Big Bash League 2016/17: Season Preview

BBL 06 Season Preview

It’s that time of the year again with one of the biggest T20 tournaments in the world kicking off on December 20 when defending champions Sydney Thunder host local rivals the Sydney Sixers in the opening match of the 2016/17 Big Bash League.

Can the Thunder defend their title? Can the Melbourne Stars finally breakthrough for a maiden victory? Which international headliners will make a splash and which local talents will emerge to push for greater honours? The Analysts breaks down each team’s chances and highlights the best betting opportunities for the tournament.

Following two consecutive first-place finishes, the Adelaide Strikers will be hoping to overcome their semi-finals blues and progress to their first ever BBL final. However they do face some challenges, namely the fact that key contributors Adil Rashid and Travis Head will not be available for the entire competition. Rashid could play as few as three games with England test and limited overs duties getting in the way, while Head’s starring performance in the recent ODIs against New Zealand ensures that he will be absent for the back-half of the competition.

The Strikers have also seen finisher Alex Ross move to Brisbane, however after missing the last couple of seasons through injury they do welcome back dynamic all-rounder Kieron Pollard. In the absence of Head and Ross, veteran Brad Hodge will play an important role in the middle-order alongside Pollard, while Adelaide have amassed a wealth of opening options in Ben Dunk, Tim Ludeman, Jake Weatherald, Craig Simmons, Kelvin Smith and Alex Carey. Fellow Englishman Chris Jordan will deputise for Rashid with spin duties falling to the in-form Jon Holland, but otherwise the attack has a familiar feel with Ben Laughlin, Kane Richardson and Michael Neser again forming the nucleus of the pace battery.

The Strikers may not be quite the same side that they were in the last couple of seasons, but consecutive minor premierships are hard to ignore and for me they are definitely undervalued by the market so I will be having a small wager on them to go all the way. Additionally it’s worth noting that Adelaide’s record at home is particularly strong, losing only two of their past ten at the Adelaide Oval so look to get with the Strikers when on home soil.

The Brisbane Heat have managed to strengthen their grip on the title of the most unbalanced side in the competition with a power-packed batting line-up completely offset by a feeble bowling attack. But starting with the positives, the Heat belatedly have the services of explosive Kiwi opener Brendon McCullum who should take some of the pressure off Chris Lynn who scored a phenomenal 30% of Brisbane’s runs last season, more than doubling the tally of the next highest run-scorer.

Providing the likes of McCullum, Lynn and test discard Joe Burns can set the platform, the Heat have one of the more dangerous middle-orders in the tournament with Nathan Reardon, Alex Ross and Ben Cutting all highly adept at clearing the ropes. Sadly for Brisbane they may need that batting line-up to deliver on all their potential because they have not taken any immediate steps to improve a bowling attack which conceded runs at an alarming 8.69 runs an over in BBL05. Their reliance on West Indian leg-spinner Samuel Badree borders on the extreme, although more games for fellow leggie Mitch Swepson may help to ease the load marginally. The pace attack is a collection of proven poor performers with Andrew Fekete, Luke Feldman, Josh Lalor and Mark Steketee all averaging around or above 30 with the ball so they will need plenty of collective improvement to turn it around this season.

With Brisbane the strategy is clear – back them to overhaul large targets or fail to defend sizeable scores – essentially back them with the bat and oppose them in the field. As for their chances overall, while they may cause the odd shock I would expect them to remain firmly in the bottom-half of the ladder which is already reflected in their substantial outright price.

Consistency is the key for the Hobart Hurricanes if they are to build on a seventh-place finish last season, however they have not done themselves any favours in their recruitment with a curious strategy which has left them short on top quality resources. Trading seasoned T20 opener Ben Dunk for fringe seamer Hamish Kingston was a bizarre move, while bringing in Stuart Broad as the second international player alongside Kumar Sangakkara means that both overseas positions are filled by players well past their best in this format.

There is no obvious option to open the batting alongside Tim Paine and the middle-order will again be heavily reliant on George Bailey before he disappears for the ODI series against Pakistan. In the field, leg-spinner Cameron Boyce will be responsible for controlling the middle overs while the fast-bowling cartel includes Broad, Kingston, Jake Reed and veteran tearaway Shaun Tait. If the Hurricanes are to spring a surprise they will need at least one of their more unheralded squad members to rise to the occasion with Dom Michael, Beau Webster and D’arcy Short among the candidates, however a lack of experience in T20 cricket will make it a serious challenge.

The one element in Hobart’s favour is flexibility as their squad is sprinkled with all-rounders such as Dan Christian, Simon Milenko, Webster and Short, but despite that they look the side least likely to win BBL06 to me. Unfortunately for us the market also does not hold them in high esteem so while we won’t be laying such a fat price I would advise steering well clear of backing the Hurricanes in any situation.

The Melbourne Renegades shape as one of the most improved sides from BBL05 with their bowling attack in particular looking much stronger than last season. The ‘Gades landed a major coup by securing the services of West Indian spinner Sunil Narine, one of the best T20 bowlers in the world, in addition to recruiting fellow tweaker Brad Hogg from the Scorchers which should prove particularly beneficial on their home surface at Docklands Stadium which traditionally takes turn.

A fit and firing James Pattinson should trouble opposition batsmen with the new ball, while the Renegades also have plenty of depth in the pace department with Nathan Rimmington, Chris Tremain and Peter Siddle all fighting for spots. Question marks over Aaron Finch’s place in the Australian set-up could prove beneficial for the Renegades as their skipper has a wonderful record in this competition and the chance to play the entire tournament would be a huge boost. Outside of Finch there is prolific veteran Cameron White, classy all-rounder Dwayne Bravo and in-form opener Marcus Harris, while this could be the season that talented stroke-player Tom Beaton leaves an indelible mark on the competition.

On the negative side Matthew Wade’s recall to the test side means he is unlikely to see any game time this year and the Renegades still carry a few batsmen such as Callum Ferguson, Tom Cooper and Peter Nevill who can get a bit stuck and rob their more explosive players of facing enough balls. Just one semi-final appearance in five seasons is also hard to overlook, so while I expect the Renegades to be much more competitive in BBL06 I would want a bigger price before backing them. One strategy you could look to employ with the Renegades is backing them to defend a low total as in Narine, Hogg and Pattinson they boast three of the most genuine wicket-takers in the competition, capable of preserving almost any target.

Last season’s runners-up the Melbourne Stars are again amongst the favourites for this year’s competition with a familiar line-up which remains one of the strongest on paper in the tournament. Regular international guests Luke Wright and Kevin Pietersen headline the batting with the enigmatic Glenn Maxwell, new test ace Peter Handscomb and captain David Hussey anchoring the middle-order.

Their bowling attack is eminently strong with James Faulkner, John Hastings and Scott Boland all possessing excellent variations at the death, while spinners Adam Zampa and Michael Beer have very different but equally effective methods. The Stars will be hoping to get more out of talented all-rounder Marcus Stoinis who last season averaged just 16.90 with the bat at a strike-rate below 100. However the main issue that the Stars face is availability at the back end of the tournament with Maxwell, Faulkner and Zampa all but guaranteed Australian ODI selection, while Handscomb will miss the first four matches with the test side.

There is also an injury cloud hanging over Hastings who along with Boland remains an outside chance of joining his teammates in the ODI squad which could leave the Stars very short on troops. It also means they will be heavily dependent on second-string options such as Rob Quiney, Evan Gulbis and Ben Hilfenhaus during the pointy end of the tournament so while I couldn’t put you off being with them initially, I would be looking to trade out towards the second-half of the competition when they could potentially lose a significant portion of their best XI.

The most successful side in the history of the BBL again look capable of going all the way this year, however injuries loom as the greatest threat to the Scorchers securing yet another semi-final spot. The loss of Brad Hogg to the Renegades and injuries to frontline quicks Nathan Coulter-Nile and Jason Behrendorff severely weakens their traditionally impenetrable bowling attack, although there remains hope that Behrendorff will play some part in the tournament. Fellow pacemen Andrew Tye and Joel Paris are also on the way back from injuries and with English all-rounder David Willey missing the back-half of the competition due to national selection that puts a lot of pressure on new recruit Mitchell Johnson who has not played top level cricket since the IPL in April.

However there are no such concerns with their batting, starting with the most prolific run-scorer in the history of the BBL Michael Klinger. Klinger will be joined at the top of the order by classy Englishman Ian Bell, while captain Adam Voges should be available for the entire tournament following his omission from the test side. Add in the Marsh brothers and Perth have arguably the strongest top-order in BBL06 with the likes of Willey and Ashton Agar providing the acceleration in the death overs. Of course both Shaun and Mitchell Marsh will be in the frame for national selection, however in reserve the Scorchers do boast serviceable options such as Cameron Bancroft and Ashton Turner.

There’s plenty to like about this Scorchers side, not least of all their phenomenal record of four finals in five years, however I just cannot shake off the concerns about their wounded bowling unit to be taking them at such a short price.

The Thunder’s crosstown rivals the Sydney Sixers will be looking to rebound swiftly after a late season fade saw them finish BBL05 with the dreaded wooden spoon. The Sixers’ batting let them down badly last season and they have responded by acquiring English pair Jason Roy and Sam Billings, with long-time import Michael Lumb discarded. The supremely talented Nic Maddinson will be looking to make amends after enduring a dreadful tournament last season, while experienced pair Brad Haddin and Moises Henriques will also be hoping for more significant contributions.

Although star duo Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood are unlikely to see any game time, the Magenta Men boast one of the stronger bowling attacks when full-strength with the indefatigable Doug Bollinger leading the way alongside Jackson Bird and new recruit Joe Mennie, while their spin options are both high-class and plentiful with Nathan Lyon, Steve O’Keefe and Johan Botha all on board. The major problem for the Sixers is availability as not only will they not see any of Starc and Hazlewood, but Maddinson, Lyon and Bird will all likely miss the first few games with test duty, then as soon as they return Roy and Billings will depart for England’s limited overs tour of India.

There are injury clouds over Henriques, O’Keefe and powerful all-rounder Sean Abbott and with very little in reserve the Sixers could be down to their bare bones at certain points throughout the tournament. Sydney’s chances are best described as volatile – their full-strength XI puts them amongst the competition heavyweights, however with such a big question mark over a sizeable portion of their squad they are best left alone so I will neither be backing or laying them until I have a handle on what sort of side they’ll be putting out on the field.

After four seasons of negligible success, including three wooden spoons, the Thunder rose from the ashes to claim their maiden title last season on the back of a truly extraordinary display from Usman Khawaja. Limited to just four games, Khawaja blasted 345 runs at the breathtaking average of 172.50 and incredible strike-rate of 163.50 including a crucial 70 in the decider. However the bad news for the Thunder is that Khawaja may play even less this season with his spot secure in the Australian test side and a place in the ODI setup well within reach.

Compounding Khawaja’s vacancy, the Thunder have lost experienced stalwarts Mike Hussey and Jacques Kallis, while new captain Shane Watson is set to miss the first two games with a calf injury. That leaves journeymen Aiden Blizzard and Ben Rohrer to hold up the batting, alongside English ODI captain Eoin Morgan who will travel to India with his national side after the first few fixtures. Superstar all-rounder Andre Russell may be called on earlier in the innings than he was last year, however he remains a damaging prospect wherever he bats.

Outside of Kallis, the Thunder have retained their title-winning bowling attack with Russell and the wily Clint McKayleading the way, complemented by spinners Fawad Ahmed and Chris Green. But for me there are huge concerns over the Thunder with Hussey and Kallis leaving significant holes that have not been sufficiently plugged, while key players Khawaja, Morgan and Watson all look set to miss varying chunks of the tournament. Moreover I believe that Russell and McKay over-achieved with the ball last season and this time around there will be more pressure on their entire bowling unit which is why I have earmarked the Thunder as the lay of the competition so I will be happily opposing the defending champs from the outset.

Betting Strategy

 BACK-to-LAY Melbourne Stars at $5.20 or bigger for 2 units (trade out at $3.25 or better)

 LAY Sydney Thunder at $7.60 or better for 2 units

BACK Adelaide Strikers at $8.20 or bigger for 1 unit

related articles