South Australia, Victoria and Queensland notched wins in the first round of the Sheffield Shield after the BBL break. Here are three talking points.
Last night’s rain-affected fixture between the Sydney Sixers and Hobart Hurricanes was the 39th of 56 to be played before the Big Bash League finals series, and the 17 to follow now take on varying degrees of importance for the teams currently in the new-look top five.
The Sixers-Hurricanes no result won’t hurt Sydney, but it hasn’t done Hobart many favours. But it will add some serious intrigue around the games to come this weekend.
This afternoon’s big game in Adelaide between the Strikers and Brisbane Heat then the Saturday and Sunday double-headers all shape as crucial ahead of the finals, with the ladder shaping up this way.
Adelaide Strikers vs Brisbane Heat, Adelaide Oval, 3:40pm (AEDT) Friday
Both teams will be desperate to win this game and stake their claim on third place, where they would at least avoid the fourth versus fifth eliminator, which is new for BBL09 and will kick off the finals this summer.
Brisbane look a totally different team with AB de Villiers now on deck and giving their middle order the kind of stability that everyone but the Heat list manager has been crying out for for years.
They’ve won four of their last five to rocket into third spot, and look to have some serious momentum behind them. Even their bowling looks better at the moment, but Ben Laughlin will still be a huge inclusion if he can overcome the foot injury that kept him out of the win over Adelaide in Brisbane on Tuesday.
The Strikers have to find a way to overcome that loss. They looked pretty rock-solid for the finals not that long ago, but suddenly they’re vulnerable to the Sydney Thunder, who are also on nine points.
Adelaide have lost four of their last five games going back to New Year’s Eve, although their win over the Renegades at the Adelaide Oval last Sunday was pretty comprehensive.
The loss of Alex Carey is an interesting one, as it’s meant they have had to shuffle their side to properly cover for him. Travis Head coming back from Test duty obviously helps, but the Strikers also had to bring in Harry Nielsen to keep wicket.
And Head now has to prove that that ball directly at his front hip that James Pattinson knocked him over with at the Gabba on Tuesday isn’t going to become the new wide-outside-off get-out ball that still plagues him.
Melbourne Stars vs Perth Scorchers, MCG, 3:40pm (AEDT) Saturday
Another return leg match, after these two sides only just met on Wednesday night. And that was crazy in itself, with the Stars taking their time to get over to Perth and even have a training session while Perth played a game in Hobart, and then endured a five-hour flight delay in Melbourne on the return home.
The net result was pretty plain to see: an absolutely shagged Scorchers comprehensively thumped at home, bowled out for 86 and handing the Stars a comfortable eight-wicket win in 12 overs to further consolidate their already healthy lead atop the table.
Surely the common-sense thing would have been to play the MCG game on Wednesday after the Scorchers flew up from Hobart, and then have both teams head west for the return leg? But given Perth have had to fly somewhere after every game so far – Monday’s game against the Thunder and next Friday’s against Adelaide will be the first time they’ve played consecutive home games – that kind of sense hasn’t been very common in BBL09.
Regardless, another Perth loss could also leave them vulnerable to the likes of Adelaide and the Thunder below them, which in turn would make their games next week crucial.
The Stars are safe, and maybe only one win away from locking down top spot. But the Scorchers simply have to find a way to beat them.
Sydney Thunder vs Sydney Sixers, Sydney Showground, 7:10pm (AEDT) Saturday
The Thunder’s Duckworth-Lewis loss to the Renegades in Canberra on Wednesday night left them outside the top five, so their equation from here on is pretty simple: just do whatever to get back in.
The Thunder’s BBL campaign could best be described as unlucky thus far, with a bushfire smoke-impacted no result in Canberra before Christmas, a super over loss in the first Sydney derby just after Christmas, and now two Duckworth-Lewis losses in the new year. So they’re clearly good enough.
The Sixers’ one point from the washout against Hobart means they will stay in second at least until they play this game. None of Brisbane, Perth or Adelaide will be able to bridge the gap the Sixers currently enjoy.
But that’s the only certainty the Sixers currently hold. A loss in the return derby, and they’ll be in real danger of being caught by other sides.
Hobart Hurricanes vs Adelaide Strikers, Launceston, 2:45pm (AEDT) Sunday
The Hurricanes’ one point from the no result in Sydney leaves them with just seven with four games to play. If they won all four, they could get to 15 points. The question is whether that will be enough.
I’m not sure it will be, but there’s another issue for the purple people eaters: they don’t have the bowling or the batting to win all four games.
If the Brisbane game goes their way tonight, I suspect a win over Hobart will confirm the Strikers’ place in the finals.
Brisbane Heat vs Melbourne Renegades, Gabba, 7:10pm (AEDT) Sunday
And even if Brisbane can’t win in Adelaide tonight, a win against the Renegades at home on Sunday night will keep them in the mix and heading in the right direction.
Realistically, Brisbane just have to stay above the Sydney Thunder and they’ll play finals.
And once they’re there, they’ll be a proper dark horse for their second BBL title.