The Melbourne Stars have been a very consistent team in the BBL bar one poor season.
If the choker tag wasn’t affixed firmly enough to the Melbourne Stars after last season’s calamitous final, Friday night’s loss to the Sydney Sixers would see it branded onto their green kits.
Bowled out for just 99, the Stars recorded their lowest ever Big Bash total at a time they could least afford it. The two keys to their fortunes this season, Marcus Stoinis and Glenn Maxwell, both failed to fire, doing little to dispel lingering questions of over-reliance on the pair.
After notching ten wins in their first 11 games to seal top spot, David Hussey’s side have since lost four on the trot, becoming the source of ridicule despite a mostly successful season.
The Stars have made the finals in eight of nine BBL seasons – more than any other club. But they’re also one of just two sides, along with the Hobart Hurricanes, who are yet to taste Big Bash success. In an almost unlosable position in last season’s final the Stars needed just 53 off 43 with ten wickets in hand yet snatched defeat in comical circumstances.
The choker tag is somewhat unfair given clubs such as the Thunder and Heat have made just two finals series in their history. But importantly in this context, those two have lifted the BBL trophy. The Stars haven’t, and the growing narrative is that a pressure to perform when it matters is weighing them down. It’s a story arc fans are keenly following, with more than a dollop of schadenfreude for some.
And it’s exactly the narrative the league needs more of.
Whether the Stars are mentally hampered by failures of the past is irrelevant. The fact is that fans have a frame of reference around the club when they take to the field. And while it’s a reference the Stars would rather rid themselves of, it’s one that fosters interest and assists in building hype around future contests.
The Brisbane Heat, who like the Stars are now tagged with a similarly unflattering reputation of being stubborn sloggers or front-runners, are another side whose storyline fans are well aware of. Skipper Chris Lynn even conceded the characterisation after losing to the Renegades in this season’s most baffling performance.
“I don’t know what goes on out in the middle because we just seem to panic,” Lynn said after his side lost 10-36 with the bat. “And then it’s not just a wicket or two, it’s a train wreck.”
Reaction from Heat fans on social media was damning. But it showed they care. Had fans been apathetic after that defeat, there would be more to worry about for the club than merely missing out on two points. But they did, and in a twisted way it was an endorsement of the club.
Slowly Big Bash clubs are gaining identities. This creates context around matches rather than the prism of one brightly coloured team against another. It has taken the IPL, which soon enters its 13th season, time to develop these too.
While the Stars and Heat are more obvious examples, the Renegades have quite clearly morphed into the competition’s most mercurial side, while up until last season the Scorchers were the league’s biggest over-achievers.
Of course there has to be a sense of realism about the level of fan investment in the BBL. The league will never replicate the sense of parochialism seen in the football codes and likely won’t become cricket’s showpiece like the IPL is in India. But at a basic level, interest in the league is more sustainable when there’s a historical context around the teams involved, however short that history may be.
Thursday night’s Challenger match pits the Stars against the Thunder, the winner of which will face the Sixers at the SCG in Saturday’s final. Those who tune in will be all too aware of the Stars’ troubles not just this season but also seasons gone by.
And it makes for all the more intriguing an encounter.