Lisa Griffith is excited about the standalone Women's Big Bash League season

Lisa Griffith will begin her third Women's Big Bash League season with Sydney Thunder on Friday night. Photo: CONTRIBUTED.
Lisa Griffith will begin her third Women's Big Bash League season with Sydney Thunder on Friday night. Photo: CONTRIBUTED.

WHEN Lisa Griffith first started playing cricket, she never would have imagined she would one day take part in a national women's competition, televised nationally in prime time and draw a crowd of thousands.

But tonight at North Sydney Oval, the Bathurst all-rounder will don the lime green of Sydney Thunder and prepare to battle fierce crosstown rivals Sydney Sixes in the opener of the first standalone Women's Big Bash League season.

Griffith's team-mates for the Twenty20 match will include not only Australian vice-captain Rachael Haynes, but women who have played for New Zealand, South Africa and Pakistan.

It shows just how much the sport she loves has evolved.

While she admits she is nervous as to how cricket fans will react to the WBBL no longer being run in conjunction with the men's Big Bash League, she is also excited to showcase the women's game.

"It's different to be starting this early for Big Bash, the last few seasons we started in December, but I think it will be great to have a standalone competition to showcase the female talent and the brand of cricket that we play. To have our own stage for that is so important," she said.

"So I'm nervous about that, but it's also exciting we get the opportunity to do this. I think this is a step in the right direction, showcasing women's sport in the way it should be. Our cricket, while it's the same game, we play it very differently. That's my opinion and that's why it needs to be showcased a little differently.

"If we can just get people talking about the game ... that's all that matters to be honest, to get people engaged with what we are doing. Just have a conversation about it, say to someone 'Hey remember that game?'.

"I'm hoping the standalone competition does us justice, I'm hoping we can get the bums on seats and eyes on screens and that we can gain the traction without the male partnership."

This year will mark the fifth season of WBBL and Griffith's third in the competition. But even in her time with Thunder she has seen a big surge in popularity.

Last season's decider between Brisbane Heat and the Sixes saw more than 5,000 people pack into Drummoyne Oval while the television audience peaked at 812,000 viewers.

The week before that, when Griffith's Thunder lost a final-ball thriller to Heat in the semi-finals and the Sixes prevailed in a super over against the Melbourne Renegades, the support was healthy as well.

"We had people coming to the ground that day who were turned away because we couldn't fit anymore people in at Drummoyne - I think that is a really good indication that the game is growing," Griffith said.

"It just got people talking about the game given the two games played on that day were as close as they were and showcased cricket, it was just fantastic.

"Also some of the conversations I had with people, they said they actually enjoyed watching the WBBL more than the boys in the BBL - it was really nice to hear that feedback.

"Hopefully having our own stage this year ... hopefully we can continue on that trend."

Just as last season was milestone for the league as a whole, on a personal level it was also important for Griffith.

After not being able to claim a wicket during her rookie season, she finished with nine scalps. Amongst them were Australian stars Meg Lanning, Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy.

She finished with an economy rate of 7.77 - one of the best across the league - while she also got the responsibility of using the new ball after team-mate Rene Farrell was injured.

But perhaps most importantly, Griffith learned about how to approach a game that by it's very nature means bowlers like her will at times cop punishment.

"It's hard, I remember last season I had a really good season, but then I got to Cairns and Beth Mooney just absolutely smashed me around the ground and it was really hard for me," Griffith said.

"It was hard to look at the season I had and think 'Yeah I had a really good season, that was just one game'. You've just got to try and look at it that the nature of it is that people are trying to score runs and they'll do whatever they can - T20 is a batter's game.

EXCITED: Lisa Griffith is likely to fill a new role with the ball for Sydney Thunder this season.

EXCITED: Lisa Griffith is likely to fill a new role with the ball for Sydney Thunder this season.

"You've got to go into it thinking 'Okay, I might go for a few runs today'. But if you have a plan for each ball that you're bowling, you might not of executed and that's okay, but if you don't have a plan that's when we reassess.

"We are always encouraged to have a plan and know what we are doing, better off to have a plan and try something than not have a plan at all and just hope for the best. That's what we're doing at Thunder this year, have a plan and stick to it. Have a crack, be brave. I feel good this season, I'm not so nervous now. It's my third season in and I'm just ready to go."

Thunder's squad has undergone a number of changes for this season. Gone are the likes of Australian all-rounder Nicola Carey, West Indies talent Stafanie Taylor and India superstar Harmanpreet Kaur.

But there's a new coach in two-time English Super League title winning mentor Trevor Griffin, the first Pakistani player in WBBL in Nida Dar and perhaps most excitingly for Griffith, South African quick Shabnim Ismail.

Not only is Ismail one of the fastest female bowlers in the world, but she's currently number two in the ICC T20 world rankings.

Her presence with the ball means Griffith's role with the Kookaburra will likely change, but the Bathurst talent is looking forward to a new challenge.

"Now we've got Shabnim Ismail on board, the South African, my role might be a little bit different this year. I might not be the number one quick in the team if that makes sense, the quickest bowler who hits the deck hard," she said.

"My role might be more after the power play with her here and that will be nice for me to really nail that role. I feel good coming into this tournament and hopefully I can get the opportunity to really learn from someone like her and Renee [Farrell] and back up the good work they do up front in the power play.

"I loved the transition of that for me, learning about that. Sometimes I set the field and people know exactly what I'm going to bowl, but that's on me to try and bowl it and then it's on the batters to try and play the ball.

"That's the beauty of T20, compared to one-day cricket it's so much more clear what your plan is and what you're going to bowl."

As for Friday night's season-opening match, Griffith says "It will be a good tussle this Friday for sure."

The Sixes have their own superstars in Australian players Perry, Healy, Ash Gardner and Erin Burns plus South African quick Marizanne Kapp, and have also have the better WBBL record of the two Sydney teams.

But that just makes Griffith more hungry.

"It's funny because so many of my friends are like I love you Lisa, but I go for the Sixes," she said.

"Let's go and let's get after them I think. The vibe around the group is just awesome, better than it's ever been to be honest and I think that we're leading into the first round really well."

This story Griffith ready to roll with Thunder in milestone women's season first appeared on Western Advocate.