By Raf Nicholson & Syd Egan
So here it is: the fourth and final season of the Kia Super League gets started on Tuesday, with Thunder v Vipers, Lightning v Storm and Diamonds v Stars – the latter live on Sky Sports at 7pm prime-time, which fans should make the most of, with Sky scheduled* to broadcast just six regular season matches this year.
Once again, the KSL promises to be a great competition, with some of the best players in the world, including Australia’s Alyssa Healy and India’s Jemimah Rodrigues [pro tip: it’s pronounced “rod-reeks”] making their Super League debuts.
Unlike the fourth season of Blackadder, no one will have to stick a pencil up their nose or wear their underpants on their heads… but sadly just like when Blackadder went forth, one thing is guaranteed: everybody will die in the end.
Last Season: 4th
Kate Cross (c), Georgie Boyce, Natalie Brown, Danielle Collins, Sophia Dunkley, Alice Dyson, Sophie Ecclestone, Ria Fackrell, Alex Hartley, Eve Jones, Harmanpreet Kaur, Emma Lamb, Sune Luus, Tahlia McGrath, Ellie Threlkeld
The Thunder have always been the team that have most consistently given good opportunities to their local players; and having missed out on Finals Day by a whisker last year, they have kept faith with their core of Lancashire county “pros” – the likes of Eve Jones, Emma Lamb and Ellie Threlkeld, who if you cut them would all bleed red.
They will be accompanied on the field this year by an “interesting” overseas contingent – Harmanpreet Kaur played arguably the greatest innings in history in that World Cup semi-final against Australia in 2017, but there is a reason her name is so often accompanied by the word “mercurial”; while Tahlia McGrath has never been more than a fringe player for Australia; and Sune Luus, despite standing in as captain recently while Dane van Niekerk was injured, is still struggling to really find a role for South Africa as more of a batting allrounder, since she started to struggle with her bowling radar a couple of years back.
The signing of Sophia Dunkley, who was the leading run-scorer in the Women’s County Championship, is a good move for both parties – Dunkley will get an opportunity to bat higher up the order than she had at Surrey Stars, with a view to making a case to England coach Mark Robinson ahead of selections for a winter which includes the T20 World Cup in Australia; while Lancashire could use her power hitting in a batting lineup that has perhaps at times looked a little too classical for the shortest form of the game. [SE]
Last Season: 2nd
Georgia Elwiss (c), Amy Jones, Abi Freeborn, Kathryn Bryce, Jenny Gunn, Jo Gardner, Tara Norris, Kirstie Gordon, Alice Monaghan, Georgia Adams, Lucy Higham, Sarah Glenn, Hayley Matthews, Chamari Atapattu, Mignon du Preez
The Lightning won the league stage of the competition last season, but flopped in the final as their overseas batting stars failed to fire. None of those overseas return, though in Sophie Devine’s case this was through injury rather than by choice; but the Lightning have taken advantage of a change in the regulations on overseas from non-ODI status nations to recruit four overseas this season – Scotland captain Katherine Bryce, who is a student at Loughborough University; T20 World Cup winner Hayley Matthews; Sri Lanka’s Chamari Atapattu; and the massively underrated former South Africa captain Mignon du Preez – expect the hard-running du Preez to shore up the middle order, allowing Matthews and Atapattu the freedom to play their shots around her.
Of their England players, Amy Jones will be desperate to put a disastrous Ashes campaign behind her and score some runs in the relatively lower-profile environment of KSL; Kirstie Gordon will be keen to lay down a marker that her 2018 season, when she led the list of wicket-takers, was not just a one-off; and Georgia Elwiss will be keen to catch Mark Robinson’s eye for the “Jenny Gunn” role for England this winter; while… talking of whom… Jenny Gunn herself will want to go out on a high, if indeed (as rumoured [Edit: and denied]) this proves to be her last season before retirement.
If all of them play to their potential, Loughborough have every chance of making finals day again; but it is a big if, and if not, it might just put too much pressure on what is a slightly inexperienced second-string to really challenge in 2019. [SE]
Last Season: 6th
Tammy Beaumont (c), Danni Wyatt, Tash Farrant, Suzie Bates, Stafanie Taylor, Amanda-Jade Wellington, Charlie Dean, Maia Bouchier, Lauren Bell, Carla Rudd, Paige Scholfield, Thea Brookes, Marie Kelly, Issy Wong, Fi Morris
CRICKETher tipped the Vipers to win the Super League last year, which wasn’t quite a prediction they lived up to – after a good opening-day win against Surrey Stars, the wheels came off and what we’d thought was a sleek sports coupe finished the season looking more like a clown car.
For 2019, all-but half of last season’s 1st XI have been shipped out, or retired in the case of England veteran Arran Brindle; with England prospects Lauren Bell and Maia Bouchier coming into more front-line roles as a result. Bouchier opened the batting and the bowling for Hampshire in this season’s County Championship, and looked to be thriving on the responsibility; while Bell will be looking to build on the solid start she made to her professional career last season, coming into the starting XI as a replacement for the injured Katie George, which included bowling an unplayable first-over maiden to a bemused Lizelle Lee against the Surrey Stars at Hove.
The Stars won that game at Hove with 3 balls to spare, as they scrapped their way to Finals Day, but when the two teams met again in a warm-up last week, the tables were turned as the Vipers posted 130-7 before bowling the Stars out for 83, which could be a good omen for the season ahead. Much though will depend on the form of Suzie Bates. Bates has stepped down from the captaincy in favour of Tammy Beaumont, but she remains the Vipers keystone player – if she has a good season, the chances are they will. [SE]
Last Season: Winners
Nat Sciver (c), Aylish Cranstone, Gwenan Davies, Grace Gibbs, Amy Gordon, Eva Gray, Hannah Jones, Marizanne Kapp, Lizelle Lee, Laura Marsh, Bryony Smith, Rhianna Southby, Sarah Taylor, Dane van Niekerk, Mady Villiers
After scraping through to Finals Day by the skin of their teeth last season, Stars surprised everyone by going on to win the final against the previously dominant Loughborough Lightning. That victory came courtesy of a brilliant century from Lizelle Lee, who was probably re-signed on the spot for the 2019 season, having proved herself capable of pulling a big innings out of the bag when it mattered most.
In fact all of the the South African triumvirate of Lee, Dane van Niekerk and Marizanne Kapp are back at the Stars this year – a good move from the club, who maintain the services of the best death bowler in global T20 cricket.
Losing Sophia Dunkley to Lancashire Thunder will have been a blow (and not a decision that Surrey were happy with, by all accounts), but the move may give some of their other young batsmen a chance to take on the lower-order big-hitting role, with Mady Villiers in particular looking to prove that her England selection was more than just a flash-in-the-pan. Surrey have also signed Gwenan Davies, the Warwickshire keeper, on the back of a strong showing in Warwickshire’s triumphant T20 Cup campaign. That probably suggests that they are not expecting Sarah Taylor (who played all but 1 match last season) to feature this time around.
Overall this is a strong squad who will do well, but I think they might find themselves pipped to the post when it comes to reaching Finals Day. [RN]
Last Season: 3rd
Heather Knight (c), Anya Shrubsole, Fran Wilson, Freya Davies, Smriti Mandhana, Rachel Priest, Deepti Sharma, Danielle Gibson, Ellie Mitchell, Claire Nicholas, Sophie Luff, Naomi Dattani, Amara Carr, Sonia Odedra, Alex Griffiths
Storm are the only team who have been present at all 3 Finals Days, and they are likely to maintain that 100% record this time around. With last year’s breathtaking display of dominance from Smriti Mandhana, the only thing that stopped Storm retaining their title was her enforced absence from Finals Day: this time around, she is expected to be present for the whole competition.
Rachel Priest will once again open the batting with Smriti, while their third overseas is a new signing, Smriti’s India teammate Deepti Sharma, who replaces Stafanie Taylor after she underperformed with the bat last season (admittedly given less opportunity to do so in the face of The Smriti Show). Despite not being the most well-known player, Deepti is currently ranked second in the ICC’s ODI all-rounder rankings (behind only, yes you’ve guessed it, Ellyse Perry), and could prove a genius signing by the Storm.
They also have some exciting new domestic players joining their ranks, including 17-year-old leg-spinner Ellie Mitchell – who joined the England Academy in November – as well as jobbing county pro Sonia Odedra, who continues to shine for Nottinghamshire and will add all-round strength to their squad.
Meanwhile opening bowler Freya Davies, having at last been rewarded for her consistency in the KSL with a full England contract, will be looking to send a strong signal to Mark Robinson that she deserves more opportunities at international level. Anyone who’d bet against Storm reaching Finals Day probably hasn’t been paying enough attention. [RN]
Last Season: 5th
Lauren Winfield (c), Katherine Brunt, Alice Davidson-Richards, Katie George, Linsey Smith, Hollie Armitage, Alyssa Healy, Jemimah Rodrigues, Leigh Kasperek, Helen Fenby, Katie Levick, Bess Heath, Beth Langston, Cordelia Griffith, Georgia Davis
Diamonds have traditionally been the underdogs in the KSL, finishing in fifth place in all three of the previous editions of the competition, but somehow they seem to have pulled it out of the bag in the final season with some top-notch overseas signings. That includes Aussie wicket-keeper Alyssa Healy, who has a claim to being the best T20 batsman in the world right now after winning the Player of the Tournament award in November’s World Twenty20.
Alongside Healy the Indian 18-year-old Jemimah Rodrigues will be making her KSL debut, having launched her international career to great fanfare only 18 months ago. Leigh Kasperek, meanwhile, comes in as their third overseas, a last-minute replacement for Chloe Tryon. The off-spinning all-rounder will feel right at home, having represented Yorkshire in the Women’s County Championship for the last two seasons.
Mark Robinson clearly retains belief in Katie George, who was recently bumped up to a full England contract; it will be interesting to see how she gets on “up north” after sitting out of much of last season for Southern Vipers, as well as the first half of this, with recurrent injuries. However, with home-grown talents Katherine Brunt, Katie Levick and Beth Langston ready to do their thing, perhaps she won’t be needed.
One other exciting signing is Cordelia Griffith, who joins the Diamonds after a great premier 50-over domestic season for Middlesex which included a century against Somerset. Griffith missed out on selection in 2018 after representing Stars in the first two seasons of the tournament, but now has a great opportunity to make her case for a contract in next year’s new semi-pro set-up.
I love a good underdog success story, so maybe I’m being sentimental here, but I reckon that this could just be the Yorkshire Diamonds’ year. [RN]
- Yorkshire Diamonds
- Western Storm
- Southern Vipers
- Southern Vipers
- Western Storm
- Surrey Stars
* At time of writing, Sky’s cricket schedule shows just 6 KSL matches through August.