Another season, another finals campaign for the insatiable Perth Scorchers. Incredibly the side has never missed a finals series since the Big Bash League’s inception.
The squad on paper was bursting with talent at the season’s start. Shaun and Mitch Marsh led a solid batting line-up that also featured the stalwarts in Adam Voges and Michael Klinger.
There was an endless cavalcade of fast bowlers – the re-energised Mitchell Johnson, the express pace of Jyhe Richardson and the master of variation in Andrew Tye, to name but a few.
But fate took that piece of paper, scrunched it up and tossed it into the trash. Thanks to international duties and a swathe of injuries the Perth Scorchers were left depleted in the lead up to their first match. Scorchers coach Justin Langer was forced to request backup from Cricket Australia – they didn’t have enough players in their original squad to field a side.
It was difficult to know what to expect when Adam Voges and his side arrived at the Sydney Cricket Ground for their first fixture. The team wasn’t the best 11 and they were facing a stiff challenge against a Sydney Sixers outfit bursting with talent.
But it proved to be business as usual. Andrew Tye led a miserly bowling display and collected his second BBL hat-trick in the process. Then Ashton Turner ensured victory with a swift half-century.
The Scorchers continued to find ways to win despite losing players along the way, and while there were a few slip-ups – like the loss to the Brisbane Heat at the Gabba – the Perth side ended the season on top of the ladder.
Justin Langer and his side face unique challenges heading into Thursday’s semi-final against the Hobart Hurricanes.
First, the game is at Optus Stadium, a brand-new facility. The WACA, the traditional home of West Australian cricket, has been a fortress for the Scorchers. They haven’t lost a game at the Furnace this season.
Conversely, Optus Stadium is an unfamiliar entity with a different wicket and feel. This swap removes some of Perth’s home ground advantage.
Second, Perth will be without Ashton Agar and Andrew Tye. Both have missed matches this season and the Scorchers have managed to find replacements. But still, the two are first choice players.
Tye sits second on the BBL wicket-takers list with 16 wickets even though he has missed four matches. Agar has been skilful with both bat and ball, collecting 149 runs at an average approaching 50. The left-arm spinner has eight wickets too and has conceded only 5.74 runs an over.
Third, the Scorchers have to find room for the Marsh brothers. Mitch returns from Australian duties, while brother Shaun is likely to be back at full fitness. The 34-year-old has been recovering from a quad strain picked up in the final Ashes Test.
Mitch could be a straight swap for Agar, but that leaves Perth without a quality spin option. Instead they’ll have to rely on the part-timers in Adam Voges and Ashton Turner.
Shaun, accustomed to opening the batting in the shortest format, could come in for Sam Whiteman. The talented wicketkeeper-batsman has played only twice since returning from a long-term finger injury. He has yet to have an impact with the bat.
Fourth, Perth has to find their way around the Hobart Hurricanes. The Canes ran hot through the middle part of the season, winning five consecutive games, but they lost their final three games and have scraped through to the finals. Also, they’ve lost their star – and player of the tournament – in D’Arcy Short.
Still, the George Bailey-led outfit shouldn’t be taken lightly. They have threatening international calibre players in Bailey, Matthew Wade and Daniel Christian. Jofra Archer has also shown how impactful he can be bowling or in the field.
The Perth Scorchers are favoured to take out the Hurricanes on Thursday night and deservedly so. They have proven to be an adaptable and cohesive unit. They are statistically balanced and don’t rely on one or two key players. Meanwhile, Hobart has leant heavily on the likes of Short and Archer.
But the Twenty20 format is so brief that individual brilliance can trump team performance. Though missing their talisman in Short the Hurricanes may well struggle.
Should Perth be victorious, they’ll take on either the Adelaide Strikers or the Melbourne Renegades at Optus Stadium.