WPL 2024 – UP Warriorz name Athapaththu as Bell’s replacement; RCB bring in de Klerk for Knight

UP Warriorz have brought in Chamari Athapaththu as replacement for Lauren Bell, who has withdrawn from the upcoming edition of the Women’s Premier league (WPL). England captain Heather Knight has also pulled out of the upcoming WPL season, with Royal Challengers Bangalore bringing in South Africa allrounder Nadine de Klerk as her replacement.*
England’s women are facing a choice between club and country. ESPNcricinfo has learned that Bell informed the Warriorz set-up recently that she wanted to focus on preparing for the New Zealand series, which begins on March 19 in Dunedin, just two days after the WPL final in Delhi. There is no update yet on the rest of Warriroz’s England contingent, including head coach Jon Lewis (who is also head coach of England Women), Sophie Ecclestone and Danni Wyatt, on whether they would finish their WPL engagements before heading to New Zealand.

The ECB said in a statement: “When schedules were released, it became clear to be available and prepare optimally for the first game of England’s tour to New Zealand would mean missing the end of the WPL campaign and Knight has decided to prioritise participating in the full international tour whilst allowing the franchise to find a replacement for the whole competition.”

“I look forward to giving my best to the team and working closely with head coach Jon Lewis and skipper Alyssa Healy and help my team lift the coveted title,” Athapaththu said. “The WPL is a very dynamic tournament, and the UP Warriorz is a strong squad.”

Athapaththu, the Sri Lanka captain, went unsold during the WPL 2024 auction. This came as a shock to many considering the kind of year she had had in the 20-over format in 2023. She scored 470 runs in 16 T20Is last year at 31.33 at a strike rate of nearly 131 and picked up eight wickets at 26.62. Athapaththu also led Sri Lanka to a historic first series win over England, finishing the series as the leading scorer and the joint-leading wicket-taker.

The 33-year-old Athapaththu had a sensational time of it in domestic T20s as well. Drafted in as an overseas replacement after initially being overlooked in the overseas draft, Athapaththu tore up the WBBL. Turning out for Sydney Thunder, she finished the competition as the second-highest run-scorer with 552 runs, just five runs behind top-scorer Beth Mooney, in 14 innings at 42.46, which included five half-centuries. She also picked up nine wickets at an economy rate of 6.83 and was named the Player of the Tournament.

Athapaththu was more recently involved in the Women’s Super Smash in New Zealand, turning out for Northern Districts, where she scored 221 runs in nine games while striking at 128.48, with one half-century. She also chipped in with nine wickets with best bowling figures of 4 for 19. Northern Districts’ competition ended earlier on Friday when they lost in the Eliminator to Central Districts by 45 runs.

Overall, Athapaththu has played 122 T20Is and scored 2651 runs at 22.65 with eight fifties and one century, the only one scored by a Sri Lankan woman. She has also picked up 40 wickets in the format with an economy rate of 6.70.

Athapaththu was named the ODI Cricketer of the Year by the ICC recently and she also became the first Sri Lankan to top the ODI women’s rankings last year.

At Warriorz, Athapaththu could make for a destructive opening pair with Healy. The 2024 edition of WPL will be played from February 23 to March 17 in Bengaluru and Delhi. Warriorz will begin their campaign on February 24 against Royal Challengers Bangalore.

As for de Klerk, she has played 46 T20Is so far, scoring 419 runs and picking up 35 wickets. The 24-year-old has also had stints in the WBBL and Hundred. She is currently with the South Africa team that is in action in the T20I series in Australia.

*The story was updated at 2.09pm GMT on January 27 after RCB announced Nadine de Klerk as Heather Knight’s replacement

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