Australia’s expectant T20 World Cup squad have drawn perspective from the nation’s horrific bushfire summer to realise the forthcoming tournament will be the time of their lives and to maintain the fearless brand of cricket that has taken them to the pinnacle of the women’s game in recent years.
Sophie Molineux has returned to the Australian side after she took mental health leave and the teenager Annabel Sutherland is in line for her international debut in the competition that will culminate in the tournament final at the MCG on March 8 – international women’s day.
Speaking about the opportunity to play in a home World Cup where there is the potential for a world record women’s sport event crowd at the MCG final, Australia’s coach Matthew Mott said that the squad were under no illusions that the pressures they faced were anything like those of far more desperate real-life scenarios – not least the bushfires that have ravaged Australia this summer.
“We had a great meeting last night and it is an opportunity,” Mott said. “One of the things we’re talking about – a lot of people talk about the added pressure, and we’re not hiding away from the fact there is slightly more pressure, slightly more media expectation, but in actual fact I think we were probably under pressure before the last World Cup. We hadn’t won for a while, we went in there hoping to do well, and we did do well, but I think this team has evolved a lot.
“We spoke about being fearless, I think we’ve now got both sides of the coin, we know what it feels like to lose, we know what it feels like to win, we know what we enjoy more, but we’re just going to go out there and have a crack. I think one of the things we touched on last night, if there’s anything that gives us perspective, it’s what’s happened in the last few weeks of the bushfires.
“That’s pressure, defending your house and your home and family, that’s pressure. These guys are going to go out, have the time of their lives, have fun with their mates, so we’re really going to embrace the tournament, have as much fun as we can. Hopefully we’ll be there on March 8, but if we’re not we’ll make sure we give it a crack.”
In a squad that will face enormous expectations to defend the title they won in the Caribbean in 2018, Molineux and Sutherland were the standout additions to what is an otherwise highly settled group, forcing out the likes of Molly Strano, Tahlia McGrath, Belinda Vakarewa and Heather Graham from an event that the Australian team has been building towards for quite some time.
“Clearly Annabel’s come from a long way behind at the start of where we were looking at,” Mott said. “Someone like Belinda Vakawera is very unlucky, Molly Strano went really close, so there were a couple of really tight ones at the back end just with those versatile players in the 14 or 15.
“[She has] plenty of youthful energy to start with but a class player, she’s been in the program for a very long time but I’ve seen a noticeable lift in her game, particularly for T20 this year and a couple of innings she played, she played with really good intent. She’s always been a very strong technical batter, but just seeing her go up another gear with that was very good. She got great reports throughout the WBBL and also for Australia A with her ability to hit a hard length and ask questions.
“She hurried up a lot of the India A players, so that’s a really good audition for what’s coming up. She’s up around the 115kph on the radar and there’s more in there as well. She seems to have a really level head on her shoulders, she knows the area she’s trying to hit and she executes extremely well.”
Led by Meg Lanning, the tournament hosts will also take part in a preliminary triangular series against England and India, before warm-up matches against West Indies and South Africa. They kickoff the T20 World Cup proper against India at Sydney Showground on February 21.
Sutherland’s inclusion is part of a wider shift for the team that dates back to an unsuccessful 2017 World Cup campaign in England, which led Mott and the selectors to look for more depth in bowling and a greater reliance on allrounders in middle order roles, particularly in T20 matches where they are less likely to face a lot of balls.
“It all emanated from the 2017 World Cup where we felt a bowler short and we were attacked quite hard and we didn’t have back=up bowling,” Mott said. “So I think it’s just a natural thing that’s occurred, we’ve in our selections tried to reflect that, and when you look at T20 in particular, the average balls faced by Nos. 6 and 7 batters is less than eight, so therefore we’ve made a strategic decision to go with more allrounders, so players capable of maximising those eight balls but also bringing another skillset.
Molineux, 21, withdrew from this season’s WBBL to look after her mental health after playing the Melbourne Renegades’ first 10 games of the competition, and will be closely monitored by the national team’s staff over the buildup to the T20 World Cup.
“It’s always a delicate one and I don’t think there’s ever an exact right time,” Mott said. “I’ve had a lot of conversations with Sophie over the last month or so about when she’d re-integrate back into the group, and she’s gone through a really exhaustive process and she’s really confident that she’s right. But there’s no guarantees and I think it’s like any injury you come back from, there’s always a little bit of trepidation about how you go. We’re just treating it like that.
“She was back in and around the squad yesterday, we had a nice dinner together, she’s full of life and fun, and she’s welcomed back with open arms. [Her shoulder] has grumbled away for a while, it’s something we’ve got to continually manage. Both her shoulders at different times have given her a bit of grief, but first and foremost, the main thing was just getting her back in a position where she was comfortable and ready to play cricket again.”