The seventh edition of the Women’s Big Bash League, kickstarting on Thursday, will feature as many as eight Indian players – the highest number so far in the history of the Australian tournament. It is fitting testament to the development of the young talent in the last T20 World Cup’s runners-up.
Opener Smriti Mandhana, off-spinning all-rounder Deepti Sharma (Sydney Thunder), opener Shafali Verma, left-arm spinner Radha Yadav (Sydney Sixers), batters Jemimah Rodrigues, Harmanpreet Kaur (Melbourne Renegades) keeper-bat Richa Ghosh (Hobart Hurricanes) and leg-spinner Poonam Yadav (Brisbane Heat) are the eight Indians set to feature in WBBL 2021.
It be a debut season for all Indians bar Harmanpreet and Mandhana, as other Indian assignments have clashed with WBBL in the last two years. However, several of them have played in The Hundred recently, which is England cricket’s new short-format league, and the KIA Super League which preceded it.
The Australian T20 tournament is the premier league for women’s cricket with a host of top international stars across eight teams, which share the same franchise as the men’s edition. It will be valuable match practice for the Indians and many top players have hailed the impact of the tournament on international women’s cricket.
Each club can have a total of five marquee players, with a maximum of three from overseas. India have the largest overseas presence at eight, followed by six from South Africa, two from New Zealand, and one from each of Sri Lanka and Ireland.
Read more about the tournament here.
Here’s a look at the Indian presence in this year’s tournament:
Harmanpreet Kaur (Renegades)
India’s T20 captain Harmanpreet Kaur will be back in the WBBL, this time playing for Melbourne Renegades. The 32-year-old Harmanpreet had a previously played for Sydney Thunder for three seasons and has scored 713 runs at an average of 35.65 with a strike rate of 116.89.
The WBBL will be an important tournament for Harmanpreet in an injury-hit season, pulling out of The Hundred with a quad issue after just three matches and then missing the ODIs due to a thumb injury sustained while training. She had been injured towards of the end of the short home season and had to recover from Covid-19 before the England tour. But she made a comeback for the T20Is against Australia and looked to be in good touch.
Head coach Simon Helmot said, “Harmanpreet’s record at international level over the past decade speaks for itself. She’s a match-winner and can take the game away from the opposition in a heartbeat. We also see Harmanpreet being an important addition for our group with her experience and leadership.”
Smriti Mandhana (Thunder)
This stint with defending champions Sydney Thunder will be Mandhana’s third in the WBBL having previously featured for Brisbane Heat and Hobart Hurricanes.
The left-handed opener was in sublime form in the recently-concluded multi-format series in Australia, scoring a fifty-plus in each format including her first Test century. Mandhana has generally been a standout performer when he has played in overseas leagues.
Incidentally Sydney Thunder coach, Trevor Griffin was also her coach at Western Storm in the Kia Super League in England where she had enjoyed a phenomenal season in 2019. One of her past stints in the WBBL was marred by an injury (in 2017), she will hope to return to the league and make a bigger
“She’s world class,” said Griffin, of Mandhana. “Smriti is an opening batter who has the tremendous ability to take everything in her stride. I like that she keeps her game really simple; she just wants to score runs. I’m delighted to have her on board, and I have no doubt that she’ll prove to be a great addition to Thunder,” he added.
Shafali Verma (Sixers)
Dashing opener Verma will be making her WBBL debut after taking the country by storm by her exploits in the T20 World Cup last year.
The 17-year-old Verma was the world’s top-ranked T20 batter till recently (currently No 2) and has also played Birminghim Phoenix in The Hundred recently, where she worked with Sixers coach Ben Sawyer.
“Shafali is very impressive. She’s such a talent and she’s fearless,” Sawyer said of the opener. “She hits to different areas of the field and plays shots that are different to the other three girls in that top four. The experience I had with her in Birmingham was that she wants to learn, she wants to get better and she wants to grow as a player and a person.”
What is perhaps most exciting after her stint is that Indian joins a batting lineup consisting of Australian heavyweights Alyssa Healy, Ellyse Perry and Ash Gardner. A opening stand of Verma and Healy is to be feared, if that’s the way Sixers go. A stint in the WBBL may also prove to be beneficial to improve her fielding issues.
Jemimah Rodrigues (Renegades)
Rodrigues will join captain Harmanpreet at Melbourne Renegades. The 21-year-old will be making her WBBL debut but is coming off a prolific campaign in The Hundred. She was the competition’s second-highest run-scorer with 249 runs in just seven innings for the Northern Superchargers with strike-rate of 150.90.
Her performance in the England tournament help her break back into the Indian team after being dropped from ODIs. She marked her international comeback with an unbeaten 49 in the rain-hit first T20I.
Renegades coach Simon Helmot was impressed with the way Rodrigues played in The Hundred.
“Jemimah is an immensely talented young player, who is already making her mark on the world stage at 21,” the coach said. “She was superb recently in The Hundred over in the UK. She’s is a dynamic player who can score quickly and to all parts of the ground.”
Deepti Sharma (Thunder)
All rounder Sharma with be part of defending champs Sydney Thunder camp with India T20I vice-captain Mandhana.
While this will be her first WBBL stint, she played in the inaugural edition of The Hundred in England where she bagged ten wickets apart from her experience in the erstwhile Kia Super League. She was London Spirit’s leading wicket-taker in the Hundred with 10 wickets in 8 matches.
“She offers a lot with the bat – Deepti is a match winner – and she also has the talent to bowl in the powerplay, during the middle of a match, or at the death.” Sydney Thunder coach Trevor Griffin, who had worked with her at Western Storm much like with Mandhana, said.
Sharma revealed that it was always her goal to play in the WBBL and is delighted to have got the chance. “This is my first time [in the WBBL], so I’m excited. I’ve had offers before, but I couldn’t play at the time because at the time we had [an international] series,” she said.
“It’s a big thing for Indian women’s cricket that we have the opportunity to play in the WBBL. We have to express ourselves in the competition.”
Poonam Yadav (Heat)
Leg-spinner Poonam Yadav will be making her debut in the Australian T20 league, after being picked to replace New Zealand spinning all-rounder Amelia Kerr at Brisbane Heat.
The 30-year-old is one of the most prolific spinners in T20I cricket with 98 wickets to her name. Yadav will be best remembered by Australian cricket followers for her stunning spell (4/19) that saw the eventual champions lose their opening game at the T20 World Cup last year. She has not had much play in overseas league before this.
“It’s very exciting to welcome a player of her class and experience into our group. We know there is a lot of upside to Poonam coming on board this summer,’ Heat coach Ashley Noffke was quoted as saying on the team’s official website.
“Jess Jonassen has played against her and as captain, she is very keen to work alongside her now she is with the Heat,” he added.
Yadav has struggled to hold down a constant place in the Indian XI in recent times, and will see this as a chance to reestablish her credentials.
Richa Ghosh (Hurricanes)
Hobart Hurricanes have signed the hard-hitting wicketkeeper-batter, who has a fair amount of experience playing in the country and has impressed in the chances she’s got.
The 18-year-old made her international debut at last year’s Tri-National Women’s T20 series in the lead-up to the ICC T20 World Cup and was part of the squad that finished as runners-up. She also made her One-Day International debut on Australian soil last month, as part of India’s multi-format tour and gave a good account of herself with the bat.
Ghosh has been roped in as a replacement for Lizelle Lee, who had recently withdrawn from the tournament. With a T20I strike rate in excess of 100, she is a batter who can go big and this WBBL will be a vital learning curve for her.
Radha Yadav (Sixers)
Radha Yadav, 21, will be part of the Sydney Sixers alongside Verma.
She’s a T20I specialist, although she didn’t get much chance to play during the tour of Australia, she used to be a mainstay of the Indian side since the 2018 T20 World Cup, finishing as the joint-leading wicket-taker for India with eight dismissals in five matches.
“Radha brings a skillset that we have never had at the Sixers and that’s very exciting,” coach Sawyer said. “I think a left-arm ortho [orthodox] bowler is so important in the WBBL and having one who is world class is such a great opportunity for this team.”
This will be a good opportunity for Yadav to get some match time and work herself back into the Indian Playing XI where a glut of spin options await.
Stats courtesy Cricket Archive.
WBBL 07 will be broadcast in India on the Sony Sports Network.