Chasing 398 was an almost impossible task for Afghanistan.
Just four games to go on, but there’s been enough signal amidst the T20 noise to make some subtle changes in this week’s BBL power rankings.
We were treated to our first – and so far only, unfortunately – compelling contest of the tournament on Friday night, with the Hobart Hurricanes chasing down 194 for victory against the Sydney Thunder. The ‘Canes are now 4-0, and while there’s still a long way to go they have emerged as the early tournament favourite as we hit the New Year.
What’s the go with the competition? Friday night’s game was the exception to what has otherwise been a fairly middling series of cricket games to start the season. Two games have seen the side batting first set around 100 runs for victory, while five teams have lost three or more wickets in the first six overs of the game. The aggregate run rate across the competition has been 7.51 runs per over, down from 7.72 last season and 7.95 the year before that.
It’s not even just total runs made though right? It’s the quality of the batting on display. There’s been precious few standout innings, both of power and poise, outside of the Hobart lads, some chaps from the mother country, and a spattering of long stints from others.
A nation short on quality bats. The bowling has been good, yes, but not so good that it is knocking around nine runs off the average total across the competition.
It’s a busy slate this week, starting with Adelaide’s New Year Eve game tonight and ending back at the Adelaide Oval with the Strikers hosting the maybe-they’re-good-maybe-they’re-lucky Sydney Sixers. On to the rankings.
1. Hobart Hurricanes (Last week: 2)
Reminder: this isn’t a prediction of who is going to win the competition, at least not this far out. It’s a guide as to who’s in form and who is not in form. And at 4-0 with the best Net Run Rate in the competition (+0.772), the Hobart Hurricanes are certainly the form side of the competition.
In a tournament lacking in batting, the ‘Canes are our only hope. Its top four have been the best performed by some margin, and with George Bailey bopping match-winning sixes in the middle order it looms as one of the competition’s most potent strengths. Thus far a flakey attack hasn’t hurt Hobart too much, though conceding 190-odd in a first inning is hardly ideal.
The ‘Canes have a light schedule over the next couple of weeks, with games this Friday and next Monday their only hitouts over the next fortnight. They’ve probably done enough to hold this spot for at least a week, though as we’ve seen plenty in this tournament T20 is extraordinarily fickle.
2. Adelaide Strikers (Last week: 1)
Just one game for the Strikers last week, and it was not so good: a drubbing at the hands of the Perth Scorchers. The Strikers were skittled for 88 on a monstrous Perth Stadium wicket, and didn’t look like bothering the Scorchers in the chase.
For now we’ll call it an aberration. The Strikers are deep in both phases and have arguably the best T20 bowler in the world conceding less than five an over in his four every game. Adelaide has a busy week ahead with games today, Thursday and Sunday.
3. Sydney Thunder (Last week: 5)
The Thunder jump up to third (from sixth in the preseason rankings) almost by default. There’s a little bit of a gap between Hobart and Adelaide in the first two spots, but then for now a gaping chasm between those two and the rest of the competition.
Sydney is second on the table with a 2-1 record and a good Net Run Rate (+0.534) but are almost certainly reliant on the unAustralian talents of Jos Buttler. The Englishman has pilfered 172 runs (second in the league) at a strike rate of 160.7 (third amongst batsmen with at least three innings) in his three innings, passing 50 twice. He’s only hanging around for another four games, but those four games could get his side into a position to challenge for the top four.
Death bowling is a bit of a sore point, which came to bear in its loss to the Hurricanes. However with Buttler and fellow England international Joe Root departing, the Thunder have a chance to change things up for the back end of the tournament and hope to get some extra production from the rest of its top order.
It’s a bit of a house of cards, but that can be enough in this competition.
4. Melbourne Renegades (Last week: 4)
The Melbourne Renegades are also on 2-1 through three games, and lost their only game of the week (against the Sydney Sixers) on a sticky Docklands wicket.
Despite that, I simply can’t drop them any lower for now, on account of the performances or question marks of the teams below them. The ‘Gades batting looked really sound before it was shattered by a pretty modest Sixers attack, and it’s about to be boosted by the return of Aaron Finch if you believe the buzz.
Its bowling is a problem, but so is the Hurricanes’ bowling. For now, they don’t move.
5. Perth Scorchers (Last week: 3)
Top order batting. Top order batting. Top order batting. It is so critical to T20 cricket, and the Perth Scorchers have none whatsoever.
Perth’s top order has crumpled in three of its four games, including its embarrassing 4-19 off four overs in last night’s loss to the Hurricanes. You could have prime age Warne, McGrath, Gillespie and Lee, and they aren’t getting you out of that sort of jam on a regular basis.
Retention of this ranking is based on two things: the strength of Perth’s bowling line up (notwithstanding the continued AJ Tye regression), and that its top order batsmen have been getting out because of poor shot selection or great pieces of bowling.
Another two games like the four we’ve seen to date and it might be time to question the credentials of the three time champions.
6. Melbourne Stars (Last week: 6)
These last three spots are a bit of a toss up, because I don’t hold much faith in any of the trio.
Melbourne was sixth last week, down from fifth the week prior. Its lone game this week was a victory against the Sydney Sixers away from home, with test discard Peter Handscomb and some tight bowling in the first ten overs setting up a solid victory.
Handscomb figures to be around for a while, and suddenly the Stars have a path to a top quality foursome atop the order (Handscomb, Larkin, Maxwell, Stonis – Dunk can float somewhere down the list).
Its spin-heavy bowling attack has been hit and miss, and its reliance on Dwayne Bravo for crunch time overs is ill-advised. They might be on the up, but equally it could fall to pieces faster than a Ben Dunk opening partnership.
7. Sydney Sixers (Last week: 8)
I’m still not sure the Sydney Sixers are any good. They’ve ridden two highly unlikely waves to date: Steven O’Keefe’s modern impersonation of Stuart MacGill, and middle order runs from Jordan Silk.
In both of its wins, the Sixers have lost three wickets for not many runs in the first five overs, only to see its opponents put in worse performances with the bat. So yes, the Sixers are 2-2 through four games, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they are 4-4 in a couple of week’s time (though that’ll be tricky with three away games to come this week). Equally they could finish the tournament with these two wins to their credit such has been the luck they’ve ridden to date.
8. Brisbane Heat (Last week: 7)
No games, but the Heat still drop because my memory of their two games suggests even the Sixers are a touch more impressive than them to date. They’ve somehow only got two games to come this week despite playing two less than the rest of the competition, and will have played four games to the Sixers seven come Sunday.
Good news: there’s still plenty of time for Brisbane to make up ground before we hit finals time.