Australia’s women can be relied on to put the pride back in our national game
In a year when Australian cricket appears to have lurched from one self-inflicted crisis to another, you could be forgiven for thinking the national game is in a state of universal disrepair.
But that is not the case. Not if you're following the progress of the national women's team at any rate.
Cricket Australia (CA) is still reeling from a damning culture review that this week claimed another pair of high-profile scalps in the form of high performance lead Pat Howard and commercial chief Ben Amarfio; debate continues about suspended trio David Warner, Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft; and the men's team slumped to a record seventh successive ODI loss.
Yet, amid the gloom, the Southern Stars continue to shine brightly.
After series clean sweeps over New Zealand and Pakistan, the Australian women head into the World T20 tournament in the Caribbean this weekend as the top-ranked team and favourite to win it for the fourth time.
The Longstaff review painted a dark picture of the culture at the heart of the men's game. But was at pains to make clear the women's version was not subject to the same failings.
"Australian cricket has lost its balance … and has stumbled badly," the report read.
"The reputation of the game of cricket, as played by men, has been tainted. Women's cricket remains unaffected."
Australian left-arm spinner Jess Jonassen says her team's achievements risk being overlooked amid all the negativity surrounding the sport.
"We just want to make sure that we're not over-run by what's going on in the media, we're just here to focus on winning the T20 World Cup, hopefully," the 26-year-old told the ABC.
"Obviously the best thing for us to do is to win, and to win well, and the attention around that in the media will hopefully take care of itself.
"If we continue to just do that then hopefully the public will be able to have faith restored within cricket in Australia.
"We just try to put a really positive brand of cricket out there and one that all Australians can be proud of."
We want our title back
After winning the biennial World T20 in 2010, 2012 and 2014, the Australians were stung by an eight-wicket loss to the West Indies in the 2016 final in India. It led to a rethinking of the way the team would approach T20 cricket.
"We're just looking to play a really fearless and attacking brand of cricket," Jonassen said.
"I guess we were kind of caught out a little bit there where we might've been a little bit too defensive at times. Or took the foot off the gas a little bit.
"So, I think for us it's a matter of trying to go out all guns blazing and having people in the positions they're best suited to."
Those at the top of the order have a licence to thrill with the knowledge captain Meg Lanning, Rachael Haynes and Ellyse Perry can steady the innings if there are hiccups.
Strength in depth is just another department in which the women are at stark odds to the men.
Jonassen's recent return from injury has only added to that.
Competition for places in the team is intense, with Georgia Wareham, Sophie Molineux and Ashleigh Gardiner also providing spinning options.
Jonassen took 3 for 11 in Australia's 46-run win over South Africa in its practice match in Guyana on Wednesday morning.
"It's a really healthy thing to have. It's a really exciting time to be part of this team and I think everybody just knows if they can perform to the best of their ability, that's all they can really control," she said.
A culture of winning
While the Longstaff report identified a "winning without counting the costs" mentality at CA, the Southern Stars have been ably demonstrating a successful team does not need to cross the line in terms of on-field behaviour.
The clean sweep against Pakistan in Malaysia was perfectly timed, completed as it was just as the damming document landed.
There is a distinct lack of ego within the women's squad currently in the Caribbean. And yet performance levels have outstripped that of their male peers consistently over the past 12 months or more.
Australia opens its tournament on Saturday morning (Australian time) against Pakistan in Guyana. Australia will be favourites. But captain Meg Lanning is mindful of the dangers of complacency.
Pakistan's pace bowlers could be difficult to score against in conditions that require patience.
"They could be really effective. They do target the stumps a lot and bowl that skiddy stuff as well so they're a dangerous team and we know that they're very capable of bowling teams out cheaply," Lanning said.
"And their batting's come a long way as well so we know we have to be up."
New standards to meet
Jonassen said the increasing levels of professionalism in women's cricket has led to a dramatic rise in standards since her first World T20 tournament in 2012.
"It's going to be one of the tightest and highly contested World Cups, so I think that's a really exciting time in the women's game," she said.
"The scores are higher, there's more boundaries, a lot more power hitting and a lot more athleticism out there in the field.
"That goes to show that there's a lot more support throughout the nations within each team that players are actually able to dedicate a significant amount of time to improving their skills.
"It's going to be a pretty exciting next few weeks, that's for sure."