Big Bash!

Will Macpherson looks at how the var­i­ous per­mu­ta­tions are stack­ing up as the Big Bash League builds up to a thrilling con­clu­sion

The Cricket Paper - - NEWS -

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

PIC­TURES: Getty Images

Top of the ta­ble: Perth Scorchers lead the way with the play-offs loom­ing large

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