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BBL|08 season preview: Sydney Thunder

Fawad Ahmed. (Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Expert
14th December, 2018
1
2906 Reads

With only a single finals appearance in seven seasons, the Sydney Thunder could be coined as the BBL’s most unsuccessful team, but 2018-19 is promising something more than just another early competition exit.

The Thunder have been well below par over the years, despite having some prized players in their squad. Luck and venues have had a bit to do with it, but the Thunder will be out to build on something of a promising season last time around which didn’t finish as well as it should have.

They ended up finishing in sixth spot, just one win out of the finals and equal with the Sixers, but still well below what they would have wanted after what was a topsy-turvy start to the season, yet one which would have filled them with hope.

Beating the Sixers and Hobart Hurricanes inside their first three matches, the second of those a blowout, had them heading in the right direction, but unfortunately, there were more results like the blowout loss against the Adelaide Strikers in Game 2 to follow.

The longer season may well play into the hands of the Thunder this time around. With youth and no great reliance on international talent, they should be able to gel as a unit and play quality cricket, which will improve the longer the season goes on as players move more and more into their respective roles within the outfit.

Usman Khawaja

Usman Khawaja. (AAP Image/Craig Golding)

Squad

Shane Watson (c), Fawad Ahmed, Jos Buttler (England) Pat Cummins, Anton Devcich (New Zealand) Callum Ferguson, Ryan Gibson, Chris Green, Liam Hatcher, Chris Jordan (England), Usman Khawaja, Jay Lenton, Nathan McAndrew, Arjun Nair, Kurtis Patterson, Sam Rainbird, Joe Root (England), Daniel Sams, Gurinder Sandhu, Jason Sangha

Captain: Shane Watson
Coach: Shane Bond
Imports: Jos Buttler, Joe Root (both replaced in January by Anton Devcich and Chris Jordan)

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Batsmen
The Thunder have a consistent batting outfit.

Jos Buttler and Shane Watson will form a dynamic opening stand at the top, while Joe Root adds stability in the top order and could be the man who tries to bat through the innings.

Then there are players like Callum Ferguson, Usman Khawaja and Kurtis Patterson who can all do plenty. Khawaja, in particular, has been excellent in the BBL over the years, so when he isn’t out with international duty, there will be plenty of pressure on him.

All-rounders
Arjun Nair is the main man who will run the all-rounder show after some impressive spin bowling last year. Watson appeared to be bowling less and less at times, but will also be classified here, so there are no problems in terms of getting the four overs out of a fifth bowler for the Thunder.

Bowlers
Pat Cummins will be the designated leader of the attack for the Thunder – if he gets on the field. The signing of Sam Rainbird from the Hobart Hurricanes is a good one as well.

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Daniel Sams is another key signing, having burst onto the scene with the Sydney Sixers last season in a stunning debut performance. Gurinder Sandhu and Liam Hatcher will also be competing for spots, while Chris Jordan is guaranteed to take one when he arrives during the second half of the season.

On the spin front, it will be Fawad Ahmed, who had an outstanding season last year – more on him shortly.

Fawad Ahmed

(AAP Image/Craig Golding)

International cricket impact
The Thunder will be impacted by international selection. English imports Jos Buttler and Joe Root will leave halfway through the season, while Usman Khawaja and Pat Cummins are likely to be tied up with the Australian side for most of the summer.

Best XI

1. Jos Buttler
2. Shane Watson (c)
3. Usman Khawaja
4. Joe Root
5. Callum Ferguson
6. Kurtis Patterson
7. Arjun Nair
8. Pat Cummins
9. Sam Rainbird
10. Daniel Sams
11. Fawad Ahmed

Keys to the season

How will Joe Root go?
Joe Root is seen as a marquee pick-up for the Thunder, although a career T20 strike-rate of under 130 leaves a bit to be desired.

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The Englishman Test skipper was dropped from the national team and is aiming to use a block of BBL cricket to force his way back in.

His best attribute will be consistency, but whether he can take things to another level at the back-end of an innings or not remains to be seen.

His ability to hold down an innings and ensure there are no collapses while turning the strike over is important for the Thunder. His role for the side will be crucial – until he leaves of course.

Batting in tandem with big hitters like Shane Watson and Jos Buttler could create a dynamic partnership and where others won’t rotate strike, you can bet everything that Root will, keeping the hitters rolling and the score moving on an upward trend for the Thunder.

Shane Watson

Shane Watson. (AAP Image/Rob Blakers)

Can Arjun Nair become a top-class spin partner for Fawad Ahmed?
Fawad Ahmed has become one of the most important cogs in the Thunder machine over the last couple of years. He has been consistent, bowling both during the powerplay and after it, limiting runs and taking wickets.

While he couldn’t bring about another trip to the finals, he won matches out of his own hand last year, finishing up with 12 wickets at an average of 20.42, but more importantly, an economy rate of just 6.12.

Ahmed will be required to play a huge role for the Thunder, but so will all-rounder Arjun Nair. The youngster was up and down last year, but put in a pretty strong overall performance.

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He needs to take it to another level this time around though, reducing his economy rate to below the seven runs per over mark and causing problems for the batsmen, building pressure from one end and tying it down during the important middle overs.

The Thunder’s chances of making the finals or not doing so will be greatly impacted one way or another by the way Nair and Ahmed play this season.

Daniel Sams needs to avoid second-year syndrome
Daniel Sams burst onto the scene last year. There is no doubting just how important he was for the Sixers attack following his debut, and when the Thunder announced his signature over the off-season, there was genuine excitement about what he will be able to deliver to Western Sydney.

However, Sams may have only been so good because no one had any idea who he was.

The element of surprise is something which can be a major advantage in T20 cricket, but Sams won’t have it this year.

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He will still have all the pace variations and potent new-ball bowling as he did during a moderately successful JLT Cup campaign, but T20 is a different beast.

If he can’t get it right, he could end up being just another toiler.

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Full fixtures

Match no. Date Time (AEDT) Opponent Venue TV
1 Fri Dec 21 7:15 PM Melbourne Stars Manuka Oval Seven/Fox
2 Mon Dec 24 7:15 PM Sydney Sixers Spotless Stadium Seven/Fox
3 Fri Dec 28 7:15 PM Hobart Hurricanes Blundstone Arena Seven/Fox
4 Mon Dec 31 7:15 PM Adelaide Strikers Adelaide Oval Seven/Fox
5 Wed Jan 2 7:15 PM Perth Scorchers Spotless Stadium Seven/Fox
6 Sat Jan 5 6:15 PM Melbourne Stars Metricon Stadium Fox
7 Tue Jan 8 7:15 PM Brisbane Heat Spotless Stadium Seven/Fox
8 Sun Jan 13 2:45 PM Adelaide Strikers Spotless Stadium Fox
9 Thu Jan 17 7:15 PM Brisbane Heat Gabba Seven/Fox
10 Tue Jan 22 7:15 PM Melbourne Renegades Spotless Stadium Seven/Fox
11 Thu Jan 24 9:40 PM Perth Scorchers Optus Stadium Seven/Fox
12 Wed Jan 30 7:15 PM Melbourne Renegades Marvel Stadium Fox
13 Sat Feb 2 7:00 PM Sydney Sixers SCG Fox
14 Sat Feb 9 6:15 PM Hobart Hurricanes Manuka Oval Fox

Prediction

The Thunder have plenty of youth in their squad, but they should be able to make improvements from last year as the team continues to grow in the shortest form of the game.

Sure, they will find it tough in patches, but if they can work through those tough games, have their imports stand up and win crucial matches against the likes of the Brisbane Heat, Melbourne Stars and Hobart Hurricanes, they should find themselves sneaking into the top four by the end of the season.

Going any further than that will be easier said than done, but the achievement of making the finals should be enough for the Thunder to hang their hat on this season, given their squad.

Fourth.

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