The Australian Domestic T20 Big Bash League is upon us again after the successful fourth instalment was taken out by the Perth Scorchers for the second consecutive season in a classic against the Sydney Sixers. The BBL04 Grand Final featured perhaps the most epic T20 finale ever witnessed, as a quick single and botched run out opportunity gave the Scorchers victory off the final ball of the match. The competition was a yet again a massive winner on free to air television for Network Ten, who continued to enjoy great ratings throughout its duration. The popularity of the league appears to grow with every season, which is justified by bigger membership tallies and consistent attendances. The Semi-Final between the Strikers and Sixers at the Adelaide Oval attracted a record crowd of 52,633, absolutely ridiculous numbers for domestic match. With names like Chris Gayle and Kumar Sangakkara signed up for the new season, don’t be surprised to see similar numbers produced during BBL05.
There are minimal changes to the BBL05 format, with teams playing eight home and away fixtures, ending with the top four playing off for a “Big Final” berth like past seasons. BBL05 will begin on Thursday December 17th with the Sydney Thunder hosting the Sydney Sixers at its new permanent home Spotless Stadium, before finishing with the Final on Sunday January 24th. The finals format will return to the highest seeded teams hosting games, after Canberra was used as a neutral venue for the Final last season.
Can the Perth Scorchers make its fifth Final and win a third consecutive Title? Can the Melbourne Stars finally end its Semi Final hoodoo and overcome the expectation of pretournament favouritism? We’ll take a team by team look across the competition to see who is up to standard for BBL05.
Title Odds: $9.00
Ins: Adil Rashid (England), Kelvin Smith, Billy Stanlake, Hamish Kingston, Alex Keath, Mahela Jayawardena
Outs of Note: Ryan ten Doeschate, Adam Zampa (Melbourne Stars), Johan Botha (Sydney Sixers), Shaun Tait (Hobart Hurricanes)
Retained: Michael Neser, Brad Hodge, Alex Ross, Ben Laughlin, Craig Simmons, Gary Putland, Kane Richardson, Tim Ludeman, Travis Head, Jono Dean, Jon Holland
The Adelaide Strikers were the hard luck story of BBL04. After finishing three points clear on top of the table after the home and away fixtures, the Strikers capitulated in front of 52,633 during the Semi-Final at Adelaide Oval to be bowled out for 94. After six brilliant victories, it only took one bad performance and a rampaging Nic Maddinson to end a promising season. You get the feeling that the Strikers may have missed its best chance for a title, especially with key players on the move.
The Adelaide Strikers weren’t the most dominant side of BBL04 with bat in hand, but more often than not managed to get the job done. Four of its six wins were completed on the chase, as the bowlers held up their end of the bargain to make the batsmen’s jobs far easier. Tim Ludeman and Travis Head had good seasons with 253 and 211 runs respectively, but they were the only two Adelaide batsmen to feature in the top 15 run scorers for the season. Craig Simmons was solid with 183 runs, but couldn’t replicate his heroics for Perth during BBL03. Brad Hodge will be like a new recruit for the Strikers after he missed a majority of BBL04 with a broken arm. While you can’t pin your hopes on a 41 year old, he proved during the Caribbean Premier League that he can still have an impact after 298 runs at a strike rate of 141.23 for Guyana. Unfortunately for the Strikers, star import Kieron Pollard will miss the entire competition after injuring his right knee. The Strikers have managed to replace him with retired star Sri Lankan Mahela Jayawardena, but he doesn’t quite possess the same striking power Adelaide need. Jayawardena will no doubt make plenty of runs though.
Adelaide’s strength of BBL04 was its flexible bowling line up and while it still possesses quality, the loss of Zampa, Botha and Tait will test the depth of the squad. Those three accounted for 24 wickets last season, so others will need to set up in their absence. Richardson and Laughlin were Adelaide’s key strike bowlers last season and they’ll need to produce similar performances at a minimum for their side to be competitive. Jon Holland has been a very successful List A bowler over the last few seasons and has an opportunity to make the spin position his. Holland took 14 wickets at an average of 17.85 during the recent Matador Cup competition and will compliment English leg-spinner Adil Rashid well.
The Adelaide Strikers had a great BBL04 finishing top of the table, but I feel they are going to struggle replicating those highs. Its batting order had good moments last season, but it was held up by a strong bowling attack and looks thin again. The loss of Zampa, Botha and Tait hurts further, placing greater pressure on Richardson and Laughlin to perform. A top four spot looks a long way off at this stage.
Title Odds: $11.00
Ins: Samuel Badree, Lendl Simmons (West Indies), Andrew Fekete, Alex Doolan (Renegades), Luke Feldman (Stars), Jack Wildermuth, Mitchell Swepson, Josh Lalor.
Outs of Note: Dan Vettori (retired), Dan Christian, Simon Milenko (Hobart), Andrew Flintoff, Ryan Harris (retired), Shane Watson (Thunder), Stephen Parry.
Retained: Nick Buchanan, Joe Burns, Ben Cutting, Jason Floros, Peter Forrest, James Hopes, Chris Lynn, Jimmy Peirson, Nathan Reardon, Mark Steketee
The Brisbane Heat were the most disappointing side of BBL04 after only two victories and a bottom of the table finish. The only people who were happy to see them claim the wooden spoon were those involved at the Sydney Thunder, ending a three season stint as cellar dwellers. The Heat will be looking for a sharp climb into the top four after numerous list changes.
Brisbane Heat’s batting order had some poor moments last season, but strangely enough ended the home and away rounds as the highest scoring side with 1235 runs. Chris Lynn, Peter Forrest and Nathan Reardon all produced good seasons, but it wasn’t enough to hold up a bowling attack that constantly leaked runs and most importantly couldn’t take a wicket. Unfortunately, its batting order is going to be weaker than those involved at the Heat had hoped. The now fully available Shane Watson has joined Sydney Thunder, while top order striker Dan Christian and the promising Simon Milenko have headed south to Hobart. On top of that, key international signing Brendon McCullum has opted out of the tournament due to his New Zealand commitments. He has been replaced by West Indian Lendl Simmons, who was the second highest run scorer at the IPL with 540 runs. The Heat are also likely to see a lot less of Joe Burns, who is now playing regular Test and ODI cricket for Australia. Excluding Ben Cutting and Chris Lynn, Brisbane do appear to be lacking big hitters of the ball.
I don’t think it is too harsh to say that Brisbane were atrocious with the ball in BBL04. The bowlers struggled to hit consistent line and lengths, which resulted in high economy rates and minimal wicket taking opportunities. The biggest problem at the end of the day was the lack of wickets, which is usually the easiest way to drop a double figure run rate. The Heat could only manage a mindboggling 36 wickets for the entire competition. That just isn’t good enough. Dan Christian was the highest wicket taker with only 6, while Hopes and Duffield took 5 each. The likes of Steketee, Fekete, Feldman and Lalor must create greater opportunities this season or the Heat will be at the wrong end of the table again. An interesting signing is Samuel Badree, who couldn’t see out his contract last year due to injury. The legspinner holds a career T20 average of 18.42 from 115 matches, as well as an economy rate of 5.25 per over. The Heat will be desperate to see him produce those numbers in the light blue kit.
The Brisbane Heat don’t have to do much to improve on last season, but the off season list changes aren’t exactly eye catching. In fact you could easier argue that they have lost more talent than they have gained. Taking greater amounts of wickets is key to their success and while they are sure generate more chances, is the bowling attack strong enough to lift this side off the bottom of the table? I’m not confident.
Title Odds: $9.00
Ins: Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka), Shaun Tait (Adelaide), Dan Christian, Simon Milenko (both Brisbane), Clive Rose (Stars).
Outs of Note: Evan Gulbis, Ben Hilfenhaus (Stars), Alex Hales, Tim Bresnan, Shoaib Malik, Xavier Doherty (Renegades)
Retained: Tim Paine, Ben Dunk, Cameron Boyce, Darren Sammy, Jake Reed, Timm van der Gugten, Michael Hill, Sam Rainbird, Jon Wells, Beau Webster, George Bailey, Dom Michael, Joe Mennie.
The Hobart Hurricanes had a solid BBL04 finishing mid table, ultimately falling four points short of a Semi-Final berth. The new season has those at Blundstone Arena filled with optimism though, especially after securing one of the biggest names in world cricket. The signing of Kumar Sangakkara certainly has the Hobart folk excited.
Hobart went into BBL04 with one of the strongest batting line ups on paper, but they just couldn’t get going. The Hurricanes failed to have a batsman score over 200 runs and while their guns didn’t have terrible seasons, no one took a stranglehold of games. Ben Dunk finished with the most runs for the Hurricanes with 175, but he couldn’t reach the highs of his player of the tournament form during BBL03. Paine, Bailey and Wells all had moments, but they just weren’t consistent enough. The thing is, we all know these guys can bat. Add Sangakarra and Christian to the setup and all of a sudden you have the most dangerous batting line up in the competition. In no particular order, a line-up of Paine, Dunk, Sangakkara, Bailey, Christian, Wells and Sammy just works when seen in the one sentence. There is enough talent and depth there to suggest that at least one of these guys will fire during an innings. There is balance and most importantly there is fast scoring ability. It will be interesting to see how the order takes shape and if it can live up to the expectation.
When you load up in one particular area to have an obvious strength for a salary cap structured squad, there needs to be sacrifices. In this case it is the Hurricanes bowling depth. It is an inexperienced seam attack to say the least with the likes of Reed, van der Gugten and Rainbird required to do a lot of work. Reed was great last season with 8 wickets from 5 games, while Shaun Tait brings experience into the squad after a successful stint for Essex during the NatWest T20 Blast that garnered 23 wickets in 14 games. Cameron Boyce is a quality leggy who will again create chances after 10 BBL04 wickets, while Clive Rose will offer support. The Hurricanes do possess wicket takers, but there is certainly an element of risk, especially with Doherty and Hilfenhaus relocating to Victoria. Christian and Sammy will be handy medium pace options during the middle overs.
The Hurricanes are a genuine title contender and so they should be considering their signings. Whether the bowling holds up remains to be seen, but that batting order should ensure Hobart are capable of beating any side on their day. A top fourth finish is the lowest of expectations. The Hurricanes are going to be an enjoyable team to watch at the very least. Hobart are outstanding value at $9.00 for the title.
Title Odds: $6.00
Ins: Cameron White (Stars), Chris Gayle (West Indies), Xavier Doherty (Hurricanes), Nathan Hauritz (Thunder), Chris Tremain (Thunder), Guy Walker
Outs of Note: Ben Stokes, Shakib Al-Hasan, Andre Russell, Ben Rohrer, Fawad Ahmed (Sydney Thunder), Andrew Fekete, Alex Doolan (Heat), Aaron O’Brien.
Retained: Aaron Finch, Matthew Wade, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Callum Ferguson, Nathan Rimmington, Tom Cooper, Tom Beaton, Matthew Short, Nick Winter, Dwayne Bravo, Peter Nevill
The Melbourne Renegades had a lacklustre BBL04 campaign, finishing 6th on the table and never really threatening to make the top four. But like the Hobart Hurricanes, strong recruiting has given the Renegades reason to believe that the new season has plenty to offer. Chris Gayle is the marquee signing, but Cameron White and Xavier Doherty are likely to play significant parts as well.
The Melbourne Renegades have been heavily reliant on skipper Aaron Finch making runs for it to be competitive in previous seasons, but BBL04 saw his prolific T20 streak come to an end. He could only manage 108 runs from seven innings, while Matthew Wade and Callum Ferguson were the only players to score over 150 runs with 168 and 165 respectively. It just wasn’t enough, which makes the recruitment of Gayle and White so significant. Chris Gayle is coming off the T20 calendar year of his career after dominating all the major short format competitions. He scored 491 runs at 40.91 during the IPL, 430 runs at 61.42 during the CPL and 328 runs from only 3 innings in the NatWest T20 Blast, including an innings of 151 from just 62 balls. He was seeing the ball like never before, but there is a catch. Gayle only started playing again on December 6th after back surgery in July, which isn’t the most ideal preparation for the Renegades. In saying that, he managed to smash 92 from 47 balls for the Barisal Bulls in the BPL on December 9th, suggesting he is still seeing the ball like a watermelon. The potential of an opening partnership between Chris Gayle and Aaron Finch in full flight will send shivers through every Australian domestic bowler, but will be one of the greatest scenes set in the relatively short Big Bash history. Cameron White will also enter BBL05 under prepared after being dropped from the Bushranger’s Shield side. He’s been toiling away at club level, but has been in the runs. Matthew Wade has missed the last few weeks of domestic cricket due to a broken collarbone, but is on track to be available for the Renegade’s first game.
The Renegades struggled to field the same bowling attack last season due to availability, injury and form, which created inconsistency. It resulted in Shakib Al-Hasan becoming the leading wicket taker with 7 wickets from just 4 games, as the likes of Pattinson, Siddle and Bravo rotated through the side. The Renegades have an impressive full strength bowling attack, but with injuries to key Australian bowlers, Pattinson and Siddle are likely to have national duties. The signing of Xavier Doherty is important, as his left arm orthodox spinners will suit the slower Etihad Stadium drop in wickets. West Indians Bravo and Gayle will also have key roles with the ball. Winter and Tremain are likely to be called upon when Pattinson and Siddle are unavailable.
The Renegades have addressed their list needs well and recruited accordingly. Gayle and Finch are two of the most dangerous opening batsmen on the planet and could cause complete havoc as a combination. If the Gades can keep a consistent bowling attack on the field, the men in red will be in serious contention for silverware.
Title Odds: $4.50
Ins: Adam Zampa (Strikers), Evan Gulbis, Ben Hilfenhaus (Hurricanes), Sam Harper
Outs of Note: Cameron White (Melbourne Renegades), Jackson Bird (Sydney Sixers), Clive Rose (Hurricanes), Luke Feldman (Heat), Clint McKay (Thunder)
Retained: Michael Beer, Scott Boland, James Faulkner, Peter Handscomb, John Hastings, David Hussey, Glenn Maxwell, Kevin Pietersen, Rob Quiney, Marcus Stoinis, Tom Triffitt, Dan Worrall, Luke Wright.
The Melbourne Stars have constantly been regarded the team to beat over its existence in the Big Bash League, but four Semi-Final losses in four seasons is a major underachievement for a side that has more often than not had an international standard line-up. The Stars go into BBL05 again as favourite and with every failure comes greater pressure to succeed. It is now time for the Stars to justify its reputation.
The Melbourne Stars weren’t as dominant with bat in hand as previous seasons, but they conjured enough runs to make a fourth consecutive Semi-Final. Kevin Pietersen was the Star’s big name recruit before last year’s competition and it is fair to say that he lived up to the expectation. He was easily his side’s most consistent batsman, gathering 293 runs at an average of 41.85, while striking at a respectable 122.59 runs per 100 balls. Only Michael Klinger scored more runs during BBL04, which suggests that his apparent large fee was money well spent. Pietersen and fellow Englishman Luke Wright have been retained for BBL05, but the latter will be looking to lift his output. Wright scored the Stars third most runs with 170, but failed to reach 50 after some profilic seasons beforehand. He was outstanding for Sussex during the NatWest T20 Blast scoring 564 runs at a strike rate of 171.95, form Stars hierarchy will be hoping to witness in Australia again. The Stars will be looking for greater contributions from Glenn Maxwell early in the competition, while Peter Handscombe and Marcus Stoinis will be seen far more often. Cameron White has left to join crosstown rival the Renegades and will be a loss at the top of the order despite not performing to his best last season.
The Stars bowling options look outstanding on paper, but there was a ridiculously high reliance on John Hastings taking wickets last season. The big quick ended up with a brilliant 16 wickets, the most in the competition and double any of his teammates. He had a massive role at the end of the innings, where his changes of pace and accuracy were vital. To lessen the load on Hastings, the Stars have recruited Ben Hilfenhaus and Adam Zampa as wicket taking options. The likes of James Faulkner and Scott Boland will also be looking to have greater impacts with their seamers. Jackson Bird is a big loss to the Sixers, but he struggled to adjust from his precise first class line and length last year. There is definitely scope for improvement with ball in hand for the Stars.
The Stars are certainly in contention for a fifth consecutive finals berth, but you get the feeling that the middle of the road sides have closed the gap. The Stars best XI always looks outstanding, but come the business time of the Big Bash League, they are usually stripped of key Australian ODI players. Glenn Maxwell and James Faulkner are vital cogs to their structure, but just can’t be considered during the finals which hurt last season.
Title Odds: $4.50
Ins: David Willey (England)
Outs of Note: Yasir Arafat
Retained: Ashton Agar, Cameron Bancroft, Jason Behrendorff, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Marcus Harris, Michael Klinger, Mitch Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Simon Mackin, James Muirhead, Joel Paris, Ashton Turner, Andrew Tye, Adam Voges, Sam Whiteman, Brad Hogg, Michael Carberry.
The Perth Scorchers are almost the complete opposite of the Melbourne Stars. They are forever underestimated, yet constantly succeed and are now clearly the best performed franchise over the first four seasons of the Big Bash. The Scorchers have made the Grand Final every year the concept has existed and enter BBL05 with the opportunity of becoming the first side to achieve an Australian domestic T20 three-peat.
Perth never appear to have a batting order chock full of superstars, but they have a blend of very experienced, efficient cricketers that just get the job done. It also helps that come finals time, they find a way to field their best XI. Michael Klinger was the star last year, leading the competition for runs with 326 at 36.22. He looks set for another season of prolific numbers after dominating the NatWest T20 Blast in England with 654 runs at 81.75 for Gloucestershire (including three centuries), before coming home and producing a very solid Australian domestic season to date. A slow Michael Carberry start to BBL04 has been long forgotten by Perth officials after the Englishman finished the season with 266 runs and a number of vital innings late in the campaign, earning himself a second Big Bash contract. As we tend to mention most seasons, the Scorchers middle order depth will be tested early with the likes of the Marsh brothers and Adam Voges representing Australia. Cameron Bancroft, Ashton Turner and Sam Whiteman will all be given early opportunities with the bat and must take advantage or face losing their positions with the usual late influx of national representatives. New international signing David Willey is also likely to have a major impact with the bat after scoring a T20 century for Northamptonshire earlier in the year. Despite batting bottom three for England in internationals, he possesses the required late striking power that the Scorchers have perhaps lacked occasionally.
The Perth Scorcher’s bowling has been the best feature of its back to back title reign, constantly defending small totals or making life easier for its batsmen to chase. The Scorchers ended with three of the top four highest wicket takers in Behrendorff, Arafat and Tye, while the never aging Brad Hogg constantly looked dangerous and went at a miserly 5.33 runs per over. However, there are serious question marks on the Perth attack this season. Strike bowler Jason Behrendorff has missed the last month of cricket with a back injury and was in serious doubt to miss the entire tournament. Thankfully, Western Australian officials have eased those fears, but he isn’t a guarantee to start the season. Nathan Coulter-Nile has been nursing a severe hamstring injury all domestic season and despite now being fit, has been drafted straight into the Test squad anyway. Yasir Arafat won’t return for BBL05, but David Willey is a more than capable replacement after taking 8 wickets in his first four T20 games for England. There are concerns, but Paris, Mackin and Agar provide fairly decent depth.
The Perth Scorchers look set to contend for a third title in a row, despite there being doubts to key players. The availability of those players late in the season will ultimately determine whether the three-peat is achieved, but this team has always found a way to make the Grand Final. Dare we doubt them again this season? I think not.
Title Odds: $7.50
Ins: Johan Botha (Strikers), Jackson Bird (Stars), Mickey Edwards, Ming Li, Soumil Chhibber
Outs of Note: Brett Lee (retired), Riki Wessels.
Retained: Sean Abbott, Doug Bollinger, Ryan Carters, Ed Cowan, Ben Dwarshuis, Brad Haddin, Josh Hazlewood, Moises Henriques, Nathan Lyon, Nic Maddinson, Stephen O’Keefe, Jordan Silk, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Michael Lumb.
The Sydney Sixers fell agonisingly short of a second Big Bash title in the BBL04 Grand Final against Perth, as Moises Henriques fumbled a run out assist opportunity to hand his opposition the trophy. It is difficult to think of a sporting situation to hurt an individual and his team more, but the Sixers will be out extract revenge in BBL05.
The Sydney Sixers hold arguably the most talented squad in the competition, but they rarely get an opportunity to play all their stars at once. Steve Smith is the clear stand out on paper and while he will be available early in the tournament, Australian commitments will take over after Christmas. With him gone a lot of the batting work load is handed to Maddinson, Lumb, Henriques and Silk, as all four scored 245 runs or greater during BBL04. Riki Wessels contributed a handy 205 runs as well, but won’t return this season. Recently retired Australian wicket-keeper Brad Haddin will fill his void in the top order though. The Sixers have opted against signing another international batsman after securing the signature of disgruntled Adelaide Strikers captain Johan Botha. It does potentially leave the Sixers a little light on batting wise, but Cowan and Carters have both produced significant scoring moments during their domestic seasons this year and should contribute when required. The Sixers are capable of exploding out of the blocks with strikers like Maddinson, Lumb, and Haddin at the top of the order, but can get stuck in a rut when losing early wickets. The middle to late batting order lacks hitting power to finish an innings off, meaning they had to rely on one of their top four batsman to still be around during those late overs. If a clean striker like Sean Abbott can gain early season confidence with some lofty blows, he could become a seriously important asset that will add a new dynamic to this side.
The Sydney Sixers will have a different looking bowling attack for BBL05, most notably missing spearhead and leading wicket taker Brett Lee who has retired. He contributed 13 wickets last season, but the Sixers have managed to secure Jackson Bird from the Stars to take the new ball. While the Sixers possess a Test bowling attack of Starc, Hazlewood and Lyon, it is pointless discussing them in any form of partnership. Firstly, Starc is out for the rest of the summer with a stress fracture in his foot, while Hazlewood and Lyon will be taking on the West Indies for a large part of the tournament. This leaves Bird, Bollinger, Abbott and Botha as the likely specialist bowlers, all of whom averaged less than a wicket a game last season. It is a slight concern as there is nothing more effective than lowering a run rate than taking wickets, but we know all four are capable.
The Sydney Sixers are definitely in the frame of making the top four, but they are one of five sides who are difficult to split. There is a gap between the Sixers and the bottom three sides in my opinion, but I have them out of the top four simply because one side must miss out. The Sixers do lack a genuine wicket taker without their international guns, but they always find someone to step up.
Title Odds: $12.00
Ins: Ben Rohrer, Fawad Ahmed (both Renegades), Shane Watson (Heat), Clint McKay (Stars), Andre Russell (West Indies/Renegades), Alister McDermott (Heat), Jonte Pattison.
Outs of Note: Nathan Hauritz (Renegades), Chris Tremain (Renegades), Cameron Delport, Eoin Morgan, Jason Roy, Dirk Nannes.
Retained: Aiden Blizzard, Patrick Cummins, Jake Doran, Chris Hartley, Jacques Kallis, Andrew McDonald, Usman Khawaja, Gurinder Sandhu, Mike Hussey, Kurtis Patterson, Ahillen Beadle.
The Sydney Thunder finally got off the bottom of the ladder for the first time in its history at the completion of BBL04. It only claimed two wins and a non-result for the season, but it was enough to ensure Brisbane were left stranded in eighth position. Despite only two victories, the Thunder were competitive far more often than its earlier years. Spotless Stadium at the Sydney Showgrounds will be the franchise’s new permanent home this season, which officials hope will also bring a new period of success.
The Sydney Thunder had some respectable moments with the bat last season, but there was an unhealthy reliance on Jacques Kallis, Mike Hussey and Aiden Blizzard. Those three combined for 64.8% of the Thunder’s total runs scored, which is a ridiculously unbalanced load. Everyone expected good performances from Hussey and Kallis, but Blizzard was a welcomed surprise performer after some lean seasons. He ended the tournament as the Thunder’s leading run scorer, hitting 240 runs at 60, while striking at a respectable 126.98 on mostly slow wickets. He has gone on to make a solid contribution for Canterbury during the Georgie Pie Super Smash in New Zealand over the last few weeks, hitting 169 runs in four innings at an average of 42.25. Kallis and Hussey have signed on for another Big Bash season and it is difficult to imagine either not making a contribution with the bat. The Thunder have recruited well though and added some familiar names to its batting ranks. Shane Watson crosses after rarely being seen for the Brisbane Heat due to international duty, but will be a more common figure during the Big Bash this season after retiring from Test cricket. The Thunder have also signed BBL04 Renegades Ben Rohrer and Andre Russell, both of whom have made important T20 contributions in the past. Rohrer was outstanding during his first couple of seasons for the Renegades, while Russell (the Thunders second international) is one of the biggest hitters in world cricket. Usman Khawaja is expected to have recovered from that nasty hamstring injury by the Thunders first game, but how many games he plays remains to be seen after a prolific return to the Test team. The batting line-up is probably the strongest the Sydney Thunder have ever possessed.
Unfortunately, I don’t hold as much hope for the Sydney Thunder’s bowling options. The unavailability of Patrick Cummins due to a back injury hurts their stocks immensely. Gurinder Sandhu is the obvious standout, but you get the feeling all-round options like Kallis, Watson and Russell will be given heavier workloads than they would have liked. Clint McKay, Fawad Ahmed and Alister McDermott have been brought in to offer support, but all three have struggled for opportunities and form at their former Big Bash clubs in recent seasons. Admittedly McKay was solid for Leicestershire during the NatWest T20 Blast with 14 wickets from 13 matches and should benefit from an extended run at the Thunder. It will be interesting to see their bowling structure, but it does appear to lack flexibility on paper.
The Thunder showed genuine improvement last season and I expect them to get better again. I’d be surprised if they are a serious top four contender, but they have enough talent to give even the best teams the occasional fright. The move to Spotless Stadium will be interesting, as will the quality of the wicket. If the curators can produce something to suit this squad, we may all be underestimating the Thunder’s prospects.
TOP TOURNAMENT RUN SCORER
$10.00: Chris Gayle
$11.00: Kevin Pietersen
$13.00: Kumar Sangakkara, Michael Klinger
$15.00: Aaron Finch
$17.00: Ben Dunk, Chris Lynn, Lendl Simmons, Nic Maddinson, Shane Watson
$21.00: Jacques Kallis
$23.00: Luke Wright, Shaun Marsh, Travis Head, Mahela Jayawardena
MICHAEL KLINGER (PERTH SCORCHERS) – $13.00
It may seem a safe option to go the leading run scorer from last season’s tournament, but he is just a run machine. He proved during the NatWest T20 Blast in England and then during Australia’s domestic season that he is still in very good form. He opens the batting and generally attempts to bat into the second ten without too many risks. Most importantly, he doesn’t appear to be in the Australian selector’s immediate plans and is very likely to participate for the entire tournament. Kumar Sangakkara wasn’t far behind in my thoughts for obvious reasons.
MIKE HUSSEY (SYDNEY THUNDER) – $67.00
There is always a bit of value in the older retired players, but Mike Hussey has a key role to play for the Thunder. He hasn’t played much cricket of late, but proved during a cameo appearance in the Georgie Pie Super Smash for Canterbury that he can adapt quickly with 43 from 36 balls. In fact, he has managed to make runs in nearly every T20 tournament he has played after a long break. He might be 40 years of age, but he is incredibly competitive and wouldn’t be playing if he didn’t believe he could make a serious impact.
TOP TOURNAMENT WICKET TAKER
$15.00: Ben Laughlin, Dwayne Bravo, Gurinder Sandhu, John Hastings
$17.00: Jason Behrendorff, Joel Paris
$18.00: Nathan Rimmington
$19.00: James Faulkner, David Willey, Samuel Badree
$21.00: Adam Zampa, Cameron Boyce
$23.00: Andrew Tye, Jackson Bird, Kane Richardson, Scott Boland
GURINDER SANDHU (SYDNEY THUNDER) – $15.00
Sandhu is poised to be the Thunder’s No.1 strike bowler and is likely to bowl plenty of overs at either end of the innings. He wasn’t a prolific wicket taker in the Big Bash last season with 8 poles from six games, but showed encouraging signs. He took 9 wickets in five games during this year’s Matador Cup at an average of 13.55, while operating at only 3.58 runs per over. He is ready for a breakout tournament and looks far enough down the Australian fast bowling pecking order to play a full season for the Thunder. Early wickets could change that though.
MARK STEKETEE (BRISBANE HEAT) – $34.00
Not many people would have known who Mark Steketee was at the beginning of the domestic season, but his right arm seamers for Queensland now have plenty taking notice. He was outstanding during the Matador Cup with 11 wickets from only four appearances and he has carried that into decent Shield form. The Brisbane Heat don’t possess the greatest bowling depth, which suggests he is going to be given plenty of opportunities. The Heat didn’t have any bowlers who impressed during BBL04, but Steketee has the potential to be a real surprise packet.