Selectors will be breathing a sigh of relief, with Australian ODI captain Aaron Finch leading the charge in a match-winning partnership with Shaun Marsh in the series opening win over Pakistan.
When the old state Twenty20 Big Bash was revamped eight seasons ago to become the eight-team, six-city Big Bash League, there’s no doubt in my mind that among the goals for the new competition was for a final to be played by cross-town rivals.
And obviously that meant an all-Sydney or all-Melbourne decider, but that’s where all the people are; that’s literally why they split New South Wales and Victoria into two teams split across the city.
Taking this further, and with Cricket Australia quite openly admiring the way the AFL runs themselves as a business and a self-proclaimed industry, there’s even less doubt that the ideal cross-town final would involve cashing in on Melbourne’s self-proclaimed ‘sporting capital of the world’ tag.
The only possible way today’s final between the red Melbourne Renegades and the green Melbourne Stars could have better ticked off CA’s long-term goal, would have been if the game was played at the Stars’ home Melbourne Cricket Ground and not the Docklands Stadium across the city.
And that’s not to say it wasn’t thought of as an idea. Only Melbourne Stars Chairman Eddie McGuire could call for a final to be moved to his team’s home ground with a straight face and insist it’s only because he wants to ensure no-one misses out on getting a ticket.
No, nothing to do with playing at home, Eddie!
The Renegades rightly knocked the idea on its head, with CEO Stuart Coventry confirming they’re contracted to play all their finals at the Docklands.
Of course, if the Docklands does draw the 40,000 crowd many are anticipating this afternoon, it’s still going to be one of the biggest BBL crowds in recent years and will make for an incredible atmosphere. And in fact, if they manage to get anything like 40,000 under the roof today, it’ll be a fair shot in the arm for a competition undergoing an unprecedented and certainly unexpected perception crisis.
As it stands, the Stars snuck into the BBL semis courtesy of a Sydney Sixers implosion (and yes, some serious Glenn Maxwell ‘Maxwellball’, to use Dan Liebke’s apt descriptor). And when the Sixers pulled out their inconsistent best to post 3/180 in the second semi on Friday night, the Renegades’ Dan Christian needed a bit of ‘Maxwellball’ of his own to send red Melbourne through to their first Final.
The fact we have a Melbourne Derby for the Final has once again led to calls for the top teams to get a double chance, after Hobart became the sixth minor premier to be knocked out at the first hurdle in eight seasons.
It’s hard to ignore the irony of calls for an extra game in a season where the length of the competition has been the number one gripe.
I wrote and genuinely thought that Hobart, despite losing three of their last five games going into the semi, were still the best side in the competition and were more than good enough to take a maiden BBL title. That they couldn’t win a home semi on their home wicket in front of their own crowd having slept in their own beds all week suggests to me – like I’ve pretty much always thought – that they probably don’t deserve a second chance.
And besides that, if the fourth-placed team is good enough to go to the first-placed team’s home ground and play in front of few supporters of their own and get the job done, why shouldn’t they win straight through to the final?
(As an aside, four of the seven past BBL Champions finished third or fourth overall.)
Anyway, that’s all academic now, and a Melbourne derby final is what we’ve got.
And heading into today, it might be the most open contest for a BBL Final in years.
Adelaide were always going to tough for Hobart to beat at home last summer, due partly to the Hurricanes finishing fourth overall (they had to beat first-placed Perth) and the Strikers being generally unbeatable at the Adelaide Oval.
Perth were strong favourites to beat the Sydney Sixers in 2016-17, too. Maybe 2015/16, when the Sydney Thunder beat the Stars at the MCG was the last time I felt like a Final could go either way.
Today could definitely go either way.
Both sides ‘feel’ a bit light on in a few areas, yet both sides have some genuine game-breakers in their side.
If even just a couple of Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Peter Handscomb and Adam Zampa go off, the Stars will be very well-placed to take their first BBL title in two attempts.
Equally, if just a couple of Aaron Finch, Cameron White, Dan Christian, and Cameron Boyce go off, the Renegades can just as easily break their BBL final drought in the best possible way.
A Melbourne derby final has long been desired, but today, I’m just genuinely intrigued to see how a pretty even contest will play out.
It looms as an intriguing conclusion to a season that’s often been anything but.