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BBL04 preview: Hurricanes the team to beat, plus Round 1 picks

Kevin Pietersen was a controversial character, but a great cricketer. (AFP PHOTO/ANDREW YATES.)
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17th December, 2014
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The race for the Big Bash League in 2015 is about to begin, but who can take it out and who will come oh so close?

Having previewed the teams likely to play the roles of pretenders and finals contenders, let’s take a look at the top two.

Australian representatives present in each team will likely shape as a deciding factor in the battle for supremacy.

Melbourne Stars
The Stars have again managed to keep almost all of their squad together, only losing Brad Hodge to the Strikers and Matthew Wade to their cross-town rivals in red.

They were also involved in the very first BBL trade when they inexplicably traded young spinner James Muirhead to the Scorchers in exchange for Michael Beer.

Kevin Pietersen should help draw crowds wherever he goes – even in Brisbane – but how many runs will he bring? Based on recent form, if they get 20-30 quick runs from him each game, they’ll be doing ok.

They will miss Peter Handscomb’s batting for the first few games, with Tom Triffitt drafted in to take the gloves while he’s out.

Like the Heat, they are very reliant on their big name all-rounders – James Faulkner, Glenn Maxwell, John Hastings, Luke Wright and Marcus Stoinis.

I have my doubts whether either specialist spinner – Beer or Clive Rose – will get more than a couple of games with Glenn Maxwell, David Hussey and even Kevin Pietersen able to provide slow bowling options.

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Gains: Michael Beer (Scorchers), Luke Feldman (Thunder), Kevin Pietersen, Tom Triffitt (Scorchers)

Losses: Brad Hodge (Strikers), James Muirhead (Scorchers), Matthew Wade (Renegades)

Strength: Consistency, they strung together eight consecutive wins last year before they were skittled by the Hurricanes, and there’s no real reason why they can’t do the same this year.

Weakness: Experience in their depth, yet the loss of key pieces at the tail end of the tournament could see them miss out on the LED-illuminated-silverware yet again.

Availability: Test selections shouldn’t impact the Stars this year, but if they lose James Faulkner, Glenn Maxwell and (maybe) Cameron White to the Australian ODI team that will hurt them.

Possible XI
1. Cameron White
2. Luke Wright
3. Kevin Pietersen
4. Glenn Maxwell
5. David Hussey
6. Marcus Stoinis
7. James Faulkner
8. John Hastings
9. Tom Triffitt
10. Clint McKay
11. Jackson Bird

Prediction: second – I can see them just missing out again this year, but hopefully doing enough to secure themselves a Champions League spot.

Hobart Hurricanes
The Hurricanes will benefit from having George Bailey back in their ranks now that he’s not in the Test side, however they’ll likely lose him again once the ODI tri-series starts.

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Alex Hales heads to Hobart, his third BBL team in three seasons, as he attempts to collect the whole set. We saw what he is capable of last year at Blundstone Arena when he visited with the Strikers and belted 49 off 19 balls in a washed out game.

Darren Sammy provides options with both bat and ball, as does their international replacement Englishman Tim Bresnan.

Although they have two spinners who have represented Australia – Xavier Doherty and Cameron Boyce – there is a reasonable chance that one misses out, however they should be able to get away with playing both in most cases.

Gains: Alex Hales (Strikers), Michael Hill (Renegades), Dom Michael, Jake Reed (Renegades), Darren Sammy, Beau Webster and Tim Bresnan

Losses: Aiden Blizzard (Thunder), Doug Bollinger (Sixers), Ben Laughlin (Strikers)

Strength: Batting power, last year’s stand-out Ben Dunk paired with the explosive Alex Hales at the top, followed by Tim Paine, Travis Birt and George Bailey – it’s a strong top order that most teams would be envious of.

Weakness: Bowling line-up, but it’s not because their line-up won’t be strong. It will be, just a question whether they can find the right combination of spin and pace.

Availability: They will lose George Bailey once the ODI tri-series starts, and maybe one of Cameron Boyce or Xavier Doherty.

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Possible XI
1. Ben Dunk
2. Alex Hales
3. Tim Paine
4. Travis Birt
5. George Bailey
6. Darren Sammy
7. Evan Gulbis
8. Ben Hilfenhaus
9. Xavier Doherty
10. Cameron Boyce
11. Tim van der Gugten

Prediction: first – Their international signings are an upgrade on last year, their batting is deep and their bowling will be solid if they get the mix correct.

BBL:04 Round 1 picks
Somehow I managed to correctly pick the winner of 23 out of 32 matches last season, which I was pretty pleased with. I have my doubts whether I can repeat that this year, but here goes anyway.

Adelaide Strikers versus Melbourne Stars (Adelaide Oval)
Brad Hodge will be facing off against his old team, Kieron Pollard will be back in the Strikers line-up, and the other KP will be making his BBL debut. Pollard’s return will help the Strikers, but still think the Stars should be too strong in the season opener.

Sydney Sixers versus Melbourne Renegades (SCG)
Last year’s meeting went down to the last over, with the Sixers holding on at Etihad Stadium. I think it will be close again this year, but I’m picking Aaron Finch and the Renegades to emerge victorious.

Melbourne Stars versus Hobart Hurricanes (MCG)
In their second game of the round, the Stars will want revenge for their loss to the Hurricanes in last year’s semi-final. It will also be KP’s first outing at the MCG since the Ashes. Stars for the win.

Sydney Thunder versus Brisbane Heat (Stadium Australia)
I tipped the Thunder to win their first game last year, and I was wrong… so, I’m doing it again. The Thunder have never beaten the Heat, but they have a new look squad with much stronger batting, it’s also the third consecutive time they’ve played at Stadium Australia, so it should be time for the home team to get up.

I was going to change my tip after the news of Usman Khawaja’s injury, but decided against it… I’ll probably regret that.

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