We’re now three games into the really intriguing stage of the Big Bash League season: the part where teams are forced to cover for their Australian representatives.
With the announcement at the end of the Sydney Test of a 14-man squad to face Pakistan in a five-game One Day International series, eight of the players named are now removed from their BBL side for the rest of the competition, effectively.
The wording of the squad announcement included, “The squad has been selected for all five matches in the series”, and that players would be unavailable from Monday just gone.
The BBL semi-finals are on Tuesday and Wednesday January 24 and 25, the day before the final ODI in Adelaide on Australia Day. Players could theoretically be available for the BBL final on Saturday, January 28, but that might also depend on when the squad heads to New Zealand for the return leg of the Chappell-Hadlee series. The first of the three ODIs will be played in Auckland on Tuesday January 31.
It means that several leading BBL sides now have to finish their campaign without key players, and some teams will cope better than others.
The affected teams and their players are:
• Adelaide Strikers: Travis Head, Billy Stanlake
• Brisbane Heat: Chris Lynn
• Melbourne Stars: James Faulkner, Glenn Maxwell, Adam Zampa
• Perth Scorchers: Mitch Marsh
• Sydney Thunder: Pat Cummins
And with Test paceman Josh Hazlewood sitting out the first ODI in Brisbane on Friday, more resting or injury replacements may well be required.
Already we’ve seen an effect. On Tuesday night, the Adelaide line-up looked light on in both the batting and bowling departments, and their fourth loss from six games was enough for Brad Hodge to declare that their finals chance are gone.
The Strikers’ top order just never got going, and while Head being in the side may not have made any difference at all, the one extra top-order batsman would have changed the way Adelaide approached their innings. You could see the desperation of the incoming batsman increase with every wicket that fell.
On the other side of the coin, the Melbourne Stars’ tail was so long that new batting hero Ben Hilfenhaus came in at No.8 and Michael Beer came in at No.10!
Glenn Maxwell was definitely missed, as his confidence has improved with a bit of consistency as the comp as gone on. And the return of Peter Handscomb means the Stars’ batting will remain pretty strong.
But without Faulkner and Zampa, the bowling looked light. They were probably lucky the Strikers couldn’t get going; a team at the other end of the ladder might really launch into that bowling line-up.
On Wednesday night, the Gabba hosted the top two teams of BBL06, and both teams are still trying to work out how to fill in behind Lynn and Marsh.
Batting first, Perth needed Michael Klinger and Shaun Marsh to get them off to a better start than we’ve seen from them this season. But for a batsman already thumbing through his Lonely Planet book on India, Shaun Marsh really isn’t hitting the ball well. Making runs aside, he just isn’t batting as comfortably as he often has at this level.
It was interesting to see Sam Whiteman come in first drop, after he’d been batting lower in previous games. He was going okay until he was rocked by a Tymal Mills bouncer. His demise soon after brought Ian Bell to the crease with Klinger, and though they’re both capable of ‘going’, they don’t quite have the power hitting of the younger Marsh.
Bell didn’t last long, and while Ashton Turner may become a quality top-order bat, there a reason he’s been batting at six thus far as well.
Brisbane similarly needed a good start in the chase, and it meant that a few of their less experienced players had to go with Brendon McCullum. So when two of their young guns and McCullum were gone inside four overs, the magnitude of the Heat’s post-Lynn existence became worryingly clear.
Going into the match, Lynn was nearly a hundred runs clear of McCullum for the tournament, and McCullum was nearly a hundred clear of the next best, Jimmy Peirson – no other Heat bat had cracked 100 runs for the season.
Perth’s bowling is still reasonable enough to defend a lower total without Marsh, and we saw that play out, but the Heat’s bowling has been a bit light all tournament. If they can’t now find the runs to post totals – or chase targets – then the road to the semis will be rocky.
Of course, the opposite of all this is also true. The Melbourne Renegades still lost on Monday night, but their run to the semis becomes a whole lot more promising with Aaron Finch not requiring his Australian-gold kit for the time being. Likewise, Hobart will benefit from George Bailey being left of the ODI squad.
And the Sydney Sixers’ bowling attack is absolutely strengthened by the return of Test bowlers Nathan Lyon and Jackson Bird, even if it comes at the expense of Stephen O’Keefe being pulled from the BBL to concentrate on his red-ball preps for India.
But the point remains; the sooner the affected teams come to grips with the national call-up of their key players, the sooner they can get on with being a competition contender. It’ll be intriguing to see who copes best.