Usman Khawaja could be in doubt to play the first Ashes Test after being left out of the 24-man group for the Australia vs Australia A match starting Tuesday, the final game before the Ashes.
After last night’s late finish in Perth, the Big Bash League is now 41 games down as we enter into this funny little mid-tournament break, with the day-night Test Match in Brisbane on at the same time.
When the competition resumes, there will be 15 to play before the knockout semi-finals commence on February 14.
Every team bar Brisbane has played at least ten games – the two Sydney teams and the Melbourne Renegades have played 11. That means everyone has three or four games to come, with the Heat still to play five – they will actually play four games in seven days from Sunday.
And it is a funny little break we’re entering. The BBL has in the past had to be intertwined with ODIs and T20Is, but never a day-night Test.
And with Queensland steadfastly preferring to save the curtains in Cairns rather than observe daylight saving, it means that playing games in Perth is the only way to have a BBL game follow a day of play at the ‘Gabba.
It does, however, mean that Saturday’s Women’s Big Bash Final will be played in clean air, which the Sydney Sixers and Brisbane Heat women thoroughly deserve – even if it is at the junior cricket start time of 10:10am in Sydney.
Then on Sunday, we’ll have a first in Australian cricket: a BBL game will played at the same time a Test is being played, with the Melbourne Stars hosting Brisbane at the MCG from 7:15pm. I’ve got two TVs, but it’ll be interesting to see how the ratings for both games are affected.
Anyway, that’s an aside. There are 15 games to come, and they’ll determine who can and can’t make the semis. Or, I could just have a stab at it now…
Hobart Hurricanes – 16 points, 10 games, 8 wins
To come: Brisbane in Hobart, Tues Jan 29; Adelaide in Launceston, Thur Jan 31; Melbourne Renegades in Hobart, Thur Feb 7, and Sydney Thunder in Canberra, Sat Feb 9.
The common train of thought this extended BBL season is that eight wins is the magic number to qualify inside the top four, and so on that front the Hurricanes look safe, even before you start considering who they have to play, where they’ll play them, and how well they’re playing currently.
Three home games, even if one is in Launceston, is a huge advantage and Hobart could drop one of these last four games and still finish on top.
In all reality though, they can absolutely win all four with the way their top order bats are firing, and their bowling unit is operating.
Sydney Sixers – 12 points, 11 games, 6 wins
To come: Adelaide in Sydney, Tues Jan 29; Sydney Thunder in Sydney, Sat Feb 2, and Melbourne Stars in Melbourne, Sun Feb 10.
The Sixers are a bit vulnerable in that they have just three games to play, but two of them being at the SCG is a big help.
They can also win all three games to come, but two wins would get them to 16 points and only the Sydney Thunder of the teams immediately behind them have a similarly healthy net run rate.
Adelaide next Tuesday is a bit of a danger game now, give the reigning champs have now lost three on the trot, and the Sydney derbies are always close contests.
But the possibility of setting up a home semi is a decent motivation to win both, which should then also account for the Stars at the MCG.
Melbourne Renegades – 12 points, 11 games, 6 wins
To come: Perth in Perth, Mon Jan 28; Sydney Thunder in Melbourne, Wed Jan 30, and Hobart in Hobart, Thur Feb 7.
The Renegades are in the same boat as the Sixers above, but don’t have a great net run rate. And their batting has been a bit fragile of late, having been bowled out twice and lost nine wickets in another innings all within their four games.
In the remaining game, they chased down the Sixers’ 115 in 13 overs and only three down.
And to me, that makes their next three games 50-50 prospects. With one of the worst NRRs in the competition, the Renegades must win at least two of their last three games.
But even if you concede beating first-placed Hobart in Hobart will be too much, it doesn’t take much consideration for the Perth and Thunder games to become tough.
In all reality, the Renegades are the most vulnerable to the likes of the Stars and Thunder just behind them.
Sydney Thunder – 11 points, 11 games, 5 wins (1 no result)
To come: Melbourne Renegades in Melbourne, Wed Jan 30; Sydney Sixers at the SCG, Sat Feb 2, and Hobart in Canberra, Sat Feb 9.
The Thunder really needed to win last night in Perth, and they did that in style with Callum Ferguson’s unbeaten 113 – a record high score for the lime spiders.
The win catapulted the Thunder back into the top four courtesy of their point against Brisbane the other week, and this could prove very handy going forward.
Three further wins from here will push the Thunder to 17, which could even snare them a home semi-final.
But they do have to play the three teams immediately above them on the table, meaning that if they get there, they will have well and truly deserved whatever advantages they pick up along the way.
The Thunder’s NRR is healthy too, meaning that with that handy point, they might be able to sneak in with seven wins.
Melbourne Stars – 10 points, 10 games, 5 wins
To come: Brisbane in Melbourne this Sunday; Perth in Perth, Sun Feb 3; Brisbane in Brisbane, Fri Feb 8, and Sydney Sixers in Melbourne, Sun Feb 10.
The Stars need to find three wins in their last four games, and the immediate standout in their run home is the two cracks they’ll get at the chronically misfiring Brisbane Heat. Win both of those then one more win against either the Scorchers and Sixers should be enough.
Can they do that, though? Do they have enough firepower and consistency in their best XI to do that, never mind the rest of their squad? I’m not sure about that.
Marcus Stoinis has effectively got them home in the last two wins and both were impressive. But the two before them saw them bowled out for 126 and 137. They’re a ‘maybe’, for me.
Adelaide Strikers – 8 points, 10 games, 4 wins
To come: Sydney Sixers in Sydney, Tues Jan 29; Hobart in Launceston, Thur Jan 31; Brisbane in Adelaide, Sun Feb 3, and Perth in Alice Springs, Sat Feb 9.
Adelaide are certainly making their title defence difficult, and remain stuck on 8 points after losing their last three straight.
And it’s not just that they’re losing, but the way they’re losing – they were bowled out for 97 and 123 chasing gettable totals, and in between those two couldn’t take a wicket as Matthew Wade and Darcy Short got Hobart home none down.
They need to not only win all four remaining games, but win them well. They have the worst NRR in BBL08, and it’s the worst by a long way.
Being bowled out three times in six losses definitely doesn’t help. I think the Strikers are in trouble.
Brisbane Heat – 7 points, 9 games, 3 wins (1 no result)
To come: Melbourne Stars in Melbourne this Sunday; Hobart in Hobart, Tues Jan 29; Perth in Brisbane, Fri Feb 1; Adelaide in Adelaide, Sun Feb 3, and Melbourne Stars in Brisbane, Fri Feb 8.
On form, the Heat qualifying for the semi looks as unlikely as snow in south-eastern Australia this looming very hot weekend.
But by virtue of their game in hand over everyone in the competition, and the point gained from the Gabba light tower debacle, Brisbane winning all five games from here would put them on 17 points and almost certain qualification.
But teams worked out years ago that if you get one of the Brisbane hitters early, you keep their tally low. Even with Max Bryant joining Chris Lynn and Brendan McCullum in an explosive top three, the method still works.
Except now, their bowling isn’t that flash and they can’t bowl teams out. And that all points to their hopes evaporating by this time next week.
Perth Scorchers – 6 points, 10 games, 3 wins
To come: Melbourne Renegades in Perth next Monday; Brisbane in Brisbane, Fri Feb 1; Melbourne Stars in Perth, Sun Feb 3, and Adelaide in Alice Springs, Sat Feb 9.
It’s been must-win-everything for the Scorchers for the last week or so, and last night’s loss to the Sydney Thunder means that it’s now highly likely Perth will miss the BBL finals for the first time in eight seasons.
They could snare a couple of wins on the way home, but they’re really only playing for pride and nuisance value now, which probably makes them a dangerous prospect as they conclude a disappointing season.