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Opinion

It’s a knockout! Thunder with the momentum as Stars get the finals wobbles

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Expert
1st February, 2020
25
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“Death, taxes, and the Melbourne Stars losing a Big Bash semi,” was the theme of a number of only semi-trolling tweets I saw on Friday night.

The following night, last night, that hunch I had about the Adelaide Strikers was extinguished to the tune of a Stars-like finals collapse, losing 6-24 over the last six overs to fall in a heap against the Sydney Thunder in Adelaide.

But honestly, you couldn’t read about the Stars dropping what was their rails run to the Big Bash final.

The BBL finals format was changed this season specifically because too many top-two sides were being knocked out at the first hurdle. In the previous eight seasons, the top-ranked side failed to get past the semi-finals six times.

That only happened to the Stars once, for what it’s worth, but they have lost five semi-finals and two finals in those eight seasons.

So the “death, taxes, and the Melbourne Stars losing a Big Bash semi” jibe does hold a bit of water.

This season, after dominating much of the season to finish first and armed with the shiny, new double chance, they proceeded to lose their first 3-26 inside the powerplay, their next 4-21 through the middle order, and their last 3-16 to complete the job and be bowled out in 18 overs for 99.

They’ve now lost their last four games straight, after being more than three games clear on top of the table less than a fortnight ago.

Marcus Stoinis of the Stars leaves the field after being dismissed during the Big Bash League

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

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All the world-beating form they were showing through their first 11 games is gone, and come Thursday night, they’ll find themselves in something of a familiar setting: sudden death.

They now face the Sydney Thunder, who by contrast have enjoyed three really impressive wins on the trot, the last two of them also sudden-death finals matches.

Already, the Thunder are what no-one assumed would happen in the first season of the new finals format. When the finals were expanded with the double chance for the top two, they added one extra game and a fifth team to the equation.

In theory, the team seeded fifth would need to win four sudden-death finals matches to be crowned BBL champions.

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The Thunder are now halfway to doing that.

They batted really well against Hobart in the Eliminator on Thursday night, and then backed that up perfectly to suffocate the Hurricanes and win by 57.

Last night in the Knockout, they didn’t quite bat as well, but again bowled brilliantly to keep the Strikers at bay and win through to the Challenger final on Thursday night in Melbourne with their eight-run win.

And here’s the thing about the Thunder suddenly.

The momentum they now have – arguably the best of the three teams remaining in the hunt for BBL09 – is such that only the truly ignorant would rule them out of winning their next two games and claiming a second title.

Their top order are beginning to fire again. With Alex Hales at the top with him – and being as hit and miss as most hard-swinging, short-form power hitters are – you always felt the Thunder’s fortunes rested with Usman Khawaja.

Usman Khawaja of the Thunder bats

(Photo by Chris Hyde – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

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The former Test number three has battled at times. He had a run of four scores under 13 in the back half of the tournament, yet still has 365 runs to his name across 16 games, at a strike rate of 123.

In fact, Khawaja’s output is very much in line with that of Callum Ferguson and Ales Ross, and the collective consistency from those three crucial batsmen has allowed Hales to bat more freely, now compiling 568 runs at a strike rate nearing 148. His last five scores have been 47 or more, and he has six 50s among his 16 innings to date (and two ducks).

This platform at the top has given the Thunder bowlers plenty to work with.

The Thunder this summer are a bat-first team. They’ve won the toss eight times and batted on six of them. Interestingly, they’re four-and-four from the eight occasions they’re batted first, but their approach has been pretty consistent.

That in turn has given the likes of Daniel Sams, Chris Morris and Jono Cook something to defend, which they’ve made a good fist of. The three of them have claimed 63 of the 102 wickets the Thunder have taken this summer.

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And I’ll admit, Morris is the only one of the three who looks like he has a plan to take wickets.

Regardless, their ability to tie teams down is a big reason why the Thunder are well and truly in the running to take out the BBL Final this year.

It’ll be an incredible achievement if they can do it – coming from fifth – but the inconsistency of the Stars and the Sydney Sixers means you certainly can’t rule them out.

Momentum is huge in Twenty20 cricket, and right now, it just feels like it’s all with the lime green.