England vice-captain Heather Knight will be writing another series of columns this winter. She is spending her second successive winter in Australia, before England head to South Africa for a limited-overs series in February.
It's been a while since my last column at the end of the summer and it's fair to say quite a lot has happened since then. I'm back in Australia for the inaugural Women's Big Bash League, Mark Robinson has been appointed as our new England women's head coach, and I spent a few days on a bike getting a very sore bum in the PCA's Big Bike Ride.
Robinson takes charge
I was thrilled to hear about the arrival of Mark Robinson as our new head coach. I've never properly met Mark, but his reputation precedes him, and I'm very excited to have the opportunity to work with him, starting in the New Year with our tour to South Africa.
He's enjoyed a lot of success with Sussex over the years and has experience working with the England Lions, so I am sure he'll be great at taking us to the next level as a team.
In the saddle with 'Mrs Bump'
We had a few weeks off from cricket at the end of the season, and somehow I managed to be persuaded by Ali Prosser at the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA) to dust down my bike and don some lycra to get involved in the second PCA Big Bike Ride along with my England team-mates Lydia Greenway and Tammy Beaumont, and 70 other crazy folk.
It was one of those things you say 'yes' to without really thinking how hard it's going to be... it wasn't until I saw David Fulton flip over his handlebars, Matt Coles skid and literally get covered in cow poo, and Geraint Jones' bike get destroyed by a bombing rider that I realised quite what I'd signed up to. I quickly made a note to myself to take it easy on the downhills!
I luckily managed to stay on my bike for the whole ride, which can't be said for Tammy, who spent nearly as much time on the floor as on her bike, earning her the nickname 'Mrs Bump' (most of the falls were when she was stationary, by the way, and she occasionally used a bush to break her fall - actual comedy gold!).
Everyone found their own ways of dealing with the challenge. Darren Gough's was simply to shout out expletives at another upcoming hill, and Rob Key stuffed his cycling jersey with flapjacks at every available food stop.
It was a seriously gruelling ride from Truro to The Oval, covering nearly 390 miles in five days, and was one of the most physically challenging things I've ever done. But completing the ride as a group was amazing and we all got each other through somehow.
Altogether we raised £132,000 for the PCA Benevolent Fund and the Tom Maynard Trust, and boy did we work hard for every penny. Thanks to everyone who donated and supported the ride. Also, Charlotte Edwards has said she'd love to be involved in the next one - you heard it here first (no backing out now, Lot!).
Back to the day job
After a few days of waddling around after the bike ride, it was back into training with the England girls, including a bit of fitness testing before getting back in the nets ready to head out to Australia.
Nine of the England team are out here for the inaugural Women's Big Bash League (WBBL). I'm back playing for Hobart Hurricanes after a stint with Tasmanian Roar (in the Women's National Cricket League - their 50-over domestic competition) last winter.
I'm captaining the side this year, which is a great opportunity, in what's set to be an exciting competition. Eight of the games are also going to be shown live on terrestrial TV as double-headers with the men's Big Bash League, which is great.
|More on the Women's Big Bash League|
|Tournament details - and the England players involved|
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|Fixtures, results and points table (external site)|
We didn't have a match in the first weekend, so while the first WBBL game was getting under way in Melbourne, we packed our sleeping bags and our rations and jumped on a boat to the remote Maria Island just off the east coast of Tasmania for a bit of team building. With no running water or electricity and a shark attack there a few months ago, the girls were a little dubious before setting off to say the least.
The weekend involved a 20km hike uphill, dodging the local wildlife (of which there was heaps) including a real life Tasmanian devil - I was very disappointed it looked nothing like the cartoon character I watched as a kid.
After the hike, our strength and conditioning coach took us for a dip in the water as a bit of recovery, until there was a mass exodus from the water after one of the girls nearly stood on a massive stingray - I've never seen the girls move so quickly!
Facing the 'Renebabes'
After surviving our near-death experience on Maria Island we kicked off our WBBL campaign at Aurora Stadium up in Launceston last weekend. We had a tough schedule of four games in three days against Melbourne Renegades (coincidentally christened the 'Renebabes' (!) - I think Danielle Wyatt might be behind that) and Adelaide Strikers. We couldn't have got off to a better start, recording four wins from four and putting in some great team performances.
I also came up against my England team-mates Danielle Wyatt and Sarah Taylor. It was nice to play against them for a change, but I was glad to see the back of them with the bat, as they both got off to blistering starts against us.
There's been a real buzz about the competition over here and it was good to get a few in to watch our opening game under lights.
The media has really bought into covering the matches and, with each team allowed three overseas players, it's great to be able to test our skills against some of the best players in the world. It's definitely got me excited for the launch of our own Women's Cricket Super League, which is starting in England next summer.
It's set to be a busy few months with the WBBL before heading off on international duty to South Africa in February and the ICC Women's World Twenty20 in India in March - exciting times!