Will Macpherson looks at how the various permutations are stacking up as the Big Bash League builds up to a thrilling conclusion
Will Macpherson’s weekly take of the action Down Under
Organising a T20 competition is not all about the cricket; really, it’s akin to organising something between a sports event and a rock concert. That’s why what bosses of a tournament like the BBL want is for each game and the whole competition to go down to the wire, keeping their punters interested and coming back. Truly top-quality cricket is a bonus.
That’s one of the reasons why the Big Bash League remains so short: with it all over in 35 games and 39 days, there is less jeopardy. Eight teams playing eight regular season games, with first hosting third and second hosting fourth in two semi-finals, then a final on January 28; it’s all over in double quick time. The aim is to leave fans yearning for more.
It is big business, too: the gimmicks are everywhere, the start times are dictated by TV, and the opportunity to drop a sponsor’s name is never missed. The in-stadium experience is certainly not just about cricket, and everything is planned with families and young children in mind. Which makes the desire for close competition all the more acute – if the cricket is dull, eyes will turn elsewhere.
Anyway, from a pure sporting perspective, this year the administrators behind the BBL are getting exactly what they desire: close games and a close table. The last week has seen three more chases completed in the final over (with Stuart Broad finishing one off the final ball on Thursday), and as we head into the final week of the regular season, with three-quarters of the 32 pool stages complete, none of the eight teams are quite out of contention for finals but none have secured their spot, either.
It’s tight, and a compelling final week awaits.
Some of the gloss of that week is removed, however, by the absence of some of the competition’s top stars – on international duty and to injury. Those administrators may not admit it, but quietly their hearts must have sunk when, say, Chris Lynn – fresh from a riotous unbeaten 98 as Brisbane Heat thrashed Perth Scorchers – was called up for an ODI debut for Australia against Pakistan. One of the stars the competition had made would play no further part this season.
The international call-ups of four England players (albeit forewarned), and the injuries to Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell, even if he was having a tricky season for Sydney Thunder, will have been greeted in similar fashion.
Thus it was surprising to hear CA would exacerbate the problem themselves: captain Brendon McCullum is banned from Heat’s next game, a big one against Melbourne Stars, for two slow over-rate offences. His team-mates were each fined $500 – down from $1,000 – and he did not appeal, although did say that his team were, in essence, being punished for taking wickets.
Anyway, we don’t care about the gimmicks or bans, we care about the cricket, so who is going to deal best with their absentees and win the thing?
Heat looked well-placed until Lynn’s call-up but, now McCullum has joined him on the sidelines, need to be careful they do not slip out of the top four altogether. They have also lost their bowling powerplay gun Samuel Badree to a hamstring injury (but he has been replaced by Tymal Mills, so every cloud…), but should still make the finals.
So should Scorchers and Sixers, who have, if anything, benefited from the international issues, with the return of Nathan Lyon and Jackson Bird; Sam Billings and Jason Roy are gone, but in come Michael Lumb and Colin Munro.
Thanks to Broad’s last-ball intervention (or, more to the point, Ben McDermott’s brilliant 52-ball 114), Hobart Hurricanes remain in contention having played seven of their eight games. They need to win the last. The team they beat, Melbourne Renegades join Adelaide Strikers and Sydney Thunder in the last-chance saloon: they have all lost four and won two, so need to win both the last two. Remember, Thunder won the competition last year.
KP’s Melbourne Stars are most interesting. They could finish top, or not make the last four. Sitting in the middle of the table, they have the squad to win the competition but have also been hit hardest by ODI calls (James Faulkner, Adam Zampa and Glenn Maxwell), and have three games remaining – all against teams above them, which is a blessing and curse; they have the chance to take points off them, or lose ground. Either way, a fine final week awaits, and the organisers have exactly what they want. This writer’s tip? The Sixers, but don’t ask why.
The business end: how each team can make the finals
Perth Scorchers: Bolstered by the arrival of Tim Bresnan, thrashed Heat to sit top. A win in either of their two final games secures qualification, but they’ll want to win both to seal a home semi.
Brisbane Heat: Face Stars on Tuesday without Lynn, Badree, and McCullum. They also need one win to qualify and two for a home semi.
Sydney Sixers: Must win one of their last two but poor net run-rate means they’d likely miss out if they lost both.
Melbourne Stars: Have to play the three teams above them yet, and are depleted by national calls. They have a strong NRR so one win from three could see them sneak through to a sixthstraight semi. Two would guarantee it, and three would get them a home semi.
Hobart Hurricanes: After their extraordinary win against Renegades, they have just one game left. Need to beat Scorchers, and hope Stars falter.
Melbourne Renegades: Will rue allowing Hurricanes to chase down 222. Have no choice but to win their last two games. Adelaide Strikers: Jason Gillespie’s men need to win both their last two games (against Renegades and Thunder), win them big and hope Stars lose at least two of their three games.
Sydney Thunder: Eoin Morgan is long gone, but champions Thunder only remain alive due to his amazing last minute win against Stars. They need to thrash Strikers and Sixers, then hope the top three teams thrash the Stars, too. Asking a lot.
Crocked: but Andre Russell was struggling in Sydney
Top of the table: Perth Scorchers lead the way with the play-offs looming large