The WBBL final will pitch Australia’s captain, Meg Lanning, against her vice-captain Rachael Haynes. The Melbourne Stars, having reached the knockouts for the first time, are up against the Sydney Thunder who are in their first final since the opening edition of the tournament.
The Stars have been the standout team of the tournament, storming their way through the group stage until a couple of defeats at the back-end but they regathered themselves to comprehensively dispatch the Perth Scorchers.
The Thunder were less consistent in the round-robin but have won when it matters, most spectacularly in their semi-final against the Brisbane Heat when they turned around a game that seemed lost – although the players themselves said the belief never wavered.
While both teams have strength throughout their XIs, it might come down to the Stars’ impactful batting verses the Thunder’s varied bowling attack – not that the Stars lack at all in that area, either. Lanning, Elyse Villani and Mignon du Preez have led the way for the Stars, backed up by Nat Sciver and latterly the rapidly developing Annabel Sutherland with crucial cameos from Alana King (who has also been a star with ball in hand).
The Thunder’s attack includes the pace of Shabnim Ismail, the powerplay skills of left-arm spinner Sam Bates, the experience of Sammy-Jo Johnson and, as shown to such great effect in the semi-final, the yorkers of Hannah Darlington.
Above all, though, this tournament has been a huge success to have been played in its entirety given the challenges that it had to overcome. Many players have not found hub life easy – Haynes admitted she “hadn’t enjoyed it” – but they have embraced the new normal and, by and large, the on-field action has been of high quality with established stars standing tall and young names standing out. Hopefully, the final will be a fitting conclusion.
Stars WLLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the group stage
In the spotlight
Games like these are made for Meg Lanning. Her return to the Stars has had the rejuvenating effect on the team that was hoped for. She has led from the front with the bat, scoring runs with her usual effortless style but also showing a level of power not always associated with her game – a sign of the impact of coach Trent Woodhill. She can lean on her experienced players, but also trusts her youngsters as shown by the way she has used Tess Flintoff and Sophie Day in the death overs.
Hannah Darlington was Young Player of the Year last season but has certainly not suffered from any second-year blues. Her 18 wickets, including the Player of the Match performance in the semi-final, have come at 13.61 and an economy rate of 6.44. Despite still being so early in her career, she is an expert at the death with her yorkers. “It’s a nice strength to have, I do go to that ball a lot and it’s one that’s a wicket-taking delivery,” she said. “That’s the key, trying to get batters out and not being too defensive.”
Melbourne Stars: 1 Elyse Villani, 2 Meg Lanning (capt), 3 Mignon du Preez, 4 Nat Sciver, 5 Annabel Sutherland, 6 Katherine Brunt, 7 Alana King, 8 Erin Osborne, 9 Tess Flintoff, 10 Nicole Faltum (wk), Sophie Day
Sydney Thunder: 1 Tammy Beaumont, 2 Rachel Trenaman, 3 Heather Knight, 4 Rachael Haynes (capt), 5 Phoebe Litchfield, 6 Sammy-Jo Johnson, 7 Tahlia Wilson (wk), 8 Hannah Darlington, 9 Lauren Smith, 10 Shabnim Ismail, 11 Sam Bates
Pitch and conditions
The two semi-finals have not been especially high-scoring, but the ball came on better during the second match on Thursday. North Sydney Oval is renowned as a good batting surface although there has been some turn on offer. It is meant to be a hot day in Sydney leading into a warm evening.
“We’ve shown our skills can match up with anyone in this competition. We are looking forward to tomorrow night and it’s anyone’s game. In a final, in a big match, you saw that pressure can make people do funny things.”
“It’s great that we’ve been able to have some success. The last couple of years for them hasn’t been as they would have liked, for now we’ve done a great job to get to where we are coming from bottom to first after the round games. We’ve done a good job so far, it’s been a lot of fun, but we certainly came here to win the tournament.”