Sydney Thunder opener Alex Hales has refuted suggestions his back-tracking fielding on the edge of circle is against the spirit of the game, as his side eliminated Hobart from the BBL.
With five games to go, this season’s finalists are all but decided. All that’s left to do in these penultimate power rankings is work out who’ll host them.
As this season’s BBL heads into its eighth week – yes, eighth week – we enter what I suspect will become a more regular fixture from next year’s tournament. No BBL on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, with the tournament’s final five games wedged into a 64-hour window between Thursday and Sunday.
There’s no doubt this will be remembered as the year the BBL lost a bit of its lustre. Crowds in Week 7 were significantly lower than even weeks prior, let alone the peaks we saw a season or two ago. The competition’s umpiring problems were front and centre in yesterday’s double-header, as two questionable LBW calls in the Heat-Strikers game were followed up by a disgraceful reviewed catch in Scorchers-Stars.
You’ve already seen it, but if not, a close-to-the-ground catch off a Ben Dunk pull shot by Nick Hobson was reviewed – despite Hobson and the bowler Nathan Coulter-Nile both suggesting it didn’t carry – after either or both Cam Bancroft and Ashton Turner appealed. The soft call was out – not that anyone watching on Fox Cricket knew that – and after a lengthy break the call came back as out. The contrarian soft call and lack of clear vision did Dunk in. It was farcical.
The great irony of it all of course is that the catch was reviewed to death, with poor-quality material, for close to five minutes, but Cricket Australia has steadfastly refused to introduce DRS because it purportedly impacts on the flow of the game. It may not have saved Dunk, but it would have surely saved the two Strikers batsmen who were done in by shonky umpiring calls.
But I digress – easy to do given the meandering nature of this tournament. Let’s get to the rankings. While we technically, or mathematically, have six live teams, the Thunder and Heat both need a hell of a lot to go their respective ways to dislodge the Melbourne Stars from fourth.
It’s actually set up to be something of a thrilling finish to the year given almost every game is live. We’ll get to that in line shortly.
1. Hobart Hurricanes (Last week: 1)
Just the one game this week from the competition favourite, which was a loss to the Adelaide Strikers that exposed the team’s clear bowling weaknesses. The Canes conceded just shy of 11 runs an over for the first ten overs as Alex Carey and Jay Weatherald got hold of them, and from that point it was over.
They’ve called for reinforcements in the form of Afghan leg spinner Qais Ahmad. Leg spinning seems to have displaced opioid poppies as Afghanistan’s top export earner in recent times, Ahmad joining his fellow countrymen as a T20 globe-hopper.
The Canes have two games to come, against the Melbourne Renegades (who could put themselves in the running for a home final with a large enough win) and the Sydney Thunder (who need to win to give themselves a shot at a finals spot). Certainly not an easy task, but Hobart would feel as though they’ve got the batting to cover both of their final home-and-away opponents.
2. Sydney Sixers (Last week: 2)
The Sixers are on a four-game winning streak, including two wins since the last rankings. Those four victories have been somewhat comprehensive, the Sixers beating the Strikers at a canter last Tuesday and delivering a Duckworth-Lewis-influenced hammering to the Sydney Thunder on Saturday night.
Sydney has one game to come against the Melbourne Stars in Melbourne next Sunday afternoon. There’s a few different possibilities here: Sydney could be playing for a home final if the Renegades win against the Hurricanes, Melbourne could be playing to hold onto their spot in the top four should they fail to overcome the Brisbane Heat, or it could be a dead rubber if those two situations fail to materialise.
Either way Sydney has come from nowhere in the preseason of this tournament and enters its final home-and-away week as perhaps the form team of the competition.
3. Melbourne Renegades (Last week: 4)
The Renegades move into third, which is the highest they’ve been on these rankings in BBL|08. That’s partly by default – they’re assured a spot in the finals with five games to go but are a notch or two behind the Hurricanes and Sixers – but also because the Gades have developed into a pretty well-rounded unit over the tournament to date.
Kane Richardson is killing it opening the innings and they bat well all the way down to seventh on account of Dan Christian’s power.
They’ll potentially get a shade stronger at the back end of the tournament too as the Test summer ends and a three-week break before the start of a short-form stint in India begins. The Gades were so up and down at the start of the tournament that it was impossible to hold any faith. Be wary, because it could happen again.
4. Melbourne Stars (Last week: 4)
The other Melbourne team also makes it into the top four in the rankings on account of its competition standing. The Stars merely need to win one of their remaining two games – it was one of their remaining three before Ashton Turner and Cam Bancroft batted them out of last night’s game – and a finals spot is theirs.
However, winning one of those final two games may be a challenge given the opponents have plenty to play for too.
On Friday the Heat host the Stars in a game that’ll see the winner sit on top of the loser in fourth spot; the Heat stay there unless the Thunder can win against the Hurricanes on Saturday night. The Stars then have to beat the Sydney Sixers in the final game of the season, who as above could be playing for a home final. It all becomes null and void, however, if the Stars win first up against Brisbane.
The Stars have been streaky all tournament, going on three separate three-game streaks of win, loss and win in their past nine games. Last night’s loss fits the pattern, and with two games to go…
5. Sydney Thunder
Not a great week for the other Sydney team, losing both of their games (albeit one was somewhat out of their hands on account of the Duckworth-Lewis system) when they were in a position to lock in a spot in the finals.
From here the Thunder need the following to happen: they need to win against the Hurricanes, the Stars need to lose both of their games and – just to complicate matters further given the Stars losing means the Brisbane Heat (their Friday night opponent) have to win – their net run rate has to exceed the Brisbane Heat’s net run rate (which it currently does by around 0.7).
All things being equal, that will require Sydney to win by at least 0.908 runs per over (or around 18 runs if they bat first; it’s not possible to determine how quickly they need to chase until we know the first-innings score in the case they bat second) more than the Heat win against the Stars.
That’s just a back-of-the-envelope calculation for what it’s worth – net run rate is a complex beast.
Sydney gets the nod over Brisbane as the most likely challenger to Melbourne’s spot because I just don’t trust the Brisbane Heat.
6. Brisbane Heat (Last week: Better luck next year)
They’ve emerged from the dead, but only just and without much hope of staying here for long. Brisbane beat both Perth and Adelaide this week, an epic chase led by noted crab Matt Renshaw’s 90 not out one of the highlights of the tournament to date. The other candidate for highlight of the tournament was Josh Lalor’s hat-trick, which no-one seemed to realise was a hat-trick immediately given it was stretched over a few overs.
Brisbane needs to beat the Stars on Friday night to have any hope of making the top four from nowhere. After that they have to hope the Sydney Thunder don’t win on Saturday night and the Stars then don’t win against the Sydney Sixers on Sunday. I still think this team is trash, but sometimes in the BBL being trash plus some positive variance is enough to get you a win or two.
Better luck next year
Perth Scorchers (Last week: Better luck next year)
Adelaide Strikers (Last week: 5)
This week, these two are actually mathematically eliminated. No returning from the dead for them.