after giving up her pro deal in Australia. The Western Australia quick has always wanted to play in this part of the world and opted to make the move to be closer to partner Jones, who she will come up against in the clash with Phoenix.
Variation: Fire having as much depth in the bowling department as any side in the competition, a real vital component as they look to unsettle sides. Therefore, their variation may come in the form of options. Matthews, Bryony Smith and Nicole Harvey provide the spin options while there is a battery of quicks in the form of Lauren Filer, Ellis, George, Alex Griffiths, George Hennessy and Amy Gordon.
Line and length: Harvey is not seen as a huge spinner of the ball, but a consistent performer and a legend of the County Championship circuit. The leggie joined Somerset in 2015 and is described as having a smooth action that helps her restrict the damage in the middle overs and take key late wickets. She claims four scalps in three Regional T20 matches. After several years on the sport's carousel, this is a well-earned opportunity in the limelight.
Ten-ball over candidate: George is perhaps the most consistent of the seam contingent. and that extra bit of pace will help push batter back into their crease a little, a key on a ground where the wide boundaries square of the wicket will allow for singles and twos. Gordon should not be discounted for this role either having enjoyed great success with Surrey since her breakthrough in 2016, though she hasn't featured in either of the two main domestic competitions in 2021.
Problem areas: While there will be no problem making up the overs and there is flexibility to rotate bowlers out if they get targetted, this is a team lacking a top-class wicket-taker; a strike-bowler capable of breaking partnerships or pinning batters down. George at full tilt could change that, however.
Georgia Redmayne in action
Gun fielder: Given where the gloves are liable to be heading, having someone of the calibre of Redmayne in the field will be invaluable. She finished last year's WBBL with the most dismissals of any keeper, outperforming Alyssa Healy, Rachel Priest and Mooney, with 18. Western Storm have been an ever-improving side in the field under O'Leary's stewardship so expect to see the fruits of those labours during the group stage and beyond.
Who takes the gloves?: This was an interesting dilemma when Beth Mooney was scheduled to arrive in South Wales, but now there is little debate around the subject. With over 200 international dismissals, Taylor is the outstanding 'keeper in the competition and is an incredible asset for Fire to be able to call upon. Taylor's fast hands, powers of anticipation and readiness behind the stumps make her just about the best with the gloves in the country. In a competition where squads are balanced and some matches will be tight, she is worth 10+ runs to the score before you start. While some teams have struggled having to make late replacements, Fire have struck gold.
Changes from 2020: You would have been forgiven for thinking that Welsh Fire's original overseas recruits were too good to be true. And you would have been right. Meg Lanning, Mooney and Jess Jonassen - three of the top 13 in the women's T20 Player Index - were all heading to south Wales until this summer when Australia's biggest stars withdrew due to travel complications caused by the pandemic. Even Georgia Wareham, who had replaced first withdrawal Jonassen, pulled out. O'Leary, whose appointment was confirmed simultaneously was always set for a downgrade. Georgie Redmayne and Piepa Cleary are set to start the competition, but Suns Luus' Covid diagnosis has seen a sixth different overseas player recruited. Hayley Matthews is quite the last-minute arrival, but it is unclear if she will be available for the opening game.
Ground: Sophia Gardens. The aesthetically peculiar Cardiff ground has short straight boundaries, at 60 and 64 meters, with the River Taff in close proximity meaning deploying spinners is a risk. Hitting the ball square means rotating the strike and frustrating bowlers is more than possible, which cannot be ruled out as a viable scoring option. Just one women's T20 has been played on this ground, back in 2015 when Sarah Taylor's England beat Australia by five wickets. The hosts chased down 112 to win with 11 balls remaining. Of the grounds in use during The Hundred only Old Trafford and The Ageas Bowl have slower scoring rates.
Sound from the ground: Cardiff-based female duo GRLTLK will provide the tunes at Sophia Gardens. They specialise in showcasing female artists and party anthems. Another musician with local links, Juice Menace, leads the live music line-up which also includes funk-hip-hop band Afro Cluster and electronic performer Rachel K Collier from Swansea.
Fixtures: July 24 - Northern Superchargers (a); July 27 - Southern Brave (h); July 31 - Manchester Originals (h); August 1 - Oval Invincibles (h); August 6 - Trent Rockets (h); August 9 - Birmingham Phoenix (a); August 11 - Southern Brave (a); August 18 - London Spirit (h)
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