The Melbourne Stars have been a very consistent team in the BBL bar one poor season.
Twenty20 cricket was first thought to be a batsman’s game, and the proliferation of big scores that couldn’t be chased down certainly helped that narrative early in the piece.
But then bowlers started regaining control, and spin bowlers and pace-off bowlers especially started dictating terms, to the point that bowling first became the default choice for captains winning the toss. Twenty20, suddenly, was a bowler’s game and batting sides were thrilled if they could set a target somewhere in the vicinity of 165.
Currently, I’m not sure whether it’s a batsman’s or a bowler’s game. It might be both.
Overwhelmingly, captains have preferred to bat first in the Big Bash League this summer, but the wins have been pretty evenly shared between teams batting or bowling first.
Of the 59 games played to date, 12 teams have lost eight or more wickets batting first, while a whopping 21 teams have lost eight or more batting second, giving weight to captains now thinking that batting first makes more sense.
The split for the 12 teams batting first is like this: two lost eight wickets, three lost nine wickets, and seven were bowled out.
Of those chasing a target, seven lost eight wickets, four lost nine wickets, and ten lost all ten wickets. Of these 21 teams, only one of them won, while another three lost by eight runs or less.
So batting first is definitely the trend again, but the number of second-innings collapses suggests that T20 cricket is perhaps still a bowler’s game.
And that’s a conclusion worth getting to, because it directs how to best address what needs to happen for the Melbourne Stars or Sydney Thunder to win through to the BBL final in tonight’s Challenger at the MCG.
Because let’s face it: the batsmen will get the runs, but the bowlers will win or lose the game.
So here’s what needs to happen from a bowling perspective.
Delay Marcus Stoinis’ early boundaries
The BBL’s leading run-scorer by some distance, Stoinis will be ultra fired-up tonight after being left out of the Australian squad for the Twenty20 leg of the South Africa tour later this month. It was always going to be tough for Stoinis to force his way in as a top-order bat when competing with David Warner, Steve Smith and skipper Aaron Finch.
Regardless, he’ll be wanting to have his say on the matter against the Thunder bowlers. And that would be timely. For all his impressive scoring, Stoinis is actually in a bit of a trough currently, having made three single-figure scores and a 17, along with a 62, in his last five knocks.
Because he takes time to get into an innings, Stoinis has been at his most destructive in the BBL when he gets going early. And this is the Thunder’s chance.
If they can keep the lines full and tight, Stoinis will find it hard to get a boundary away early, and the more balls he faces, the more likely he is to play a false shot trying to force the issue. We might only be talking six or eight balls, but the pressure quickly arrives. Following up a dot ball with another dot ball is crucial. Likewise, if Stoinis does get an early boundary, follow-up dot balls have the same effect.
In the innings of 17 against Brisbane, he went 4-6-4 in the first over and was 16 off the first six balls. But over the next two overs he got deprived of strike and then bogged down when back on strike, before eventually chipping the 11th ball he faced to mid-off off the bowling of Ben Laughlin.
And there’s another way to get at Stoinis early, too.
Make Nic Maddinson face a lot of balls
Considering Hilton Cartwright made 35, 59, and 16 in his absence, I’m really surprised Maddinson came back to the top of the Stars’ batting order, because his run of horrid form has continued. He’s made just 132 runs in 12 innings, at a strike rate of 90.4.
In his last ten innings, he has only four double-figure scores and none of them were higher than 17.
In the qualifying final last Friday, Stoinis hit a boundary off his second ball, but Maddinson then crawled along to nine from ten balls when Stoinis again went early trying to up the scoring rate.
Maddinson making runs in the power play shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing for the Thunder bowlers, because he’ll take up a lot of balls to get there. And the more balls he faces, the more chance for wickets at the other end.
Don’t let Callum Ferguson get set in a partnership
Much has been made of Usman Khawaja and Alex Hales at the top of the order for the Thunder, and breaking that partnership is the number one priority for the Stars attack. If they get going, it’ll be a long night for the dark green team. Khawaja and Hales have five of the Thunder’s top ten partnerships, including the best three stands of 103, 99, and 96.
But it’s interesting that skipper and first drop Callum Ferguson not only also features in five of the top ten partnerships, but that he also features in six of the Thunder’s highest partnerships by wicket this season: the second, third, fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth wicket stands.
Perhaps better than any other BBL top-order regular this summer, Ferguson has a great ability to bat through the innings and with the lower order, making him a huge wicket for the Stars to get.
The Stars really can’t start feeling comfortable until Ferguson is in the sheds.
Get Alex Ross in early
Ross’ 314 runs at a strike rate of 126.6 have been incredibly valuable for the Thunder this season, and his five not-outs tell you he’s more than capable of seeing out an innings.
But of the four or five times he’s top scored or second-top scored, the Thunder have only won once, suggesting that while he is the key to the Thunder recovering from early wickets lost, he’s not quite capable of that destructive innings that might push the Thunder towards a target that can be defended.
He’s only made one 50 this summer, a 27-ball 51 against the Melbourne Renegades in Canberra. Ross came in at 3-30 in the power play after Daniel Sams failed terribly as a pinch-hitter, and it was only 26 from five balls in the 12th of 14 overs that got the Thunder over the edge of what was looking like a proper thumping.