Australia start to look beyond greatest generation with trans-Tasman tour

“We’ve got some of the best players in the history of Australian cricket playing right now, but at some point the end comes for everyone…” – Shawn Flegler  

Ellyse Perry, Meg Lanning, Rachael Haynes, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen and Megan Schutt are the core of one of the greatest Australian Women’s sides yet to take the field. Their quality has helped the national team to victories at each of the past two T20 World Cups and dominant runs of victories in bilateral series, in addition to their pioneering place in the game’s vault into full-time professionalism in Australia.

While this generation remains a lauded bunch still vital to the team’s fortunes, the national selector Shawn Flegler is having to plan for the days when they begin to sidle off into retirement, either one by one – as he would no doubt prefer – or as a group leaving an enormous hole. The delay in the next ODI World Cup, meant to have been played in New Zealand presently but postponed by a year ostensibly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, means it is a younger squad going across the Tasman for a series against New Zealand.

This is partly to add to the options Australia have available this time next year, notably the re-addition of Tayla Vlaeminck after she missed the 2020 T20 World Cup on home soil with serious injury, but it is also part of the bigger-picture plans to keep “topping up” the Australian XI with fresh generations, much as Sophie Molineux, Georgia Wareham, and Annabel Sutherland have emerged as regulars over the past couple of years.

“We’ve got an amazing team right now. It’s a strong team, we’ve been able to introduce some young players over the last couple of years in Annabel and Sophie and Georgia, Tahlia McGrath’s had a couple of games here and there as well,” Flegler said. “But you’ve got to keep evolving as a team, you can’t sit still; the competition from around the world is going to keep getting stronger.

“You saw that Indian side with a few of their young players like Shafali Verma, a 16-year-old, so they’re getting international experience and it’s important our best young players get that experience where possible as well.

“That’s the challenge over the next few years, we’ve got some of the best players in the history of Australian cricket playing right now, but at some point the end comes for everyone, so we need to make sure that team keeps evolving and keeps getting stronger.”

“You watch her bowl, it’s exciting, but she’s on the edge the whole time. We want to make sure she’s still bowling for Australia in 10 years hopefully”

Flegler on young pacer Tayla Vlaeminck

That wider focus goes some way to explaining why the likes of Sammy-Jo Johnson, Erin Burns, Molly Strano, Heather Graham and Elyse Villani are missing from the ranks as well as they have played in recent editions of the WBBL. Instead, Darcie Brown, Hannah Darlington are set to experience their first international games, while Sutherland can expect graduating levels of exposure as a batting allrounder who was encouraged wherever possible to go on the attack with the Melbourne Stars.

“Darcie had an outstanding WBBL, a fast bowler, bowling outswing at 17, nearly 18 years of age, an exciting prospect, I’ve seen her since she was 13 or 14, first saw her at the Under-15 national championship,” Flegler said. “So, she’s always had that ball speed within her, she’s improved her accuracy over the last 12 months, but really exciting prospect and I’m sure she’ll enjoy the opportunity over there.

“Hannah has been involved in the pathway all the way through as well, change-up in pace, that sort of closing death bowler option. With Delissa [Kimmince] unavailable for selection, we thought Hannah would be a great addition, particularly for the T20Is, that’s the focus for Hannah. The bonus is with her leadership qualities as well, I’ve seen that in the pathway, she’s captained NSW Metro and has been selected as vice-captain for NSW – I don’t think they’re particularly happy with me selecting her for this tour, but a great opportunity.”

Vlaeminck’s return allows Australia to look again to the sorts of plans they had before the T20 World Cup, namely to use her express pace in the way that Perry’s was once harnessed, in balance with the swing of Schutt and the spin of Jonassen, Wareham and Molineux. “For someone like Tayla, who 12 months ago when she got that injury, you would’ve thought the World Cup was out of the question for her, but now we’re 12 months out from the World Cup, she has the opportunity to go over to New Zealand and test her skills over there,” Flegler said.

“It’s another 12 months into playing Darcie and Annabel, even Georgia and Sophie Molineux, another 12 months of international cricket is great for those players, so while it was disappointing, to have this opportunity to go over there and play some games in those conditions 12 months out from a World Cup is an absolute bonus, whereas we wouldn’t have been doing that if the World Cup was on right now. So, [it is] a great opportunity.

“I can’t imagine we’ll be able to play Tayla in all the matches, she’s coming back from a big injury and we’re still managing her workloads. It’s really important we see her as a really long-term player for Australia and she’s a high-risk athlete. You watch her bowl, it’s exciting, but she’s on the edge the whole time. We want to make sure she’s still bowling for Australia in 10 years hopefully, so we need to look after her, make sure she gets through this series.”

Australia ODI and T20I squad: Meg Lanning (capt), Rachael Haynes, Darcie Brown, Nicola Carey, Hannah Darlington, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy (wk), Jess Jonassen, Tahlia McGrath, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland, Georgia Wareham, Belinda Vakarewa, Tayla Vlaeminck

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig