Loughborough Lightning captain Georgia Elwiss says picking the team to face Western Storm in her side’s opening match in the 2017 Kia Super League (KSL) is going to be “a bit of a headache” because of the calibre of players in Lightning’s squad.
Lightning were beaten semi-finalists last year but have moved to strengthen their resources in the hope of reaching the final this time.
South Africa’s Dane van Niekerk, big-hitting Kiwi Sophie Devine and left-hander Evelyn Jones have not returned from last year’s squad.
But now top Australians Elyse Villani, an accomplished top-order run-scorer, and leg-spinner Kristen Beams have joined their compatriot Ellyse Perry, the world’s best all-rounder, in the 15 women selected for the 2017 campaign.
They supplement a squad that already includes five England players in Elwiss and her fellow World Cup-winner Beth Langston, as well as wicketkeeper Amy Jones, off-spinner Becky Grundy and all-rounder Sonia Odedra.
Worcestershire all-rounder Thea Brookes and Sussex’s Paige Scholfield, who turned in some outstanding performances last year, are retained along with Nottinghamshire batter Georgia Boyce.
Young spinners Lucy Higham (Leicestershire) and Sarah Glenn (Derbyshire) will provide more options in the key slow-bowling department and current Loughborough student Abi Freeborn is seen as a player with a big future as a wicketkeeper and batter in the KSL’s Twenty20 format.
Marie Kelly joins up on the back of some impressive performances under Lightning coach Salliann Briggs for Loughborough MCCU.
“There is real depth through the squad,” Elwiss said. “We have the Aussie contingent of three top-notch players from their World Cup team and among the county players there are a lot with representative experience.
“I have been impressed with everyone in the nets and I think the depth in the squad is going to set us apart from the other teams in the competition.
“At the moment I’d say picking the side for our first match is going to be a bit of a headache.
“We’ll be hoping for some good weather for our warm-up games because there are places up for grabs, certainly in the middle order, and there is a chance for players to put their hands up and make a case to be selected.”
Lightning travel to Taunton on Saturday to open their campaign with a rerun of last season’s semi-final against Western Storm in a match that will be screened live on Sky TV.
Their first home fixture is against defending champions Southern Vipers at Derby’s 3aaa County Ground on Tuesday (15 August), on the same programme as Derbyshire Falcons’ match against Durham Jets in the NatWest Blast.
That’s followed by a clash with Yorkshire Diamonds on Friday (18 August) on the Haslegrave Ground at Loughborough, next to their home base at the ECB National Performance Centre.
Signing Villani could be the key to solving Lightning’s struggle for consistent runs at the top of the order last year.
“We didn't really ever get off to a very good powerplay last year so that is something we're targeting,” said Elwiss.
“We need to have consistent performances across the competition. It is so short that you can't afford to have bad games and we know all of the games are going to be close because the standard across the whole competition is really high.
“So to be able to have those overseas players and internationals who can perform consistently and with good contributions from the younger girls will stand us in good stead.”
Elwiss, who hails from Wolverhampton but plays her county cricket with Sussex, predicts that the standard of cricket in this year’s KSL will show marked improvement even on last season as the development of women’s cricket gathers pace.
But she still believes Lightning can be strong contenders.
“Even since I played started playing international cricket in 2011 the standard is so much higher,” she said. “The skill levels are higher, the shots that people are playing, the power – we had more sixes in the World Cup than I think we ever have before.
“Western Storm and the Vipers are going to be the sides to beat but you can’t rule out any of the teams because they have all got quality players and will be hungrier than ever to do well.
“We have to take each game as it comes and take no one for granted but having reached the semi-final last year the target this time is to go all the way and hopefully win the competition.”