Alex Blackwell keen to work with 'huge signing' Harmanpreet Kaur
The recruitment of Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana to the Kia Super League (KSL) is an "endorsement" of the pair's impressive T20 calibre. That is the verdict of former Australia vice-captain Alex Blackwell, who will be debuting in a coaching role in the third edition of the English T20 tournament.
Harmanpreet, India's T20I captain, and her deputy Mandhana will represent Lancashire Thunder and Western Storm respectively, the first Indian players to participate in the KSL. The signings have increased the buzz around the tournament, which begins on Sunday with a triple-header.
"From a coach's point of view, I don't see much more than that we're recruiting the best players in the world," Blackwell, Thunder's head coach, told ESPNcricinfo. "We want to be attracting the best players from around the world to make sure the Kia Super League is a world-class tournament. One of the highest priorities is to ensure it produces the highest-quality England players, but also to make sure it's highly engaging for the fans."
Mandhana has also been an opponent of Blackwell in the Women's Big Bash League, playing for Brisbane Heat in 2016. As for Harmanpreet, few have seen her big-hitting skills from closer quarters than Blackwell, who has captained her for two consecutive seasons at Sydney Thunder. It's no surprise then that Blackwell, Australia's most-capped female international player and an astute cricketing mind, attaches such currency to the value the signings.
"I think it's wonderful to have a diverse group of players in a tournament like this and have young players learn from this diversity, how these players go about their business," Blackwell said. "For instance, Harmanpreet goes about her business quite differently to what I do - there's no right or wrong. As elite cricketers or even as coaches, you accumulate knowledge from all parts of the world and to your exposure to different players. So I think the addition of Harmanpreet and Smriti will be great to both teams they are part of."
Later in the year, after the World T20, Harmanpreet will join Blackwell for her third season at Sydney Thunder. The two-year extension of Harmanpreet's WBBL contract, on a back of her prolific debut season in 2016 and, more memorably, her match-winning 171 not-out in the World Cup semi-final last year, is further proof, according to Blackwell, of Harmanpreet's stand-out qualities as an all-round T20 cricketer. That may have played a bigger part in Lancashire roping in Harmanpreet than Blackwell being coach.
"It's a huge endorsement, yes, to try and get Harmanpreet on. I was coach here so she may have found that appealing, but I'm not so certain, to be honest [if that was a factor]. I have been in touch with her through the process, letting her know I would love to work with her [as player and coach]. Knowing how huge an addition she could be to the team, I was keen to let her know I would love to have her here.
"It's quite remarkable how a person of such slight built can hit the ball so powerfully, and I guess it comes down to her flair and her technique. It's lovely to watch. We've enjoyed the time we've interacted together at Sydney Thunder and I'm looking forward to working with her here in Lancashire in a slightly different capacity."
Harmanpreet is most likely to miss Thunder's tournament opener on Sunday, due to a delay in her visa. The season, however, presents her with an opportunity to bring the focus back on her cricket in the wake of a tumultuous time back home. For Thunder, it's a chance to improve on their last-place finish in both editions of the six-team competition; for Blackwell, to make the most of an offer that came about through her final game for the NSW Breakers, where she captained the state side to the title against Western Australia.
"I think it was a case of right place and right time for both me and the team," Blackwell said. "At the end of my final match for NSW, our 19TH WNCL title, I was talking to [England and Lancashire seamer] Kate Cross, one of the senior players, and Nicole Bolton was heading over to play for Thunder. Theirs is a very talented team but may not have had the kind of success they had been hoping for.
"I understood they were looking to bolster the resources for the team. So they were looking for an injection of new ideas maybe, I guess with someone like me, with my 17 years of experience in domestic cricket, 17 domestic titles, five world cups, having seen many successful domestic teams and led many of them."