KFC Big Bash: Semi-Final 1 Strikers vs Thunder Preview

Written by Jason Dewey for @HollywoodbetsFollow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!

Adelaide Strikers vs Sydney Thunder | Thursday 21 January | Adelaide Oval | 10:30

After nearly two months of pulsating cricket action, the KFC Big Bash finally reaches its business end as we look forward to the semi-finals.

The two surprise packages of this season will contest the first play-off this Thursday when the table-topping Adelaide Strikers welcome the Sydney Thunder to the Adelaide Oval.

To Win Match
Adelaide Strikers 7/10
Draw 35/1
Sydney Thunder 11/10

Adelaide Strikers
The Adelaide Strikers have been sensational this season, winning seven of their eight games on their way to finishing top of the ladder, making the play-offs for the second season in succession. The Sydney Thunder, on the other hand, are entering uncharted waters as they finished fourth on the way to their first ever semi-final.

Oddly enough, the Thunder are the only team to have defeated the Strikers this season. That defeat came on the 28th of December after the Thunder produced a magnificent display with the ball as they restricted the Strikers to just 117-9 after their 20 overs. The Sydney side had little trouble chasing the total down on that occasion with Jacques Kallis anchoring the innings with a well played 49* as the Thunder reached 121-3 with 21 balls remaining.

That was a long time ago, though. Since then the Strikers have been near invincible as their unrelenting march to the play-offs continued. The two men who have been key to their success have been English leg-spinner, Adil Rashid and big-hitting all-rounder, Travis Head.

Rashid has set the competition alight this season with his unique blend of leg-spin. He currently tops the wicket-taking charts, picking up 15 sticks in just eight games. Dig a little deeper and you’ll be blown away by the rest of his stats. His tournament economy rate is a measly 6.38 while his bowling average is an insane 13.20. Having watched a lot of Rashid this season, it’s not difficult to see why he’s been so successful. He consistently hits the right lines and lengths, making scoring difficult for opposition batsmen. While his stock delivery (I hope you’re taking notes, Imran Tahir) is top-notch, he also possesses a well-disguised googly.

Head has also made a name for himself in the tournament, earning a call-up to the Australian T20 squad that will go up against India later this month. He has one of the tournament’s highest batting averages at 46.00 with a top score of 101. He has scored 276 runs in the competition and currently sits third on the scoring charts behind Chris Lynn (378), Michael Hussey (277).

It has truly been a mammoth team effort from the Adelaide side though, who have performed admirably without the assistance of any world-renowned stars. Under the captaincy of the evergreen, Brad Hodge, they’ve flourished and are odds-on favourites to lift the trophy this Sunday.

Mahela Jayawardene may not be fit to take to the field this Thursday for the Strikers. The Sri Lankan picked up a quad strain while making 53 for the Heat on 8 January. His absence will be a massive blow for Strikers’ coach, Jason Gillespie, who would have been hoping to the include the Sri Lankan legend in his starting XI.

Sydney Thunder
Their opponents, the Sydney Thunder, have been equally impressive this season. It’s been a long four years for Thunder fans, who saw their team finish near the foot of the ladder for the first four editions of the tournament. However, the shrewd acquisitions of the destructive Andre Russell and a rejuvenated Shane Watson have given them a crack at this season’s trophy.

Michael Hussey and his charges would have been glued to their television sets on Monday morning as they watched Chris Gayle and the Melbourne Renegades try and trump them to fourth place. It wasn’t to be, however, as the Renegades – who needed to chase down 170 inside of 16 overs – fell well short of the Strikers total. This despite a magnificent 12-ball half-century from Gayle who smashed four consecutive sixes in the innings’ first over.

Looking ahead, the Thunder will be buoyed by the returning Usman Khawaja who will consider himself unlucky to have been released from the Australian ODI squad and overlooked for the T20 squad. Australia’s loss in the Thunders’ gain, though. Khawaja is currently in the form of his life, and despite only playing two games in this season’s competition, he still finds himself in the competitions’ top 25 run scorers. He is a massive threat at the top of the order, and his ability to score quickly without throwing his wicket away is crucial in this format of the game.

You can’t talk about the Thunder without mentioning big Dre Russ. The West Indian all-rounder has once again underlined his credentials as one of the planet’s leading T20 players with some truly dazzling displays this season. His 175 runs in this season’s edition of the Big Bash have come at an incredible strike rate of 192.30. While he’s famed for his belligerent batting displays, it’s been his bowling that’s really stood out this season. He currently sits joint-second on the wicket-takers’ list bagging 14 in just eight games and an average of 13.57. He also boasts a tidy economy rate of just 7.35, making him one of the tournament’s most economical strike bowlers.

Other big performers for the Thunder have been Clint McKay, Shane Watson and Mr Cricket himself; Michael Hussey. McKay shares second spot of the wicket-takers’ list with Russell while Watson has made telling contributions with both bat and ball. Hussey – who will be 41 later this year – has really shone, though. He sits second on the top run-scorers’ chart having played one game fewer than the rest of the top seven. With three half-centuries to his name and a magnificent average of 55.40, Hussey has been an absolute rock at the top of the Thunders’ order.

Verdict: Thunder 11/10
While they’re definitely the underdogs, I think the return of Usman Khawaja could definitely be the deciding factor in the first semi-final. He’s been sublime all summer and will be looking to show the Australian selectors exactly why he should be included in their World T20 plans.

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