Rising Renegades, hapless Heat
At last. Since the very start of this competition in 2015, Melbourne Renegades have threatened to contend. But so far, their only consistent quality has been inconsistency. When losing a close one early this season - another common trait - it looked the same old story.
But three wins on the spin has popped them into the top four, looking one of the most settled squads in the league. They did the double over Brisbane Heat in style, first holding them back from chasing 133, then pulverising them for 66 bowling first.
At the top of the list, Sophie Molineux cannot be far from an Australian call-up, while Sri Lankan powerhouse Chamari Atapattu is fresh off one of the greatest ever ODI innings against Australia at the World Cup. The first drop is Jess Duffin, the former Australian international, a great poach from crosstown rivals Melbourne Stars. At four, there has been no better acquisition than New Zealand allrounder Amy Satterthwaite, the skipper who holds her side together with bat and ball.
With an attack led ably by Australian T20 offspinner Molly Strano, along with the league's quickest seamer in Lea Tahuhu, the Renegades may be going places. We thought the same of Brisbane a fortnight ago but one win in four starts puts them well off the pace. Getting bowled out in such dismal fashion will badly dent their confidence.
Villani finds range, but Stars find a way
Like the Renegades, consistent inconsistency has been Elyse Villani's story in national colours. But cricket's shortest format is Villani's natural habitat, where she can clear her mind and swing.
Leading Perth Scorchers for the season in place of injured recruit Meg Lanning, Villani hasn't let the newfound responsibility cramp her style. To the contrary, she slammed her second and third fifties of the competition so far. A hefty 84 off 53 balls on Boxing Day was enough to knock off the Stars' impressive score of 164. A day later, she went faster, with 72 off 44. This time, she was dismissed before the end, and Melbourne's green team held off Scorchers by 12 runs.
The double has seen Villani skip to the top of the runs list, with 261 in five innings. Her nominal captain, Lanning, led the list in the first two WBBL editions, with 502 last year and 560 the year before that. If Villani can stay consistent, there could be records in her future. Nine hits to go.
Slow over rates are overrated, but are fines fine?
On the list of positives, Cricket Australia has listened to concerns from last year and abolished the practice of docking partial points for slow over rates. Under the old system, half a point could be deducted for being tardy with the overs, but in a system where each win is worth two points, losing half a point effectively meant losing a whole win.
Less positive is moving to a fines system, like the men's competition. While the amounts liable are lower in the WBBL, each player on a team can be fined $AUD250 for a slow rate, which can be halved to $125 if the club doesn't appeal the charge. This takes it into the realm of your average Australian parking ticket, but in a league where base contracts are worth just over AUD$10,000 for a two-month season, something about financial stings still doesn't sit right.
Games that are on the line will likely see players taking their time to make sure they get the final few deliveries right. Observers have also raised the question of whether over rates are as important for games that aren't televised. It's a tricky problem without an obvious answer, but it still seems like there must be a better way.
New Year's Heave
A quintet of fixtures awaits before clearing the throat to sing Auld Lang Syne. The carnival returns to Adelaide for the third time in four weeks, the Strikers fresh from a week off to tackle Heat in two rubbers. The second of those, on New Year's Eve, is the televised feature game of the round. If the visiting Brisbane side can't find something, their finals hopes will be close to over.
It is a similar story for Hobart Hurricanes, who have the daunting task of playing the Thunder on consecutive days over the weekend. The talent divide between these sides is as pronounced as any two teams in the WBBL. Hurricanes have home advantage with the games played in Launceston, but little else.
On a brighter note, Saturday's early game has the Scorchers up against the top-ranked Sixers in a replay of last year's final. With two quality outfits full of international talent, don't miss the scenes from Western Australia's picturesque Lilac Hill ground.