There’s no rest for Australia’s biggest hitters as the KFC Big Bash moves ever closer to the play offs. The games continue to fly by with the Sydney Thunder leading the way, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, heading into the new year.
For the two star-studded Melbourne sides, time is running out. Both teams have only secured a solitary victory after three games and risk being cut adrift at the bottom of the table along with the Heat.
Friday 1 January
After spending four seasons glancing jealously at their more successful crosstown neighbours, the Sydney Thunder finally look as though they could go all the way in BBL05. Convincing wins over the Sixers and the Strikers as well as a one-run conquest over the Stars, means, Michael Hussey and his men find themselves sitting comfortably atop the standings with a far more superior net run rate than any other team in the competition. Their New Years’ Day opposition have also made a solid start to their campaign and currently occupy the fourth and final playoff spot.
After a frankly rubbish start to the season, the Hurricanes’ faithful must have been fearing the worst. A 95-run drubbing at the hands of the Sixers - the biggest win of this season’s campaign - saw them staring down the barrel. They would bounce back beautifully, however, with convincing back-to-back victories over the winless Brisbane Heat, the last of which came at the Brisbane Cricket Ground. Daniel Christian was the hero last time out with a spectacular 24-ball 56 in which he deposited the ball onto the roof with a powerful front foot smash over cow. There were other solid contributions from Ben Dunk 27 (22), Tim Paine 25 (22), Kumar Sangakkara 32 (19) and George Bailey 27 (21).
They did well to defend their total of 194-4, especially when you consider that their strike bowler, Shaun Tait was smashed to all parts of the ground by Chris Lynn, whose 51-ball 101 would not be enough to ensure victory for the winless Heat. The Hurricanes are going to have to do a lot more with the ball if they’re going to keep the Thunder's array of power hitters quiet on New Years’ Day.
The Thunder have been sensational so far this season winning all three of their games. They were especially good last time out against the Strikers at the Showground Stadium in Sydney. After winning the toss and electing to bat, Brad Hodge and the Strikers could only muster a meagre total of 117-9 in their 20 overs. Fawad Ahmed was the pick of the bowlers claiming the wicket of the dangerous Aiden Ross with his four overs going for just 14 runs. The Pakistani-born leg spinner will need to be at his brilliant best if the Thunder are to get one over this destructive Hurricanes line-up. Most impressive for the Thunder perhaps, has been their form with the willow.
The addition of Shane Watson and Andre Russell in the off-season added some much-needed experience to a batting line-up that relied too heavily on the likes of Jacques Kallis, Michael Hussey and Aiden Blizzard. Watson and Russell also bring a wealth of bowling experience to the side – as such the Sydney club can call on at least seven very capable bowlers to change things up in the middle of the innings.
As much as I like this Hurricanes side, the Thunder have been incredibly difficult to beat throughout this season, both home and away. I don’t see them slipping up against a Hurricanes side who have a decent points tally thus far, but haven’t gone up against any of the big sides as of yet. Back the Thunder at 7/5.
Saturday 2 January
The Stars and the Renegades will go head to head in what’s being dubbed the "Battle for Melbourne" at the world famous MCG. Expect near on a full house as Melbourne locals pile in to see the likes of Chris Gayle, Aaron Finch, Dwayne Bravo, Kevin Pietersen and Glenn Maxwell deposit the ball to all corners of the ground.
The Stars head into this game knowing that they need to kick on if they want to reach the play-offs toward the end of January. Defeats in their opening two games against the Strikers and the Thunder left the Melbourne side desperate for a win against the Sixers last time out. Their cause was helped somewhat after Moses Henriques was forced to retire hurt after sustaining an injury to his calf. The Sixers’ captain was carried off the ground on a motorised stretcher after looking in good touch having scored 41 from just 34 balls.
The Sixers would limp to 139-6 after 20 overs thanks largely to some excellent bowling from Michael Beer and Adam Zampa who only conceded 39 runs in the eight overs they bowled. After losing Marcus Stoinis and Luke Wright early on, it looked as though the Stars may struggle to chase down the Sixers’ total. However, brilliant knocks from Glenn Maxwell 50 (36) and Peter Handscombe 52 (40) ensured that the Stars would eventually cross the line with eight balls remaining to claim their first win of the season.
Their opposition, the Renegades are probably blessed with the best batting line-up in the competition. Any T20 side that can boast the likes of Bravo, Gayle and Finch will back their chances of outscoring just about any opposition in world cricket. However, not even the big guns could steer the Melbourne side to victory against a dogged Perth Scorchers outfit at the Etihad Stadium last time out. Having set a more than competitive total of 170, thanks largely to Gayle 41(35) and Finch 72 (48); Shaun Marsh and Michael Clinger put on a spectacular display of T20 batting to chase down the Renegade’s total, leading their side to a remarkable 10-wicket victory.
Honestly speaking, both sides have been pretty poor thus far only managing a victory each. With so many talented players in each squad, however, you’d think both will come right sooner rather than later. The Renegades have been unlucky in some of their games and have played slightly better cricket than the Stars, I’d back them get one over crosstown rivals at 4/5.