‘He has taken a yard!’
With the Big Bash League commencing in a matter of days, it’s time to assess the landscape and see what we can expect over the next two months.
After a strong and wonderfully tight WBBL, resulting in another anticlimactic end for the Melbourne Stars, the men’s version of the format will kick off with high hopes for an even season.
There are new rules, and hubs to make the tenth edition of the BBL have a decidedly 2020 feel.
Perhaps most exciting is the introduction of the third international player into each team’s XI, a rule that had been strictly in place for years with just two internationals eligible for matches.
Given the nature of the global pandemic, the BBL will look a little different, and there are far more international players rotating through the teams, with the need to quarantine and the re-introduction of international cricket playing a key factor.
Below, I’ll be breaking down each team’s chances, their predicted initial line-ups, and their international players, as well as predicting how they’ll fare.
We can expect more international announcements as availability becomes clearer just prior to and during the tournament.
Predicted XI vs Hobart (13 Dec): 1. Matthew Renshaw, 2. Jake Weatherald (c), 3. Matt Short, 4. Harry Nielsen (wk), 5. Jono Wells, 6. Liam Scott, 7. Rashid Khan, 8. Peter Siddle, 9. Danny Briggs, 10. Daniel Worrall, 11. Wes Agar, (12. Cameron White)
Rest of squad: Alex Carey (Australia A), Michael Neser (Australia A) Phil Salt (international duty), Travis Head (international duty), Liam O’Connor, Harry Conway, Cameron Valente, Spencer Johnson
International players: Rashid Khan (first 10 games), Phil Salt (after Christmas), Danny Briggs (entire tournament)
BBL|09 performance: Knockout (third)
Strong top-end T20 experience
In key areas, the Strikers have ensured that they are well covered with experienced players that have performed well at a high level. Danny Briggs is a shrewd addition to the squad as the most successful bowler in England’s T20 Blast competition, with his tight left-arm spinners only building more pressure, alongside Peter Siddle, for the more aggressive bowlers to take advantage. The opening partnership is tried and tested, and the batting order is much improved with Matt Renshaw’s inclusion as a well-balanced threat ahead of Jono Wells.
Friendly venue fixture
The Strikers have several spin options to throw the ball to, and only need to encounter playing at The Gabba once and the MCG twice, avoiding Optus Stadium altogether. It’s a handy way for things to play out for Adelaide, who can really maximise the fact they have two high-level spinners that are likely to lead the attack for a lot of the season. With a batting line-up that can work hard on tackier pitches, this is a big advantage for the Strikers.
Rashid Khan’s availability
This one is a bit of an unknown, with early indications being that Khan is available for the entire tournament. However, Afghanistan has an international series against Ireland starting on January 18 and current laws in Australia would require a further quarantine, meaning Khan’s selection for his country would rule him out of the tournament’s business end. While Travis Head’s return will boost the Strikers, Khan’s absence would be too difficult to overcome if the Strikers were within touching distance.
This will improve when Phil Salt is eligible to play, with the fact Carey can slide down the order and play as a finisher as we’ve seen for Australia being a good leveller for the Strikers. But having Michael Neser or Rashid Khan at seven has always been inconsistent closer to the side of unreliable, particularly the former who just isn’t as suited to batting at the end of a T20 innings as he is in Shield cricket.
It leaves a heavy reliance on a top six that could also have acceleration issues in the middle overs if a couple of wickets have been lost early, even with the two-over powerplay available.
The Strikers can often be a middling team, with spurts of excellence often offset by poor performances which has them a level below the better teams in the competition. There are concerns about how the team will perform early on, with the expectation that Liam Scott will be backed in as the explosive middle-order option, and there is a desperate need for the Strikers to take full advantage of two early fixtures against Hobart.
The signing of Daniel Worrall to replace Billy Stanlake was a smart way to improve the fast bowling stocks, but only two of Siddle, Worrall and Wes Agar can play.
Predicted XI vs Melbourne Stars (11 December): 1. Max Bryant, 2. Sam Heazlett, 3. Chris Lynn (c), 4. Dan Lawrence, 5. Tom Cooper, 6. Jimmy Peirson (wk), 7. Jack Wildermuth, 8. Mark Steketee, 9. Morne Morkel, 10. Ben Laughlin, 11. Mujeeb Ur Rahman, (12. Matt Kuhnemann)
Rest of squad: Tom Banton (international duty), Lewis Gregory (international duty), Mitch Swepson (Australia A) Marnus Labuschagne (international duty), Joe Burns (international duty), Xavier Bartlett, Matt Kuhnemann, James Bazley, Matt Williams
International players: Dan Lawrence (first three games), Mujeeb Ur Rahman (first nine games), Tom Banton (after Christmas), Lewis Gregory (after Christmas)
BBL|09 performance: seventh
The Heat have made it into the finals of the Big Bash League just once in the last seven years but continue to be an attractive proposition for tipsters everywhere. Chris Lynn feels like the obvious answer as to why, but it extends far beyond that. His 55-ball 154 for Toombul won’t be forgotten, but his aura is contagious, and makes the likes of Max Bryant and Sam Heazlett at the top dangerous propositions.
Cooper and Lawrence are good additions and there’s a bit of depth to the batting now Jack Wildermuth has returned. With the form Mitch Swepson is in, along with a bowling attack full of tricks, maybe this season won’t be a matter of simply outgunning the opposition with the bat.
Once the international players can come back, the depth in this Heat squad is going to be strong. Banton is a lock at the top of the order, with Heazlett likely to slip down to four. Lewis Gregory will be an unknown to many, but the Somerset captain will force coach Darren Lehmann to assess the form of Jack Wildermuth and Tom Cooper to see where the talented all-rounded fits.
Morne Morkel has been signed which is somewhat of a surprise and adds something different to the bowling attack as a backup, as does the impressive Xavier Bartlett who has shown great form at Shield level. Much like Rashid Khan, Mujeeb is expected to be selected for Afghanistan, at which time the Heat will have plenty of different avenues to pursue to replace their second spinner.
They cannot be trusted
The Heat’s allure has a negative side to it as well. We simply can’t trust that this team, which looks good on paper, will necessarily make the most of its talent. Brisbane is known to collapse convincingly when batting with the hit-or-miss approach, which is why Jimmy Peirson’s form and the recruitment of Tom Cooper is a heavily relied upon gameplan to provide stability.
There’s also a heap of pressure on Mark Steketee to take a leap forward in terms of his overall consistent at BBL level, as we have seen signs of wayward form from the ageing Ben Laughlin, and Morkel is a complete unknown. Consistency and chemistry will be key.
It will be relatively clear early on whether the Heat are a genuine contender this season or will encounter the same issues that have dogged them in the past. The top four for the first few games of the season is set and interchangeable within itself, but the excitement will really kick off when Tom Banton replaces the classy Dan Lawrence.
The lack of a genuine strike option is still of minor concern, particularly if they miss Mitch Swepson due to a Test call-up for a couple of matches. Ultimately, it’s been three disappointing seasons for the Heat, and they should snap that streak.
Predicted XI vs Sydney Sixers (10 December): 1. D’Arcy Short, 2. Will Jacks, 3. Peter Handscomb (wk), 4. Ben McDermott (c), 5. Colin Ingram, 6. Mac Wright, 7. James Faulkner, 8. Scott Boland, 9. Nathan Ellis, 10. Nick Winter, 11. Riley Meredith, (12. Tim David)
Rest of squad: Dawid Malan (international duty), Keemo Paul (international duty), Sandeep Lamichhane (illness), Matthew Wade (international duty), Tim Paine (non-playing signing), Jake Doran, Wil Parker, Jarrod Freeman, David Moody, Mitch Owen
International players: Colin Ingram (first four games), Will Jacks (first four games), Keemo Paul (after Christmas), Dawid Malan (after Christmas), Sandeep Lamichhane (after New Year)
BBL|09 performance: Eliminator (fourth)
In terms of what could be produced, Hobart has the highest scope to break records this season. Each of the top six has shown an ability to tear a game apart on their own, and if it clicked for two players in the same match, it’ll make world news. Many will be unfamiliar with Jacks, who scored a 25-ball century in a T10 practice game, but in his short stint in the BBL, we can expect a similar impact to Tom Banton last season.
Peter Handscomb moves for greater opportunity and he will most certainly get it this year, while Colin Ingram changes blue for purple in a savvy move for the Hurricanes. Dawid Malan’s inclusion will be vital, as the best T20 batsman in the world is able to accelerate and stabilise simultaneously. Mac Wright should get the nod, although he could float anywhere in the batting order depending on the situation.
It almost looks as though the Hurricanes have neglected their bowling, with no real improvement or star power featured. BBL|10 looks to be the best opportunity for a Riley Meredith breakout season, as the clear top bowler on the team. Meredith has been spoken up plenty for international honours, but we need to see high-level performances on a consistent basis. Surrounded by the likes of Nathan Ellis and Scott Boland who are more traditional bowlers, Meredith is the point of difference.
Outside of these three, who aren’t exactly world-beaters, there’s James Faulkner with a point to prove and in good form and the final spot will be between Nick Winter, David Moody, Wil Parker, or Jarrod Freeman. Winter leads the predicted spot due to good form but relying on the four part-time spinners in the top six is fraught with danger. Sandeep Lamichhane was due to join the Hurricanes a little later in the tournament but has contracted COVID-19 and is in some doubt, while Keemo Paul will be available sooner but isn’t great.
For a team that has made finals over each of the past three seasons, the Hurricanes have issues fading out of games. We can see sheer dominance one night, followed by disappointment the next, and it’s all based on the fact this team relies on being too good with the bat.
The strengths for Hobart haven’t changed for a few years and it is yet to see any true success, regardless of how exciting they can be. Early failure has always led to collapses, and until Malan shows otherwise, there’s no confidence in Hobart to be able to stabilise efficiently enough.
There’s an expectation that this will be the closest edition we have seen of the Big Bash League, without a whole heap separating the teams that make finals, with those that don’t. It does feel, however, that Hobart has the biggest discrepancy between its best and worst, and the reliance on Riley Meredith might be too much pressure. If the opportunity arises, the Hurricanes must sign another strong bowler to improve their outlook.
Predicted XI vs Perth Scorchers (12 December): 1. Aaron Finch (c), 2. Sam Harper (wk), 3. Shaun Marsh, 4. Rilee Rossouw, 5. Beau Webster, 6. Mohammad Nabi, 7. Jack Prestwidge, 8. Kane Richardson, 9. Cameron Boyce, 10. Josh Lalor, 11. Noor Ahmad, (12. Mackenzie Harvey)
Rest of squad: Imran Tahir (international duty), Will Sutherland (Australia A), James Pattinson (Australia A), Marcus Harris, Mitch Perry, Zak Evans, Jake Fraser-McGurk, Jon Holland
International players: Noor Ahmad (first three games), Imran Tahir (after Christmas), Rilee Rossouw (entire tournament), Mohammad Nabi (first 10 games)
BBL|09 performance: eighth
We didn’t get to see the positives of Michael Klinger’s coaching appointment last season given the disappointment of last season, but there is hope heading into this campaign. Much like the Sydney Sixers, the Renegades have selected a team that tick the internal boxes of competitiveness and versatility and will thrive in favourable conditions taking the pace off the ball.
The depth is decent, and the Renegades are likely to back in younger players as the BBL wears on, which can only be a positive for the future of the franchise and Australian cricket.
There is a bit of flexibility available to the Renegades, with either of Harris or Harvey capable of batting anywhere in the top five in order to stretch the batting a little bit, but the all-rounders are in quite early for the team which can be a concern. The star power of Finch, Marsh and Rossouw clustered together as natural top order players will be a blessing, but failure will apply a heap of pressure on unknown quantities. It’ll be a fun watch.
It seems unlikely the Renegades would select teenager Noor Ahmad as an early-season replacement without plans to play him, which means the team is playing three spin bowlers in its XI, likely for much of the season until Nabi leaves for international duty. Pattinson and Sutherland will slot right in when available, and now that Webster can bowl pace, he likely will do so for the Renegades.
While Pattinson is a natural leader of an attack, he can go off the boil at times, which would ruin the team’s bowling structure. Don’t be surprised to see the team leave out a star spin option based on pitch conditions throughout the tournament.
Fresh off a wooden spoon season, the Renegades went and raided both the Brisbane Heat and South Africa to improve the team with immediate effect and it looks to have been a relatively successful ploy. Rossouw has nearly 5000 career T20 runs and Tahir is still one of the best spinners going around, while Josh Lalor and Jack Prestwidge could get opportunities early on given the Australia A squad selections of Sutherland and Pattinson. While the Renegades could make finals, they’re the most likely team to sit off the pace as the season goes on.
Predicted XI vs Brisbane Heat (11 December): 1. Marcus Stoinis, 2. Hilton Cartwright, 3. Nick Larkin, 4. Glenn Maxwell (c), 5. Ben Dunk, 6. Seb Gotch (wk), 7. Nathan Coulter-Nile, 8. Lance Morris, 9. Adam Zampa, 10. Zahir Khan, 11. Billy Stanlake, (12. Jackson Coleman)
Rest of squad: Jonny Bairstow (international duty), Nicholas Pooran (international duty), Will Pucovski (Australia A), Nic Maddinson (Australia A), Clint Hinchliffe, Jono Merlo, Tom O’Connell, Lewis Hatcher
International players: Zahir Khan (entire tournament), Jonny Bairstow (after Christmas), Nicholas Pooran (between 19/12/2020 and 10/01/2020)
BBL|09 performance: runners-up
Marcus Stoinis and Glenn Maxwell are arguably two of the top five players in the entire BBL, while Jonny Bairstow and Nicholas Pooran are two of the best players in the world. Add in Nic Maddinson after the Australia A series and this is the most explosive team in the competition that can produce its best on a consistent basis. The batting versatility is evident, with all players in the top six able to chop and change depending on game situation, while also playing to the game’s situation.
Finishing off with four of the last five games at the MCG will be devastating for the opposition.
For what the Stars lack in depth, they make up for in all-round ability from the players selected. Everyone in the team can bowl and the quality of top-end fielders is among the best in the competition. Melbourne’s green team isn’t the type to struggle on particular pitches and as such, will be at no disadvantage by the hubs in place.
With three games within the first week of the season, the Stars have a really crammed fixture up front without three key players that will help set the tone of their season. Add to this the question mark over Marcus Stoinis’ overall fitness and the fact they come across the three teams predicted to be the strongest (Heat, Thunder, Scorchers), and there is cause for concern.
Unless the Stars announce another signing to boost the frontline bowling stocks, this is the weakest attack we’ve seen from the Stars. The positive in the versatility of the entire team with the ball is offset by the fact that only Adam Zampa is a better-than-average bowler, with the rest of the team being relatively uninspiring and monotonous.
One can only assume that coach David Hussey has seen something strong in Billy Stanlake to warrant a trade, which will be completely necessary for the Stars to be competitive with the ball. Nathan Coulter-Nile has a heap of pressure on him as well for his all-round ability – something we haven’t seen at a high level for a couple of years.
The Stars have missed finals just once in nine years and always manage to stay competitive until finals time. This season should see them scrape in, with the fight for finals going down to the wire. If Maxwell can carry his international form into the BBL, he will be unstoppable, and the Stars should make finals.
Predicted XI vs Melbourne Renegades (12 December): 1. Josh Inglis (wk), 2. Sam Whiteman, 3. Colin Munro, 4. Joe Clarke, 5. Mitch Marsh (c), 6. Ashton Turner, 7. Ashton Agar, 8. Jhye Richardson, 9. Matt Kelly, 10. Andrew Tye, 11. Fawad Ahmed, (12. Joel Paris)
Rest of squad: Jason Roy (international duty), Liam Livingstone (international duty), Cameron Green (Australia A), Jason Behrendorff, Cameron Bancroft, Cameron Gannon, Aaron Hardie, Kurtis Patterson
International players: Joe Clarke (first three games), Colin Munro (entire tournament), Jason Roy (after Christmas), Liam Livingstone (after Christmas)
BBL|09 performance: sixth
Best overall squad
After missing the last two finals campaigns, the most successful team in BBL history has put together the best squad in the league for an attack on the title once again. The depth is extremely good and will only improve when their unavailability ceases to exist post-Christmas, barring any Test callup for Cameron Green. An incredibly strong bowling attack is underlined by the oft-forgotten Jason Behrendorff and Joel Paris missing out on the predicted team.
The former has finally played some cricket this season, limited to restricted bowling, and if he can get some consistency, he could be a weapon during the second half of the tournament.
With great bowling depth already existing, Perth was able to focus on securing explosive talent with the international spots. We only get to see Joe Clarke for three games, but he’s certain to capture the hearts of cricket lovers. Averaging 28 at an incredible strike rate of 149 in his 66 T20 matches, Clarke will be a weapon in the middle order. To add Colin Munro and Jason Roy to the list with Liam Livingstone is a wonderful luxury that will result in some quality players missing out on the Scorchers’ XI.
As is the case with all teams, Perth has a limited number of games on its home deck and will need to travel around Australia on a weekly basis to play their matches. One slight concern that presents itself is the number of matches played on tackier pitches in Canberra, Tasmania, Melbourne, and Sydney.
There is plenty of nuance and variability in the bowling attack to suggest success is imminent, however the batsmen in the Scorchers’ best team are all big hitters who love the ball coming onto the bat. Without this, we can expect Perth’s batting line-up to perhaps not perform as well as one would expect on paper.
It isn’t going to be an easy season, but the Scorchers are well set up for what’s to come in the COVID-normal BBL. Unexpected unavailabilities can be easily covered and we know exactly what to expect from each player in the team, sans the inconsistency of Ashton Turner. Confidence breeds excellence and good form will help everyone. The Scorchers should be the competition’s favourites.
Predicted XI vs Hobart Hurricanes (10 December): 1. Josh Phillipe (wk), 2. James Vince, 3. Daniel Hughes, 4. Jack Edwards, 5. Jordan Silk (c), 6. Dan Christian, 7. Carlos Brathwaite, 8. Ben Dwarshuis, 9. Steve O’Keefe, 10. Jackson Bird, 11. Lloyd Pope, (12. Hayden Kerr)
Rest of squad: Tom Curran (international duty), Mitchell Starc (international duty), Nathan Lyon (international duty), Sean Abbott (Australia A), Moises Henriques (Australia A), Ben Manenti, Mickey Edwards
International players: Tom Curran (after Christmas), Carlos Brathwaite (entire tournament), James Vince (entire tournament)
BBL|09 performance: champions
Should the Sixers put themselves in a strong position to make finals, they would certainly be one of the more favoured teams to win the tournament once again. Test stars Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon have made themselves available for the Sixers, which is incredible considering they will likely have all three of their international signings available too.
Often a team overlooked due to the names featured, coach Greg Shippard is the master of pivoting through versatility, making few small adjustments but continuously staying relevant and at times, dominant.
This is a team that knows how to win, under a coach that has mastered the art form, who has subsequently gone and recruited one of the most successful T20 players in world cricket, Dan Christian. Such experience and confidence rubs off on the younger, hungrier players and create a cycle of positivity that is so important in the sport. You can never write the Sixers off, and you’d loathe to do so with the current setup.
Can they start well enough?
While it’s true that the Sixers just need a sniff to win the BBL, the question will be whether the team can put itself in that position immediately. A lot hinges on the Australian squad’s use of Sean Abbott, whether he is released to play the bulk of the Sixers’ games or if he stays as 12th man on a regular basis. Abbott has come on in leaps and bounds over the last couple of BBL seasons, leading him to become a strong all-rounder, and he’s arguably the team’s most important player.
It means Dwarshuis and Pope continuing their good form is vitally important, as is Jackson Bird’s patented hot starts. Batting wise, a lot needs to be expected of the flaky duo of Dan Christian and Carlos Brathwaite in the middle order.
The Sixers just need to make the finals to cause havoc, which is entirely possible. A friendly early fixture when core players are missing is important to finishing with a winning record, which the Sixers should be able to manage easily enough. This feels like the season we see the absolute best of James Vince in Australia.
Predicted XI vs Melbourne Stars (12 December): 1. Alex Hales, 2. Usman Khawaja (c), 3. Callum Ferguson, 4. Matthew Gilkes (wk), 5. Ben Cutting, 6. Alex Ross, 7. Daniel Sams, 8. Chris Green, 9. Arjun Nair, 10. Brendan Doggett, 11. Adam Milne, (12. Oliver Davies)
Rest of squad: Sam Billings (international duty), Chris Tremain, Jason Sangha, Tanveer Sangha, Nathan McAndrew, Baxter Holt, Jono Cook
International players: Alex Hales (entire tournament), Adam Milne (entire tournament), Sam Billings (after Christmas)
BBL|09 performance: challenger (fifth)
The art to BBL success is to have a well-rounded squad, and the Thunder can claim a spot alongside the Scorchers as the most complete squad in the competition. It’s a perfect mix of aggression, class, and nuance throughout the entire order, with the team typically built on versatility and adaptability depending on conditions. The signing of Ben Cutting as a batting all-rounder is a wonderful addition as a dominant player who can be sandwiched by classy players in the middle order.
There is great depth in every single position, with the approach by Shane Bond almost like that of an NBA team, where the success comes from clearly defined roles that can be filled by a variety of players rather than the player themselves. That’s a point of difference that no one else has.
The two teams from New South Wales share this strength, in the fact they stay true to themselves on a yearly basis and are well set for every challenge thrown at them. We know that the Thunder will play two specialist spinners and play four pace options, with batting all the way down the order to prevent a collapse. Having a genuine fast bowler is something that the Thunder hasn’t had too much of, but Adam Milne is a gun that more people will grow to love.
Historically, the Thunder have been the competition’s cellar-dwellers, having only just snuck into the finals last season thanks to the new format, their second-ever appearance in the finals after winning BBL05. It’s quite the opposite to the Sixers in the fact that there isn’t much of a winning culture among the players at the Thunder, but rather just sheer T20 experience from top to bottom. The only way to overcome reputational irrelevance is to show great fight and will their way to success. That remains to be seen.
It’s unpopular, but the Thunder have a genuine chance at winning their second BBL title. People continue to overlook this team due to the lack of star names, but the depth and quality of individual within this squad is far better than given credit for. It wouldn’t surprise to see the Thunder make another signing in the early parts of the tournament to potentially cover the opening position, just in case.
There is even room for Shane Bond to give games to the younger guys, which is important. Expect Oliver Davies to receive an opportunity and prepare to jump on this bandwagon nice and early.