The TelstraClear White Ferns will be up against a brace of new faces in the World Series of Women's Cricket 2003 that begins at Lincoln University on Sunday, January 26. Arch rivals Australia and India have both named new-look sides, while England is fielding one of its best prepared units.
But TelstraClear White Ferns skipper Emily Drumm says her focus is very much on her own team as she heads into the quadrangular tournament.
"I'm concentrating on moulding together our young bowling attack and while we're still going through this transition, this rebuilding stage, I think it would be a mistake to get too carried away with what's going on with the opposition. "We are looking forward to playing at the Lincoln University grounds again as they are traditionally high scoring matches with the pitches and outfields that allow for pace and bounce."
With the exception of recent New Zealand A players, the New Zealanders haven't seen the new Australians in action before and Drumm's familiar with their names only from scanning the Internet.
"I'm in the dark really, but I think we'll get an indication of what they're about when they play New Zealand A this week. I'm not underestimating Australia though because they still have their core of very experienced players. Belinda Clark, Karen Rolton and Cathryn Fitzpatrick are the three players who put us under pressure the most, but take them out of the equation and it does look a very different side."
History is in Australia's favour when it comes to international women's cricket, the Southern Stars having won 115 of their 145 matches around the world. Against New Zealand they have played 62 matches for 42 wins, 19 losses and one no result.
The outstanding Clark is the most experienced member of Australia's team with 82 One-Day International caps, followed by indefatigable veteran pace bowler Fitzpatrick (61), vice-captain and top-order batsman Rolton (60) and wicket-keeper Julia Price (60).
But just five of the Southern Stars squad played at the 2000 CricInfo Women's World Cup and three players - Melissa Bulow and 19-year-old teenagers Alex Blackwell and Kris Britt - have yet to make their international debut.
Bulow, a 22-year-old opening batsman for the Queensland Fire, is the likely replacement for Lisa Keightley, a fixture in the Southern Stars for the past seven years who retired from international cricket in December with an average of 44.56 - the third highest in Australian women's history.
It's a hard act to follow, but Bulow has led the run aggregate charts for Queensland in Australia's Women's National Cricket League (WNCL) for the past two seasons and this summer scored 222 at an average of 27.75.
New South Wales all-rounder Blackwell has scored 181 runs at an average of 36.20 this season - their second-highest run-scorer, propelling the Blues to their seventh consecutive final on the weekend, though they lost to Victoria. She and fellow all-rounder Britt have emerged through Australia's youth programme and are part of the long-term plan to manage the generation change in the Australian team.
Britt was named Player of the Championship at this summer's Australian Under-19 Championship Series, topping the run aggregates with 384 at 76.80 and chipping in with 15 wickets at 14.73. In the WNCL, Britt scored 231 runs at an average of 38.50 for the Southern Scorpions and took nine wickets at 21.66.
The Southern Stars arrive in New Zealand on Thursday 23 January. New South Wales pace bowler Therese McGregor, a key support bowler here against New Zealand last summer, has been omitted from the World Series with a back strain.
For England this World Series takes on particular importance as they ready themselves to meet Australia in a rare two-match Test series in Australia in February. Once again the side features 'the three Clares' - captain Clare Connor, Clare Taylor and Claire Taylor, a unique test for scoreboard attendants.
Yorkshire 37-year-old Clare Taylor is England's most experienced player and with 97 caps is set to reach 100 at Lincoln. A medium-pace opener, she is one of the most successful bowlers in the women's game and became the first England player to take 100 international wickets against India last year.
Taylor has spent the past two New Zealand summers playing for the State Otago Sparks, one of six England players who have been playing cricket in Australasia since November.
Her namesake and fellow right-handed brunette Claire Taylor is a 27-year-old from Berkshire and one of England's leading batsmen. In June 2001 she became the first of the England squad to train and play cricket full-time and has been sharpening up for Lancaster Park/Woolston, in Christchurch women's club cricket.
Batsman Charlotte Edwards, who at 16 became England's youngest debutant in 1996, recently scored 120 for the State Northern Spirit against the State Wellington Blaze. Wicket-keeper Mandie Godliman has been representing Riccarton in Christchurch club cricket and Dawn Holden and Sarah Collyer played for Western Fury in Australia's national domestic competition this season.
Skipper Connor is optimistic the acclimatisation of these players will offset the fact England is playing out of their natural season and is all part of a determined big-picture effort by England to perform strongly at the next Women's World Cup. Says Connor, "The Women's World Series is an opportunity for us to begin challenging the world's top teams again and show how much we have improved."
Indian selectors have meanwhile named five uncapped players in their squad. Mamta Kanojia, Air India batsman Rumeli Dhar, Delhi leg-spinner Reema Malhotra, Andhra Pradesh batsman Monica Sumra and Madhya Pradesh's Babita Mandilka are the new faces.
Missing from the squad that toured England and Ireland in July-August 2002 are Arundhati Kirkire, Mamatha Maben, Sunita Singh and Deepa Kulkarni. Anjum Chopra has once again been named captain, with 20-year-old Mithali Raj as her deputy.
Teams for the Women's World Series follow. Note: The TelstraClear White Ferns will be named on Saturday January 25 following New Zealand A's matches against England, Australia and India.
Belinda Clark (captain)
Karen Rolton (vice-captain)
Clare Connor (captain)
Anjum Chopra (captain)
Mithali Raj (vice-captain)
Nooshin Al Khadeer