This year’s Big Bash League gets underway in Australia tomorrow. Cricket correspondent Oli Lathrope previews the tournament team-by-team ahead of all the action getting underway.
Whilst the domestic cricket schedule in England continues to come under scrutiny with the proposed introduction of T20 franchises, in Australia they are preparing for the beginning of their premier cricket competition. The Big Bash enters its sixth year and interest is as high as ever as the competition not only captivates the minds of those in Australia but also worldwide and it could now be argued that is has overtaken the IPL as the premier T20 competition in the world.
The 2015-16 competition saw records broken as the official attendance of the entire tournament was over one million and it looks just as likely that this year will be no different. Eight teams will fight for the trophy won by the Sydney Thunder who took home last year’s crown after Usman Khawaja smashed 70 from 40 balls against the Melbourne Stars in front of over 45,000 at the MCG. For English fans there is interest as ever as David Willey, Jason Roy, Eoin Morgan and Stuart Broad are all likely to feature as well as ex stars such as Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen.
This article will preview each team, their key player and also make a prediction at where they might finish up.
It was the win that no one saw coming last season. The Thunder snuck into the semi-finals in fourth place which was only the second time that they did not finished bottom of the table and then preceded to upset the odds by beating the strikers and the stars away from home. This was mainly thanks to Usman Khawaja who was in a blistering run of form and his 70 in the final was the main contribution. He however will miss the start of this year’s tournament through his involvement in the Australian test match squad. Michael Hussey and Jaques Kallis who were two vital players in last year’s campaign have both since retired meaning more inexperienced players will need to step up. The return of Andre Russell who missed last year’s tournament through injury is vital but even he could miss the second half of the tournament depending on the result of a drug enquiry back in the West Indies. England captain Eoin Morgan is another important player, however he has not been in great form and will leave half way through the tournament to join up with England in India. Captain Shane Watson must also be at his best if the thunder are to retain their crown however it is looking extremely hard to see the thunder replicating last year’s success.
Squad: Shane Watson (Captain), Fawad Ahmed, Aiden Blizzard, Pat Cummins, Jake Doran, Ryan Gibson, Chris Green, Usman Khawaja, Nathan McAndrew, Alister McDermott, Clint McKay, Arjun Nair, Kurtis Patterson, Ben Rohrer, Andre Russell, Gurinder Sandhu, Jason Sangha, Eoin Morgan.
Key Man: Shane Watson – No longer being selected by Australia means Watson can once again be involved in the entire tournament. He will contribute runs and wickets in a side that has lost both through player loss and also being captain means Watson is vital to the Thunders chances
Prediction: Despite last year’s heroics it is hard to see a repeat this time around with a squad that has lost too many players. Will do well to reach the semi-finals – Group Stage.
The most the Hurricanes have ever achieved is a runners up spot in the third edition of the tournament and it is hard to see them even matching that this season. George Bailey is likely to miss the second half of the tournament meaning most of the responsibility to score runs will fall on the shoulders of Tim Paine and Kumar Sangakarra. Sangakarra was poor last year and must score more runs this year. The loss of Ben Dunk and Darren Sammy means they have lost some big hitters that they do not seemed to have replaced. The Hurricanes marquee signing has been Stuart Broad which does give their bowling attack the real star bowler it so desperately needs. However he will join up with the squad after a run of injury problems with England in India meaning it is unknown how much he will actually play. Plus his quality in the shorter formats has been questioned in the past. Shaun Tait is the Hurricanes most experienced bowler though with his express pace also brings the real chance that he will leak runs. All of this means the Hurricanes will probably struggle again this year.
Squad: George Bailey, Cameron Boyce, Stuart Broad, Dan Christian, Hamish Kingston, Ben McDermott, Dom Michael, Simon Milenko, Tim Paine, Sam Rainbird, Jake Reed, Clive Rose, Kumar Sangakkara, Shaun Tait, Jonathan Wells.
Key Man: Dan Christian – With a lack of big hitters in the Hurricanes side, Christian will need to be the man to go big in the late overs. His bowling will also be to crucial in an inexperienced bowling attack.
Prediction: The Hurricanes arguably have the weakest squad in the whole competition with and the marquee players they do have are past their best. Will struggle – Group Stage.
The scorchers should once again be strong this time around as the big bash’s most successful franchise with two wins to date. They have recruited well also with the marquee signing of Mitchell Johnson who signed despite interest from other franchises. Johnson will need to be at his best as the scorchers bowling attack has been decimated by injury. Behrendorff, Coulter Nile and Paris all look likely to miss the tournament through injury whilst spinner Brad Hogg has left to join the Renegades. Death overs specialist Andrew Tye will need to be at his best to compensate this. The Scorchers batting has been strengthened by the arrival of Ian Bell who will add to an already strong top order and will likely slot in at three behind the strong opening partnership of Michael Klinger and Shaun Marsh. Much will also depend on whether the Marsh brothers are involved with Australia. Both missed the majority of last year’s tournament due to international commitments and it is hard to tell how much they will be involved this time around.
Squad: Ashton Agar, Cameron Bancroft, Jason Behrendorff, Ian Bell, Hilton Cartwright, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Mitchell Johnson, Michael Klinger, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, James Muirhead, Joel Paris, Jhye Richardson, Ashton Turner, Andrew Tye, Adam Voges (Captain), Sam Whiteman, David Willey.
Key Man: Andrew Tye – Always a figurehead of a strong scorchers bowling attack Tye will need to be at his best this year due to injuries within the squad. He is one of the best at the death around shown by his call up to the Australian t20 squad in recent months.
Prediction: The Scorchers will have enough to reach the semi-finals once again but much will depend on if their injured bowlers can return in time for the finals however it is looking likely that they will not, meaning they could miss out again this time around – Semi Finals.
It was a case of ‘what if’ for the Strikers last year. They topped the table at the preliminary stage before losing their home semi-final in front of a sold out Adelaide Oval to the Sydney Thunder. They should once again be competitive with their strong batting line-up being boosted by the arrival of big hitting Ben Dunk from the Hobart Hurricanes who has been a consistent run scorer over the years. Travis Head will spearhead the side at the top of the order who was so good last year that he is now involved in the Australian One Day side and will miss the second half of the tournament. The likes of Kieron Pollard and Brad Hodge should more than make up for the runs that the Strikers will lose from the loss of Head. It is the Strikers bowling attack that may be their downfall. Craig Simmons is an experienced campaigner and Chris Jordan should be the death overs specialist the Strikers need. However their will likely be no Adil Rashid this year whose leg spin was vital in seeing the Strikers through to the Semi-finals last year and time will only tell how much they miss him.
Squad: Brad Hodge (Captain), Wes Agar, Alex Carey, Jono Dean, Ben Dunk, Travis Head, Jon Holland, Chris Jordan, Ben Laughlin, Jake Lehmann, Tim Ludeman, Michael Neser, Kieron Pollard, Adil Rashid, Kane Richardson, Craig Simmons, Kelvin Smith, Billy Stanlake, Jake Weatherald.
Key Man: Chris Jordan – The Strikers have a powerful batting line-up and are likely to post big scores. However defending them is another question. Jordan is known for his excellent death bowling and has been signed for this specifically.
Prediction: The Strikers have a strong squad again this year and there is no reason why they cannot make the semi-finals again however they lack the real quality especially with their bowling to go one better than last year- Semi Finals.
Last year was a year to forget for the Renegades despite finishing 5th. They lost five matches, lost both Melbourne derbies and the entire franchise came under scrutiny after the Chris Gayle controversy. Gayle is not back this year but his West Indian counterpart Dwayne Bravo is who will be vital cog in the Renegades wheel. He will be ably supported by Aaron Finch and Cameron White at the top of the order with the only worry being that Finch may miss part of the competition playing for Australia in their One Day Series against Pakistan. It is the bowling attack that really gives the Renegades an edge on their rivals. On a likely spinning pitch at the Etihad Stadium Xavier Doherty, Sunil Narine and new recruit Brad Hogg from the Scorchers could all squeeze the opposition in the middle orders. Whilst seamers James Pattinson and Peter Siddle are both unlikely to be involved with Australia meaning the Renegades possess possibly two of the most potent seamers in the competition. The Renegades will likely be without wicketkeeper batsmen Matthew Wade for the entire tournament who is now involved with Australia in all formats, however the likes of Marcus Harris and Bravo should more than make up for this.
Squad: Aaron Finch (Captain), Dwayne Bravo, Tom Beaton, Tom Cooper, Xavier Doherty, Callum Ferguson, Marcus Harris, Brad Hogg, Sunil Narine, Peter Nevill, James Pattinson, Nathan Rimmington, Peter Siddle, Matthew Short, Chris Tremain, Matthew Wade, Cameron White, Nick Winter.
Key Man: Brad Hogg – The 44 year old moves from the Scorchers and provides the Renegades with a crucial bowler in the middle overs. If he can go for few runs and take a couple of wickets during his four over spell then the Renegades will be delighted they invested in the veteran.
Prediction: The Renegades possess the strongest bowling attack in the competition and quite often your bowling wins you t20 matches. Always underestimated compared to their richer Melbourne counterparts this could well be their year – Winners.
The stars once again start as favourites this season despite never actually having taken home the crown. Last year’s defeat in the final against the sixers was a chance missed as they were heavy favourites heading into that match. This year they have retained most of their squad with David Hussey remaining as captain and once again should go well. Overseas players Wright and Pietersen will provide firepower at the top of the order and all-rounder’s such as Maxwell and Faulkner have the X-Factor that most other siders do not have. Both may also be available for the entirety of the tournament as neither were involved in Australia’s one day series vs New Zealand. Though they have suffered a late blow to their chances with John Hastings recent knee injury who has been an integral part of their side in recent years. Adam Zampa may also be with Australia but the bowling does possess the experience of Ben Hilfenhaus.
Squad: David Hussey (Captain), Michael Beer, Scott Boland, Jackson Coleman, James Faulkner, Seb Gotch, Evan Gulbis, Peter Handscomb, Sam Harper, Ben Hilfenhaus, Glenn Maxwell, Kevin Pietersen, Rob Quiney, Marcus Stoinis, Tom Triffit, Daniel Worrall, Luke Wright, Adam Zampa.
Key Man: Glenn Maxwell – On his day Maxwell is unstoppable shown by his recent exploits in Sri Lanka. It is also likely that he will be available for the entire tournament this time around which could give the Stars the edge they have missed in previous years.
Prediction: This may well be the stars years. They will be affected by Australian call ups less than ever and it would be shocking if they do not make the semi-finals however they have failed on the big stage before and it would be no surprise if they did so again. Though with last year’s top four all struggling with injuries and loss of players it is hard to look past the Stars however they may just lose out to their fellow Melbourne counterparts – Losing Finalists.
The inaugural winners of the Big Bash once again have a star filled side that arguably of their day is the strongest side. However that is just the problem for the Sixers. Starc and Hazlewood will likely miss the whole tournament through international commitments whilst Bird, Lyon and Maddinson could also miss parts of the competition. Maddinson was an unexpected call up for Australia and leaves a gaping hole in the Sixers batting line up. Marquee overseas signing Jason Roy will leave for India half way through the tournament leaving the Sixers light in players throughout the tournament. Sam Billings has been signed to make up for this whilst explosive South African All Rounder Sean Abbott is capable of providing fireworks. Both will be expected to be the big hitters that fire the Sixers to big totals. Veteran batsmen Brad Haddin may have to anchor the top order in a side that looks light on batting.
Squad: Moises Henriques (Captain), Sean Abbott, Sam Billings, Jackson Bird, Doug Bollinger, Johan Botha, Ryan Carters, Ben Dwarshuis, Brad Haddin, Josh Hazlewood, Daniel Hughes, Nic Maddinson, Joe Mennie, Nathan Lyon, Steve O’Keefe, Jason Roy, Jordan Silk, Mitch Starc.
Key Man: Brad Haddin – An experienced player who has been vital to the Sixers in recent years. Has the capabilities to bat through the overs or to go big when necessary. Haddin will need to be on form if the Sixers are to post competitive totals
Prediction: The Sixers have a strong squad however they are going to be hit hugely by international call ups and this may limit their chances of success – Group Stage.
The Heat once again start as outsiders for this year’s tournament. They finished bottom in the 2014-15 tournament and only finished sixth last year mainly due to the incredible exploits of Chris Lynn. He will need to be at his best again if the Heat are to improve on their previous results. He does have some support this time around with the marquee signing of Brendom Mccullum who on his day is possibly the most explosive batsmen in the entire tournament. However the Heats bowling attack remains a concern. They lack any real international experience aside from West Indian Spinner Samuel Badree. Last year the opposition scored over 180 far too often and it is hard not to see the same happening this time around. This lack of international players could aid the Heat however as they are unlikely to lose any players to Australia and consistency in selection could aid the Heat this time around.
Squad: Brendon McCullum (Captain), Chris Lynn, Samuel Badree, Joe Burns, Ben Cutting, Alex Doolan, Andrew Fekete, Luke Feldman, Jason Floros, Sam Heazlett, Marnus Labuschagne, Josh Lalor, James Peirson, Nathan Reardon, Alex Ross, Mark Steketee, Mitchell Swepson, Jack Wildermuth.
Key Man: Chris Lynn – You may be surprised not to see McCullum as the choice here but Lynn last year single-handily carried the Heat batting line up finishing up as the competitions top scorer with 378 runs. McCullum may play the big innings but it is Lynn’s consistency that will be needed if the Heat are to make the finals.
Prediction: If Lynn and McCullum do not fire then it is hard to see how Heat qualify for the Semi Finals. If they do then they could well make the semi-finals however their bowling may let them down. So another early exit is likely. Group Stage.
You can see the entire Big Bash here in the UK on BT Sport and it begins tomorrow (Tuesday December 20th) at 8:40am with the Sydney derby between the Thunder and the Sixers at Spotless Stadium.