Big Bash League 2016/17: Melbourne Stars v Sydney Sixers

Melbourne Stars v Sydney Sixers

Saturday 21st January 7:25pm AEDT

The final match of the regular season will take place between top four aspirants Melbourne Stars and Sydney Sixers at the MCG on Saturday night.

Melbourne Stars

The Stars will be hoping to secure a third home semi-final in four years with victory against the Sixers. A final at the MCG could already have been assured, had they not gone down to the Brisbane Heat by seven wickets on Tuesday. Having won the toss, the Stars elected to bat for the first time when given the option, however they were immediately left to rue their decision when they found themselves 2/1 in the first over with the in-form duo of Rob Quiney and Kevin Pietersen back in the sheds.

Thankfully for the Stars, the other member of their top three Luke Wright stuck around and it was his unbeaten 60 off 55 balls which guided the Stars to a defendable 7/138 on a difficult surface. While five Stars batsmen were dismissed in single figures, Wright did receive some support from ‘keeper-batsman Seb Gotch (30 off 25) and captain David Hussey (29 off 28). Two early wickets shared by Scott Boland (1/26 off 3.1 overs) and Ben Hilfenhaus (1/30 off 3 overs) brought the Stars right into the game, leaving the Heat battling at 2/26 in reply.

The onus was then placed on the Stars’ spin bowling pair of Michael Beer (0/29 off four overs) and Adam Zampa (0/18 off four overs), and while they kept things incredibly tight, their inability to take a wicket was telling as the Heat targeted the quicker bowlers later on to eventually run down the target one ball into the 19th over.

After being called into the Australian ODI squad, the Stars will be without all-rounder Marcus Stoinis as well as Zampa who has rejoined the same squad after being given leave to play against the Heat.

Sydney Sixers

The Sixers’ topsy-turvy season all comes down to this game, most likely needing a win to keep their spot in the top four and return to the semi-final arena after finishing with the wooden spoon in BBL05. A place in the semi-finals could already have been secured if not for the Sixers’ dreadful performance in their last-start Derby loss to the Sydney Thunder.

Having batted second in their first six games this season, the Sixers decided to mix it up and chose to bat first against the Thunder, a decision they may look back on with more than a tinge of regret. At 2/52 midway through the ninth over, their start was far from disastrous, however the innings took a swift downturn as they lost an incomprehensible 7/36, before limping to a meagre 9/99 from their 20 overs.

Opener Daniel Hughes (20 off 19 balls) was the only Sixers batsman to reach 20, however Nic Maddinson (7 off 10) continued his uninspiring form since returning from the test arena, averaging 14.75 from four innings’ this season. Any hope of a miraculous win for the Sixers was quickly scuppered as the Thunder found conditions in the middle far more comfortable, racing to the target after just ten overs.

The only positive in the field was Sean Abbott (2/36 off four overs) extending his lead as the tournament’s top wicket-taker. The margin of defeat could prove costly for the Sixers as it has seen their net run rate plummet to the lowest in the competition and means that in all likelihood they will need to avoid defeat here if they are to progress to the semi-final stage.

Melbourne Cricket Ground

The MCG pitch was noticeably slow, both in the most recent BBL match and the second ODI featuring Australia and Pakistan. Batting appears to have got progressively more difficult with first innings scores of 4/171, 8/152 and 7/138. Scott Boland has captured seven wickets at the MCG this season, although he has been expensive in the process, conceding runs at 8.96 an over.

Key Stats

  • The Stars have won nine of their past 14 matches.
  • The Stars have won their last four matches against the Sixers.
  • The Sixers have won two of their three away games this season.
  • However the Sixers have never won at the MCG.
  • Daniel Hughes has top-scored for the Sixers in his last three matches.

The Verdict

With a home final in their grasp, the Stars are fancied to make it five in a row against a Sixers side potentially playing for their season.

Although they sit comfortably in the upper echelons of the competition, the Stars have been far from the dominant force they promised to be, throwing in a selection of disappointing performances despite winning more matches than they’ve lost. Their batting looks particularly top-heavy, especially now that Peter Handscomb and Marcus Stoinis have joined the Australian squad, although granted the top three have flexed plenty of muscle with Luke Wright now joining Rob Quiney and Kevin Pietersen amongst the runs.

Their bowling has improved as the competition has worn on, however a question mark remains over the economy of their seamers with the likes of Scott Boland, Ben Hilfenhaus and Evan Gulbis all copping some tap at various times. They are deserved jollies here, especially given their favourable record against the Sixers, but without up to five of their first choice XI missing through national selection I’d be wanting a slightly more attractive price before backing them.

The Sixers too have been frustratingly inconsistent, with impressive wins over the Scorchers, Heat and Renegades countered by dismal losses against the Hurricanes, Strikers, and of course their capitulation in last week’s Derby. Unlike the Stars they have a nicely balanced batting order, however not all constituents are pulling their weight with opener Dan Hughes and the now departed Sam Billings the only batsmen to average 30 or more.

Their bowling has been slightly more rounded, and an attack featuring Nathan Lyon and Johan Botha should be well suited to the type of surface that has been produced at the MCG recently, but without a sufficient suite of convincing performances to go on I can’t be persuaded to take the underdogs in this one.

The match odds are probably best avoided in this one for the simple fact that we won’t know until right before the match the exact scenarios facing each team. The way the Sixers play could change distinctly on whether they need to win or not, while for the Stars a loss by a particular margin may still be enough for a home final which would certainly impact their approach.

One factor we can be surer of is the enduring consistency of Sixers opening batsman Daniel Hughes. This season Hughes has amassed 216 runs at an average of 54.00 and relatively sedate strike-rate of 127.05, often playing the sheet-anchor role to good effect. Whichever scenario the Sixers find themselves in, he is unlikely to sway from his methods which so far have seen him top-score in three out of his five matches this season, those being his last three.

In all five innings of BBL06 he is yet to be dismissed in single-figures, so with that sort of reliability I’m happy to back him to close off the regular season by top-scoring again here.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Daniel Hughes Top Sydney Sixers Batsman at 4.00 or bigger for 1 unit

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