Big Bash League Preview
Updated: Jan 14
Two posts in a week! I am spoiling you, aren't I?
Well, I hope you think I am, anyway. Way back when I wrote my little introductory piece about how I intended to go about updating this blog, I said that I would up the posts to more than one a week if there was a need for it, such as if there was a major event happening.
Well, now there is, so here we go with an inaugural Thursday post! The first game of the cheerful, colourful, wonderful phenomenon that is the Australian Big Bash League took place this morning, with the Hobart Hurricanes hosting the Sydney Sixers at the Blundstone Arena. Fear not, though; I won't spoil the result if you don't know it!
Over the next 58 days, eight teams from six cities will do battle in 60 further matches across eleven venues to decide a champion in the tenth edition of Australia's premier T20 competition.
Who will triumph? Will the Perth Scorchers, the competition's most successful team, win their fourth title? Or perhaps this will finally be the year that one of the Hobart Hurricanes or the Melbourne Stars, the two that have never won the tournament, break their respective ducks?
We shall have to wait until the 6th February and see. What I'm going to do here is take you through the eight teams one-by-one and preview the tournament.
Oh, one final thing before we get going - I do have a team that I support, but I'll leave it up to you to guess who they are!
The Strikers' stand-out player is undoubtedly Afghanistan's Rashid Khan, who currently sits atop the ICC's world rankings for T20 bowlers. Also lining up in blue will be Australian internationals Alex Carey, and Travis Head, who will assume the roles of vice-captain and captain, respectively.
Coach Jason Gillespie knows who he likes and likes who he knows. He has just left the role of head coach at Sussex after three years, and the Strikers' squad includes no fewer than four players who also represented the Hove side during Gillespie's tenure. Alongside Khan and Carey, spinner Danny Briggs and batsman Phil Salt will also call South Australia home this season. It would be five, had Head not been unable to take up a stint on the south coast this year due to Covid-19.
The boys in blue are a dangerous side, and one full of quality. They have a single BBL title in their cabinet - that of BBL07, when they defeated Hobart Hurricanes in the final, and will go into this tournament with confidence. I would certainly back them to make the playoffs.
Although I've visited the MCG, the only Big Bash ground I've actually watched a game at is the Gabba, when I went for the opening match of the Ashes in 2017. I can confirm there is definitely a reason the league's Brisbane side are called the Heat, as we sat gently roasting in 35 degree temperatures on Day 1 of that game.
Heat may also refer to their players' ability to smoke the ball to all parts, and no one does that better than Chris Lynn. Hitter of some of the biggest sixes I've ever seen, the Australian opener can single-handedly dismantle bowling attacks, and at the other end of the order they too have an Afghanistan spinner who can put a stranglehold on the middle overs in Mujeeb Ur Rahman.
Domestic players Tom Cooper, Joe Burns, and the all-time leading wicket taker in the BBL, Ben Laughlin, will be looking for successful seasons, but I'm not sure if the Heat have the credentials to go all the way. The playoffs are possible, but winning the trophy? Unlikely.
It is tantamount to the competitiveness of the BBL that six different teams have won the title in its first nine years of existence, and all eight have competed in at least one final. However, that does mean that two are yet to taste victory, and the Hurricanes are one such side.
Much of whether that run ends this season will depend on the current world number one T20 batsman, Dawid Malan, who has signed up for his first taste of the Big Bash, a tournament that gets underway just days after he reached the highest ever rating for a T20 batsman. Another of the Hurricanes' overseas players, big-hitting South African Colin Ingram, will need to make hay with the bat in order for Tasmania's Team to have a successful 2020-21.
Domestically, the Hurricanes can call upon an extremely talented T20 batsman, and mainstay of the Australian T20 side, D'Arcy Short, as well as two former Melbourne Stars, Peter Handscomb and all-rounder James Faulkner. A lot depends on the Hurricanes' batting, because they may well have to set/chase big scores, but if they can fire, I see no reason why they can't make the playoffs.
Anyone worked out who I support yet? Yes, the Renegades are my team, and have been ever since I visited Melbourne on that trip down under in 2017 and bought myself a replica shirt. It has Mars as the main sponsor, and although the maker of Twix and Snickers no longer adorns the front of the shirt, I think winning the title might still require an interstellar effort from the Renegades.
That's not to say we've got no chance, given the team does feature superstar opener Aaron Finch and the Big Bash's most prolific spinner Cameron Boyce, but the loss of several key players - Tom Cooper and Dan Christian among them - will weigh heavily on our chances. The retention, however, of Afghan all-rounder Mohammad Nabi, affectionately known as 'The President', will provide a boost, but I fear that a lack of strength in depth could imperil our chances.
I will remain hopeful, but we will need Finch and Shaun Marsh to fire if we are to make the playoffs. Unless those senior players can both lead from the front and put up great numbers, I might end up watching this year's tournament through my fingers.
The green side of Melbourne, along with the Hurricanes, is the other team never to have lifted the BBL trophy, and the expression 'always the bridesmaid, never the bride' is particularly appropriate for the Stars. They have reached the semi-finals on every occasion bar one, and have appeared in three finals, but remain without silverware.
It is no surprise then, that despite their repeated habit of falling at the final hurdle, they usually do have one of the strongest squads in the competition, and that remains true for BBL10. Marcus Stoinis is one of Australia's premier limited-overs all-rounders, and despite the loss of overseas Jonny Bairstow, they can still count on Glenn Maxwell, a global name, and the colossal strikes of West Indies wicketkeeper Nicholas Pooran.
The Stars are jam-packed with talent all the way down the order, and in the bowling department can boast spinner Adam Zampa and the vastly-experienced Nathan Coulter-Nile. That squad really should be enough to take them on a deep playoff run, but can they win it? Yes, they can, but whether they will or not is another matter. Anyway, there's someone else I'm tipping for the title.
The Scorchers are over 1,500 miles from their nearest fellow Big Bash team (the Adelaide Strikers, incidentally), and are also quite a distance ahead of the rest of the pack, having won three of the nine tournaments to date. Yet, I'm doubtful of the Western Australians' chances of winning the tournament this year. I'll happily eat my words if that backfires, but I look at the squad and see an alarming lack of big hitters.
Of the team's overseas players, I would say only Jason Roy is worthy of the mantle of international standard big hitter. Although Roy's compatriot Liam Livingstone has repeatedly done well in the English T20 Blast, the Big Bash is a level above in terms of quality, and looking at their Australian batsmen, can you really describe Cameron Bancroft, as undoubtedly good a player as he is, as a T20 destructor?
I think the Scorchers will be a little too reliant on their bowling attack this year, and as much as it may be able to win them games - it does feature internationals Jason Behrendorff and Andrew Tye, two excellent T20 quicks - I can't see it winning them the tournament.
With the Scorchers, the defending champions are are the only other side to have won more than one Big Bash trophy, and if I was a Perth fan, I'd be concerned the Sixers could pull level this year. Somehow, the men in magenta appear to be even better than last year with the addition of Dan Christian from the Renegades, a significant loss for us - no, I'm not crying - and despite Tom Curran pulling out of the tournament, they still have a marvellous overseas quartet.
One member of that quartet is Carlos Brathwaite, who hammered the West Indies to victory in the 2016 World T20 with four sixes in a row in the final as commentator Ian Bishop screamed that we should "remember the name!". Well, the Sixers certainly remembered his name, and he enters his second spell in Sydney with a real chance of glory.
They will also get the odd game out of titans of modern Australian cricket Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc. I'm tipping the Sixers to defend their title this year.
We conclude our whistle-stop tour of the BBL on the green side of Sydney, with the perpetual whipping boys of the league. With the exception of BBL05, when they came out of nowhere to win the tournament, the Thunder have at all other times failed to reach the final, and have finished bottom of the league on four occasions.
Unfortunately, I have little hope for them to again buck that trend this season. They have a gun T20 batsman at the top of the order in Englishman Alex Hales, but are lacking in other key areas, and will desperately need senior players Callum Ferguson and Usman Khawaja to fire. They will win games, but I'm doubtful they can string a run together to make the knockout stages.
Bowlers Daniel Sams and new addition Ben Cutting may well have good individual seasons - having just made his full Australian T20 debut, Sams in particular will be looking to be in the wickets to confirm his place in the national side in the final BBL before the World T20. Alas, I can't see it being enough for his team though, and I see the Thunder crashing out prior to the Eliminator game.
Well, there we have it. All I can do now is hand over to the teams to do their jobs.
One thing's for sure - as ever, it will be a rip-roaring ride featuring some of the world's biggest names at the top of their game, and I'm very excited to see what happens.
I hope you are too!