As the Southern Stars relish in retaining the Ashes, the brightest prospects of Australian women’s cricket are showcasing a plethora of talent ready to assume the mantle in forthcoming series.
With the game surging in popularity, the Cricket Australia Under 18 National Championships will merge the top female players from around the country, as they prepare to display their ever-improving abilities.
The Queensland squad represents an exciting future, epitomised by the age diversity of the girls throughout the team; including two 14-year-olds in Georgia Voll and Ruth Johnston.
It’s this depth which has been so alluring for Queensland State Talent Manager, Andy Richards.
Reigning in expectation given the relative inexperience of the side, the former Queensland Fire coach identified the New South Wales and Victoria-based sides as the biggest threats in the 2017 rendition of the competition.
However he is optimistic about the team’s ambitions, with the skills and aptitudes amongst the squad a tantalising premise as they continue to enhance their brilliant skillsets together.
“It’s one of the most structured side’s we’ve picked for a while,” Richards asserted at Allan Border Field.
“We’ve got two 14-year-olds — it’s probably the most we’ve had of that age group for some time — and they’re there because they’re in the best 13,” he said.
“It was a difficult side to pick: a lot of girls who were unlucky and just missed out which means that our depth is actually better than it has been in years gone by.”
Leading the maroon-cladded unit is captain Josie Dooley.
Following her maiden professional contract with the Fire, the wicketkeeper has continued to go from strength to strength heading into the national tournament.
In a season already headlined by her selection in the Governor-General’s XI, the 17-year-old has hit peak form at the perfect time, recently amassing an elegant 112 not out for Western Suburbs in a comprehensive victory against the University of Queensland.
Plying her trade with the likes of Australian fast bowler, Holly Ferling, has no doubt been ideal preparation for the next phase in her career, and it is her match maturity that Richards believes will steel the skipper throughout the Championships.
“She brings a lot from a leadership point of view, having been with the Fire for the last two years and she’s brought a lot of that to the table,” he spoke of the accomplished ‘keeper-batter.
“She’s worked really hard in the last 12 months with the bat and we’re expecting some exciting things from her.”
Other identified keys to their cause are the all-round abilities of Courtney Sippel and the representative experience of Renee Irvine, who at 16 made her Fire debut in the 2016/17 summer.
With eight years coaching the Fire behind him, Andy Richards has identified the giant strides made in the female code, and believes that the inclusive nature of the women’s game has been a significant factor in accelerating the development of the keen competitors coming through grassroots programs.
‘I think the fact there’s more girls playing, and that’s really important for us: to have the broader (player) base underneath,” he said.
“That’s produced better cricket.”
“I think we’re getting more exposure for those girls early, with some playing warm up games against the Fire and actually playing with some of their heroes,” Richards continued.
“That makes a massive difference for them. It takes a while to get over the awe factor, but as soon as they do, they learn so quickly from those players.”
Among the exciting cohort of imminent stars is 14-year-old Georgia Voll, who has drawn extensive praise for her craft.
Her selection positions her in elite company: the likes of Ferling and Beth Mooney — whose sensational 86* triumphantly guided Australia against England on Friday night — both garnering selection in the National Championship side at the same age.
The weight of runs adding to her tally is telling of her dedication to the sport; her recent efforts in the Jodie Fields Shield seeing her peel off a rapid, and unbeaten, 151 to more than justify the faith bestowed upon the young batter.
“I just wanted to try and not hit any chances and it paid off — went to a couple of training sessions that week and felt good in the nets, and then it felt good out in the middle,” Georgia assessed modestly.
“It’s really exciting to get the opportunity to play with such great girls and to make these teams.”
Richards, while managing expectations of the dynamic youngster, has admired the composure she has exhibited in the high-profile environment, comparing her abilities to that of destructive Gold Coast batsman, and Queensland Bulls rookie contract holder, Max Bryant.
“During the rookie challenge she played maturely beyond her years,” the former Fire mentor recalled.
“She scored a really good half-century in a T20 game off 32-balls and it was such a mature knock.”
“It’s just how she goes about her game: she’s calm and very relaxed for somebody who is so young,” he said.
“Not many girls do what she’s done and that probably excites me as much as anything else — she’s living up to potential long before we expected.”
The number of young athletes striving for the sport’s highest honours is indicative of the immense talent being nurtured at junior levels.
Richards suggests that the early identification of their capabilities not only ensures their presence in future competitions, but challenges the elite sportswomen in the industry to continuously rise to new heights.
“We’re probably looking for them more now than we did. We know what’s needed to play at that next level and it’s as much about personal attributes as it is about skills,” Richards said.
“Now that it’s full-time professional it’s a hard ask and not everybody is going to be suited to that.”
“We’re hoping with this age group coming through that we’re trying to get them ready a bit quicker than we have in the past,” he said.
“The depth that we have allows us to do that a lot more, and we’ve got a really good core base of girls in the Fire at the moment so it’s nice to have these younger girls pushing (for selection), and the more people we’ve got pushing from underneath the better the people will be up the top.”
While success has been bare and thin in recent campaigns, Andy Richards has praised the commitment of the current contingent, and sees the potential for long-term success for Queensland cricket.
With just four players set to graduate beyond the age restrictions of the Championships, the State Talent Manager has every reason to eagerly anticipate what this team can produce down the road.
“We’ve probably taken a bit of short-term pain for longer term gain,” Richards considered, “and hopefully we’ll start to see some results of that this year.”
“Whether or not we win, I just want us to play to our potential, and if we play to our potential then we’ll be up there playing finals.”
The National Championships will commence in Canberra on November 27, with Queensland taking on ACT/NSW Country. Fixtures and results can be followed here.
QLD Squad: Josie Dooley (c) (Western Suburbs DCC), Courtney Sippel (Murgon/Western Suburbs DCC), Kate McDonald (Redlands), Lily Mills (Sandgate-Redcliffe), Renee Irvine (Murgon), Carly Fuller (Western Suburbs DCC), Maggie Murphy (Toowoomba/Western Suburbs DCC), Lily Awyzio (Western Suburbs DCC), Neve Lynch (Valley DCC), Ruth Johnston (Toowoomba/Ipswich-Logan), Ash Sims (Western Suburbs DCC), Kirsten Davey (Sandgate-Redcliffe), Emily Vallance (Sunshine Coast), Annie Wikman (Western Suburbs DCC), Stacey Rockliff (Townsville) and Georgia Voll (Toowoomba/Ipswich-Logan)
Author - Nick Wright