WBBL 2023-24 – Melbourne Renegades hope ‘exceptional’ leader Hayley Matthews can continue golden year

The legspinner was wearing her Melbourne Renegades red at the WBBL launch in Melbourne. Her smile had replaced a look of dread that she had while wearing green for Australia’s T20I side when bowling to her new Renegades captain Matthews, who was playing for West Indies, at North Sydney Oval earlier this month.

“She made it nearly impossible for us to bowl to her,” Wareham said. “She puts a lot of pressure on the bowler and makes sure that if you miss then it’s probably going the distance. We all found it very difficult during those T20s to be able to contain her and we obviously didn’t do a very good job of it.

“Hopefully she didn’t use all those runs in the T20 series and she can save some for us.”

Wareham’s smile matched that of her Renegades coach Simon Helmot at the inaugural WBBL overseas draft last month. While most of the pre-draft buzz surrounded Perth Scorchers’ dilemma of which world-class allrounder to retain between Sophie Devine and Marizanne Kapp, Renegades walked away with arguably the best players in the draft in Matthews and Harmanpreet Kaur, knowing full well they had already secured Tammy Beaumont as a direct signing.

Beyond what Matthews has shown with her batting and bowling over the last 12 months – including winning player of the tournament in the WPL, player of the CPL final, and eight consecutive T20I player of the match awards capped by three in a row against Australia this month – Helmot was delighted he had secured a world-class leader to captain the side after Sophie Molineux was ruled out of the tournament with injury.

I think her versatility in her game, she’s a multi-skill player and an excellent fielder, and then with her leadership, she’s got all bases covered

Simon Helmot on Hayley Matthews

“Part of our planning was we wanted to make sure we could secure a leader,” Helmot told ESPNcricinfo. “Hayley [captained] for us in the last two or three games last year, and she was exceptional. And she really enjoyed her time with the Renegades last season and became very invested.

“What impressed me is her team-first attitude. She’s obviously captain of her country, but her appetite to support others, to lead and care for others is firstly one of her greatest attributes.”

Helmot has coached some of the world’s best T20 players in the men’s game having worked in the IPL, CPL and BBL and he speaks as highly of Matthews as any player he’s ever coached. Without trying to make any direct comparisons, he said her growth as a triple-threat T20 player and a leader had reminded him of Dwayne Bravo, who he coached at Victoria, Renegades, and with St Kitts & Nevis Patriots in the CPL where the pair combined as captain and coach to win the 2021 title.

“Her ability to read the game and change gears, it’s not all crash and bash,” Helmot said. “She can hit boundaries, but also her ability to manipulate strike and rotate strike and grow partnerships. That’s what I’ve seen from batting point of view. From her bowling point of view, she has a good understanding of when to attack and when to hold on tight and defend.

“I think her versatility in her game, she’s a multi-skill player and an excellent fielder, and then with her leadership, she’s got all bases covered.”

The respect between the coach and the new Renegades captain cuts both ways. Matthews herself had a broad smile on her face after catching up with Helmot upon her arrival in Melbourne.

“We went to one of the pubs and had a chat,” Matthews said. “Great guy and obviously had the opportunity to work with him last year in the WBBL so it’s just great to be back and have him at the helm of the team coaching as well.”

Helmot has made a special effort to reach out to all his players ahead of the season. He travelled from Victoria to South Australia to visit three of his players, Josie Dooley, Courtney Webb and Emma de Broughe, who are based there. He also travelled to New South Wales to visit Sarah Coyte and set up zoom chats with Matthews, Harmanpreet and Beaumont.

Part of his mantra since taking the Renegades’ role ahead of the Covid-affected 2021-22 season was to create a home-away-from-home environment for his players. It led to the long-languishing Renegades having their best-ever WBBL season, finishing second on the table before losing the Challenger to Adelaide Strikers. But he also wanted to learn more about how to get the best out of each individual as they chase that elusive WBBL title.

“I wanted to dig deeper about how I could assist players and how our coaching group could assist players in preparing them to be the best that they can be and perform the best that they can,” he said.

“Whether you’re a senior player or a new player, you still want to have role clarity. To have a discussion about that outside of training is just a good reminder for me that, no matter what the experience, a Sarah Coyte still wants to know her role and how she can best work in within the team.

“Secondly, it just gave me a good reminder that some players like to prepare in certain ways and not one size fits all. Even though team strategy is paramount, I’ve got to make sure that I’m still versatile, our coaching staff are still versatile and flexible enough to support our players.”

While he wants his players to be happy and comfortable, he also wants them to play with an edge and take the game on. He believes his leaders in Matthews and Harmanpreet will set that tone.

“I said on draft night we want to play with edge and we know with Hayley Matthews and Harmanpreet Kaur you get edge,” Helmot said. “Tammy Beaumont with experience and edge. Jess Duffin has a no-nonsense approach and has high expectations of herself and her team-mates.

“I think we’ve got more experience in our squad this year. And that’s not just through recruitment but also being able to get some players back in Wareham and Duffin. We’ll miss Soph heaps, she would have rounded the whole thing off, but I think we’ve just got probably a harder edge to our list.”

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo

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