James Piechowski takes an in-depth look at the 6 teams competing for the 2017 Kia Super League.
Thunder look to be significantly stronger than last season and should offer a much bigger challenge for a top 3 finish. This is a good thing, as they finished bottom of the pile last time out. They are one of the more nicely balanced sides now, and have a good mixture of youth and experience.
Top of the billing will be the England wicketkeeper and World Cup winning hero Sarah Taylor, who is something of a specialist in T20 cricket as well. She has an excellent international T20 average of over 30, and will be very welcome back into the Thunder line-up. The top of the batting order will also include internationals Satterthwaite and Jonassen, and the very promising Emma Lamb, with perhaps Eve Jones and then Brown and Miles competing for the remaining spots.
Spin bowling is well catered for, and Thunder have one of the stronger spin attacks, boasting England’s Dani Hazell and Sophie Ecclestone, plus fellow left-armer, Australia’s Jess Jonassen. The pace attack is slightly more limited but will feature New Zealand international quick Lea Tahuhu after a move from Surrey Stars, and England’s Kate Cross. Neither are particularly known for their economy rates, although they can take those all-important early wickets. If Thunder do leak a few too many runs though, their batting is more than capable of making up for it.
It will be interesting to see if Taylor does keep wicket for Thunder or if that job is given to Ellie Threlkeld, who may earn herself a place in the team on her own merit in either case. Thunder kick-off with a tough Roses battle away at Headingley, but then have the relative luxury of 3 home games on the bounce. They will be hoping to already be through to finals day, by the time they face their tricky final league fixture away at Western Storm. But I have a feeling that the final group match could be a crucial battle, as these two sides might be neck and neck challenging for qualification. Thunder will be hoping they can get the upper hand, but home advantage will be with Storm.
Strongest XI: Lamb, Taylor, Satterthwaite, Jonassen, E. Jones, Miles, Hazell, Tahuhu, Threlkeld, Cross, Ecclestone.
After a solid showing in the first edition of KSL, in which they came third, Lightning ‘s squad for this year shows they remain a strong side, who could at their best put up a challenge for another appearance on finals day. However, they might not make it this time – the squad, whose England players didn’t see much action in the World Cup, hasn’t been improved as much as some other teams.
Last year Lightning’s squad had a glut of all-rounders, so it’s interesting to see that this time they’ve gone for a more specialist overseas trio. It’s all Australian, with world-class all-rounder Ellyse Perry returning, and she brings with her compatriot leg-spinner Kirsten Beams, and destructive hard-hitting batsman Elyse Villani.
Lightning’s England contingent might not have featured in the World Cup winning run, but they are still very good players who are more specialised for T20 cricket. Georgia Elwiss will probably resume her opening role, and expect to see all the internationals and probably Scholfield and Brookes (who both impressed in KSL 2016) with Boyce possibly given an opportunity as well in the middle order. Their batting is powerful, and their bowling has a good mix of pace bowlers. Spin is a bit more limited, with only Beams and Grundy as recognised turners, although they’re both very capable performers who’ll probably max out their overs in each game. Seeing as spin is likely to be such an effective option though, both to contain batsmen and take wickets, this is a potential weakness.
To make things harder still, Lightning face 3 away games this season. They start with a potential stumbling block at Taunton against the Storm, although at least they will be able to rely on what is always a good batting pitch. Things don’t get any easier as they face Vipers next, followed by Diamonds and finishing with another tough trip to the Oval to play Stars. Lightning will have done very well to qualify this year I feel.
Strongest XI: Elwiss, Villani, Perry, Jones, Odedra, Boyce, Brookes, Scholfield, Beams, Langston, Grundy.
Vipers are the defending champions and look to be strong contenders again this year. They should be able to reach finals day, but the main concern appears to be the lack of specialist bowlers available if any of the all-rounders start to spray it around. If they do concede more runs though, their spruced-up batting line-up might well be able to make up for it.
Vipers’ middle order will miss the experience of Greenway and McGlashan. They have more dashers this time around in Matthews and Wyatt, so may be able to elevate their totals; but with Edwards, Bates and Du Preez, the latter especially impressing in the World Cup with her improved ability to work the ball around and pick the gaps, they still have plenty of solid runs in the side. That’s not even mentioning former England international Brindle, or promising Senior Academy member Adams. Overall, I have few concerns about the batting, but more about the bowling.
Much of the bowling may fall to Farrant, George and Smith, all relatively inexperienced; with all-rounders Brindle, Bates and Matthews possibly asked to contribute a lot with the ball as well. Like Lightning, they do not appear to have many spin-bowling options available, and may have to even call on Wyatt to put the odd over in (she does so competently for Melbourne Renegades).
Vipers have been given the rub of the green in terms of their fixtures. with the advantage of 3 home games for the second year running. They will know just how to play on an Ageas Bowl pitch which is often quite slow and sticky. Vipers open up against Storm and then play away at Lightning. They finish against Diamonds in a fixture scheduled to be played at the picturesque Arundel.
Strongest XI: Bates, Matthews, Edwards, Adams, Wyatt, Du Preez, Brindle, Rudd, George, Farrant, Smith.
Having just missed out to Lightning in qualification for last year’s finals day, Stars will be looking to go one better this time around, and on paper it certainly appears that they have the squad for it. With some explosive batting and accurate wicket-taking bowling available, Stars will be looking for a much improved performance this year, and should be serious contenders for the title.
Stars have 4 full England Internationals, and 3 very capable overseas imports as well. With a dashing top order capable of taking the game away from any side, Stars have a strong and long batting line-up. Expect more than a runs feast or two from Beaumont, Smith and Lee at the top of the order. Sciver will be a player to look out for as well, although I don’t think we’ve really seen enough of what she can do in T20 cricket yet. Her T20 record so far is not as impressive as that in 50 over games.
Stars’ bowling is very well served, with Kapp and Farrell certain to turn in some impressive figures. There is also the England spin duo of Marsh and Hartley to contend with, who confounded so many in the World Cup with their flight and turn. They work splendidly in tandem. Expect Sciver to also usually put four overs in, although after that the bowling options start to dry up – the next most likely to turn their arm over is probably Sophia Dunkley. Perhaps their main weakness may be a tendency to batting collapse – as one of the younger sides, there isn’t as much experience available in the middle and lower order. I can see them being restricted to a much lower total if they lose early wickets.
It is also worth noting that Surrey Stars do have some of the stronger county players available – the likes of Cranstone, Griffith, Dattani and White perhaps have an edge over some of the squad players available to other sides. Stars could feasibly play any 2 of their county players on top of the 7 Internationals (or in Farrell’s case, former internationals) and 2 England Senior Academy players available – so they have good depth to their squad as well.
Stars have been given the fillip of 3 home games this year, and will play all of them at The Kia Oval. First they take on Diamonds, then they travel up to Manchester to play Thunder at Old Trafford, in what is sure to be a humdinger, as they say. Stars finish their league campaign with another home game against Lightning.
Strongest XI: Smith, Beaumont, Lee, Sciver, Kapp, Dunkley, White, Griffith, Farrell, Marsh, Hartley
After losing out to Vipers in the final last time out, Storm will be looking to make it to finals day once again and go that extra step to the title. Their squad is very capable, with a strong mix of solid and aggressive batsmen and some serious bowling to contend with too. It would be unwise to discount them from the final reckoning.
Storm have strengthened their bowling attack this year with the inclusion of Kiwi quick Holly Huddleston. This is a smart move, as their pace attack (apart from Shrubsole) was too limited last time around. However, as Lee has now moved to the Stars, Storm are stuck with promoting their more inexperienced middle-order players up a position. This may result in Wilson, Luff and Hennessy moving out of their comfort zones a bit.
Pace bowling is now well catered for, with Shrubsole and Huddleston likely to open up, and Davies and Hennessy offering solid changes. Storm will however be concerned about Shrubsole’s injury worries which may see her missing vital matches, in what is after all a very short league. The bulk of spin bowling is likely to be from Knight and Taylor, with Dibble perhaps contributing overs if she makes it into the team.
Storm have only been granted 2 home games this time, and I can see them facing a tough start away to Vipers. They play Lightning at Taunton next, then must travel all the way up to York to face Diamonds. Their final fixture is against Thunder at Bristol. Qualification may be somewhat more challenging than the way they cruised through last time. It could be tight between Storm and Thunder for possibly the third qualification spot – and maybe Shrubsole will be the determining factor for Storm.
Strongest XI: Priest, Taylor, Knight, Wilson, Luff, Hennessy, Macleod, Shrubsole, Huddleston, Dibble, Davies
After a disappointing first season, there’s hope that Diamonds will be much more competitive this year, and some good reasons to think that they will. Their squad is experienced and more in-form and potent this time out, and if things go really well, they are in with a decent shout of a qualification place.
With Brunt and Gunn two of England’s strongest performers in the World Cup winning side, there is reason for positivity for the Diamonds. Despite the loss of Mooney, Hazell and Blackwell, the signings have been shrewd. Kiwi Sophie Devine is always capable of winning matches with her clean striking, big hitting and also her potential to take wickets. Sune Luus can also perform well with both bat and ball, and the late inclusion of Chamari Attapattu could be a game-changer too. A wild card for sure, the Sri Lankan tends to be unpredictable but she has undeniable quality with the ball and especially with the bat.
Diamonds now have one of the strongest sets of all-rounders in the KSL. Other players like Armitage, Levick and Davidson-Richards are all on an upwards curve, and may be looking to push for further recognition by England. Their batting line-up is suitably experienced and explosive now as well. Both spin and pace bowling are well catered for – the Diamonds have, on paper, done an admirable job at ironing out their main weaknesses. Now it’s all down to how well they perform.
It will be a big early test for the Diamonds as they take on Thunder in the local derby first up. They next travel to Stars and then Lightning, the first 2 of 3 tricky away fixtures which finishes with a real challenge, taking on Vipers on the final day. If the fixtures had fallen kindly for Diamonds I might have given them more of a chance to qualify, but as it stands I think they will do well to push for a top-3 spot.
Strongest XI: Winfield, Armitage, Devine, Attapattu, Davidson-Richards, Brunt, Gunn, Luus, Graves, Butler, Levick