How do you replace the irreplaceable?
It is a question Melbourne Stars have been grappling with since the departure of WBBL07 topscorer Elyse Villani and confirmation Australian skipper Meg Lanning will miss WBBL08 for personal reasons.
Villani (439 runs), Lanning (250) and international Maia Bouchier (184) were the Stars’ top-three run scorers last season as they limped to a fifth-placed finish.
The Stars have looked overseas to replace that trio, signing English rising star Alice Capsey, her compatriot Lauren Winfield-Hill and Indian top-order batter Jemimah Rodrigues.
But the answer to the seemingly impossible question of how to replace Villani and Lanning might come from much closer to home.
Annabel Sutherland has amassed two hundreds in her past three WNCL innings and appears primed to transform from bowling all-rounder to genuine all-round threat.
The 20-year-old’s batting has long been highly-rated and she has batted as high as No.3 for Australia in ODI cricket.
“I think the good thing about Annabel is she’s just as good with the ball and probably hasn’t had a heap of opportunity at that Aussie level,” Stars teammate Tess Flintoff said.
“But I know it’s pretty close and hope if she does get the opportunity she’ll grab it with both hands.
“We’ve seen her dominate the WNCL so far and without putting pressure on her, she’s in for a big season, no doubt.”
Flintoff said Sutherland could emulate the breakout of fellow all-rounder Tahlia McGrath, who launched herself to international stardom and became one of Australia’s most-important players via the WBBL.
Sutherland is already well established in the Australian squad, but has had only limited opportunities to showcase her batting talents.
The WBBL will be flush with international talent again this summer, headlined by New Zealand captain Sophie Devine (Perth Scorchers), Indian star Harmanpreet Kaur (Renegades) and England’s World No.1 bowler Sophie Ecclestone (Sixers).
Devine formed a powerful opening partnership with Beth Mooney last season, launching the Scorchers to the WBBL crown.
“I’m lucky enough that I have played for a few years and have been able to play alongside some world-class internationals,” Flintoff said.
“It’s just so cool to learn off players of their calibre and those people who have been there, done that, a little bit.
“It’s massive for the young players and even just for the standard of the competition.
“We’re seeing what The Hundred has done over the last little bit, that’s been massive for girls cricket. The Big Bash is well on its way and tracking really nicely.”
The Scorchers are again shaping as the team to beat, however almost very franchise has assembled a strong mix of international and local talent.
Last season’s finalists Adelaide have retained prolific South African Laura Wolvaardt, Melbourne Renegades have bolstered their bowling with the addition of speedster Shabnim Ismail and South African pair Lizelle Lee and Mignon Du Preez have returned to Hobart.
Flintoff is one of the emerging Australian stars hoping to emulate the likes of Hannah Darlington and Stella Campbell by using the WBBL as a springboard to national honours.
The 19-year-old took nine wickets in WBBL07 to establish herself as one of the country’s leading pace prospects.
“I played a fair bit of my underage cricket against Darcie Brown and it’s been amazing to watch her rise through the ranks over the last 12-18 months,” she said.
“She’s been awesome to watch. Obviously that’s something I’m aiming towards, hopefully keep working away, just see how we go in the domestic comp and who knows what will happen?”
INTERNATIONALS TO WATCH
Alice Capsey (Stars)
One of the rising stars of world cricket, the English prodigy made her international debut in July and scored her maiden half-century in her third T20 against South Africa. She only just turned 18 and is a handy spinner as well.
Shabnim Ismail (Renegades)
A huge coup for the Renegades, signing one of the world’s fastest female bowlers and a proven WBBL performer. Ismail has 27 wickets from 31 WBBL matches and is among the top-rated female bowlers in one-day international and T20 cricket. She boasts more than 300 international scalps.
Harmanpreet Kaur (Renegades)
Indian superstar Kaur is one of the greatest female cricketers in history and showed her quality in WBBL07 with 407 runs and 15 wickets. She scored an incredible 143 not out from 111 balls against England last month which featured 18 boundaries and four sixes. Player of the tournament in WBBL07.
Sophie Ecclestone (Sixers)
The English left-arm spinner is rated the best T20 bowler in the world and already has more than 150 international wickets at the age of 23. Ecclestone’s ability to tie down opposition batters makes her such a valuable commodity for any team.
Pooja Vastrakar (Heat)
The bowling all-rounder was a standout during India’s tour of Australia last year and was the top wicket-taker in the one-off Test between the two nations. Expect her to be a threat with the new ball when it is seaming around.
Amelia Kerr (Heat)
The Kiwi all-rounder will return to the Heat this summer after missing WBBL07. At only 21 years of age, the leg-spinner already has 127 international wickets and has taken on a more prominent batting role in recent seasons in New Zealand’s top-four. Her 232 not out against Ireland in 2018 underlined her talent with the bat.
Laura Wolvaardt (Strikers)
One of the classiest batters in world cricket and one of the standout performers in recent WBBL campaigns. The top-order batter’s ability to shift through the gears is one of her great strengths and that adaptability makes her a real weapon for the Strikers.
Marizanne Kapp (Scorchers)
Arguably the No.1 player in women’s cricket due to her ability to have a matchwinning influence with bat or ball. The South African all-rounder was crucial in Perth’s success last summer and was named player of the match in the WBBL07 final with 31 from 23 balls and 1-25.
Sophie Devine (Scorchers)
The New Zealand skipper needs no introduction to WBBL audiences. Devine has hit the most sixes in WBBL history (120), clearing the rope 52 times more than second-ranked Ash Gardner during her career. Devine and Beth Mooney’s partnership at the top of the order propelled Perth to glory last summer.
Five breakout contenders
Ella Wilson (Strikers)
Do the Strikers have another Darcie Brown-style breakout coming? Wilson is a right-arm seamer who captained South Australia’s under-19 team and snared 17 wickets in 15 senior matches for Glenelg last season. Might get an opportunity after Sarah Coyte’s move to the Renegades.
Sophie Day (Stars)
The left-arm spinner broke through to play 10 matches for the Stars last season, taking four wickets. Day has made an impressive start to the season with Victoria, taking four wickets in two WNCL matches, and teammates are bullish about a breakout WBBL.
Georgia Voll (Heat)
One of the top batting talents coming through the ranks, Voll is a powerful hitter who amassed 145 against a NSW team boasting several Commonwealth Games gold medallists only last month. She managed 282 runs last season but that is only a taste of her talents.
Ella Hayward (Renegades)
Another spinning talent coming through the ranks of Victorian female cricket, Hayward gained great experience with 11 WBBL games last season. She conceded only 3.68 runs an over in the WNCL last season and was a matchwinner with 3-13 from 10 overs against Queensland.
Charis Bekker (Scorchers)
A left-arm orthodox spin bowler, Bekker is a product of WA’s talent pathway. She broke through to play five matches in the WNCL last season and took five wickets. Bekker is a bowling all-rounder who scored an unbeaten 36 in her second WNCL match.
Originally published as WBBL08 preview: A look at the local and international stars, breakout candidates and burning questions ahead of the new season