Big Bash League 2017/18 – Season Preview

Please enjoy our expert preview of Big Bash League 2017. It’s one of the biggest T20 tournaments in the world.

The competition is kicking off on December 19 when Sydney Thunder host local rivals the Sydney Sixers.

Can the Scorchers defend their third title? Can a Melbourne team finally breakthrough for a maiden victory? Which international headliners will make a splash and which local talents will emerge? The Cricket Trader breaks down each team’s chances and highlights the best betting opportunities for the tournament.

The Strikers have put together a curious squad high on quality in the bowling department, but severely lacking in depth with the bat.

South African import Colin Ingram and captain Travis Head are the only proven T20 batsmen in the squad and Head is set to miss much of the tournament with Australian one-day duty. That means that plenty of runs will need to come from unproven youngsters such as Jake Weatherald, Alex Carey and Jake Lehmann, or honest journeymen such as Jonathan Wells and Jono Dean.

Even in the all-rounder category, Adelaide only really have Michael Neser to call on so there is a distinct concern as to how they will compile match-winning totals. However, the Strikers should enjoy more success in the field with exciting Afghani leg-spinner Rashid Khan and wily veteran Ben Laughlin amongst the most formidable bowlers in the competition.

Moreover, they have brought in evergreen seamer Peter Siddle, while if Billy Stanlake can stay on the field he could cause plenty of problems for batsmen with his awkward height. Sitting outside their best XI Adelaide have a number of promising young bowlers such as Liam O’Connor, David Grant and Michael Cormack, but there’s no escaping the fact that the Strikers look short on both quality and depth within their batting unit. My instinct is to oppose this Strikers side, however, with some gems in the bowling attack I’ll be resisting that urge and instead will look for opportunities to get against Adelaide when chasing a low score.

BBL06 proved to be somewhat of a breakout season for the Heat as their combustible batting was finally complemented by some effective bowling which catapulted them to second on the ladder after three straight years outside the top four. Their campaign finished in a dramatic Super Over semi-final loss but they will be determined to return to the knock-out stages and proceed further this year.

In order to do that they will once again rely heavily on “Bash Brothers” Brendon McCullum and Chris Lynn who formed a deadly duo last season, plundering a combined 632 runs at an average of 70.22 and strike-rate of 174.10. With those sorts of numbers not many of their teammates were required last year but the remainder of the batting line-up also packs a punch with Jimmy Peirson not one to waste too many deliveries, while Alex Ross, Joe Burns and Sam Heazlett can all be devastating contributors on their day.

However, the concern is their bowling. Last season they relied heavily on their overseas bowlers and that will be replicated in BBL07 with Pakistani leg-spinners Shadab Khan and Yasir Shah sharing the load. Their pace attack is arguably the weakest in the competition with Mark Steketee, Brendan Doggett, Cameron Gannon and Josh Lalor jostling for spots alongside all-rounders Ben Cutting and Cameron Valente.

Given the leanness of that bowling attack, along with the fact that injury or international commitments could curtail Lynn’s campaign, I feel the Heat are far too short for this year’s competition and am happy to take them on. Additionally, given the imbalance between bat and ball in this Heat squad, look to back Brisbane to either chase down or fail to defend big totals.

The good news is that expectations are low for Hurricanes, but I have faith that this unheralded squad could cause a few surprises. For a start, their bowling attack stacks up ok against the rest of the competition with overseas signings Tymal Mills and Jofra Archer expected to do the heavy lifting at the start and end of the innings. Experienced leg-spinner Cameron Boyce provides a quality slow-bowling option, while promising youngsters Tom Rogers and Riley Meredith will be amongst those competing for the final frontline berth.

Crucially, the Hurricanes also have plenty of all-round options with the likes of Dan Christian, D’arcy Short and Simon Milenko all able to chip in with some overs when required. The batting is less convincing, although, Hobart do have the makings of a very solid and experienced middle-order containing skipper George Bailey, Nathan Reardon and Christian. The problems could come at the top of the order where the unpredictable Short will likely be paired with Matthew Wade initially, before Wade swaps out with test ‘keeper Tim Paine. There is also a big question mark as to whether Ben McDermott can repeat the heroics of his breathtaking century against the Renegades last season and turn his promise into more consistent returns, however, the talent is certainly there.

Given little chance by many, it wouldn’t totally shock me to see the Hurricanes challenge for a semi-final spot and therefore I cannot resist having a small wager in their direction.

If there is a side that flatters to deceive every season it is without doubt the Renegades. However, there is good reason be cautiously optimistic about their chances in BBL07.

In terms of recruitment the Renegades have focused on experience, procuring veteran batsman Brad Hodge, Australian international seamer Kane Richardson, seasoned wicket-keeper batsman Tim Ludeman and journeyman quick Joe Mennie. The Renegades did suffer a blow when illustrious spinner Sunil Narine pulled out on the eve of the tournament, but they have managed to secure a pair of handy replacements in international all-rounders Mohammad Nabi and Kieron Pollard. West Indian superstar Dwayne Bravo should be available for the duration of the competition, while in Aaron Finch, Cameron White and Brad Hogg they boast three of the most consistent players in the history of the BBL.

However, what really excites me about the Renegades is the fact that their squad is so flexible and adaptable, given that it is laden with all-rounders such as Bravo, Nabi and Pollard as well as exciting new recruits Jack Wildermuth and Beau Webster. Also in the Renegades’ favour is that Finch is the only player in their squad likely to be caught up with international duty, although they may well miss the extra pace provided by injured quick James Pattinson who will likely miss the entire tournament.

Still it’s difficult to find any holes in this squad and with depth across all areas I’m happy to back the Renegades to overcome their poor history and take out their first ever title.

Perennial bridesmaids, the Melbourne Stars will be hoping they can overcome their semi-final curse and claim a long-awaited first BBL title. Along with the Scorchers, the Stars are the only side to qualify for the top four in all six previous editions of the Big Bash, however they have only reached one final in which they were soundly beaten by the Sydney Thunder in BBL05.

The Stars have reinforced their top-order by bringing across prolific opener Ben Dunk who was the top runscorer in last year’s competition. Regular English recruits Luke Wright and Kevin Pietersen should join Dunk in the top three, while Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis and Peter Handscomb provide plenty of starch in the middle-order. The Stars bowling attack features an abundance of skill and variety with new captain John Hastings leading the pace attack alongside Scott Boland and James Faulkner, while leg-spinner Adam Zampa and left-arm orthodox Michael Beer form a very different, yet complimentary spin duo.

International commitments will likely have a big say in how far the Stars progress with Handscomb, Maxwell, Stoinis, Faulkner and Zampa all potential exclusions from the back end of the tournament, although they have amassed a nice blend of youth (Seb Gotch, Sam Harper and Jackson Coleman) and experience (Rob Quiney, Evan Gulbis and Ben Hilfenhaus) in reserve. Those likely team changes, in addition to Melbourne’s woeful record in the knockout stages, will form the basis of our strategy as I’d expect the Stars to storm out of the blocks, but then fall backwards once the ODI series commences which is why we will adapt the same back-to-lay approach that proved so successful in BBL06.

The three-time champions and current title-holders have been ravaged by injury and international duty, however that hasn’t stopped the Scorchers being installed as the pre-tournament favourites.

Powerful all-rounder Nathan Coulter-Nile and wicket-keeper batsman Sam Whiteman may both miss the entire competition with back and finger injuries respectively, while left-arm quicks Jason Behrendorff and Joel Paris are on the comeback trail from recent mishaps. Both Marsh brothers and Cameron Bancroft are currently in the Australian test squad, while David Willey will leave Perth half-way through the tournament to link up with England’s ODI side who will take part in a series against an Australian team that could feature Ashton Agar and Hilton Cartwright. Nevertheless the Scorchers are favoured for a remarkable fourth crown due to their impressive depth, particularly in the bowling department where the key trio of Behrendorff, Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Tye will spearhead the attack. The batting does look a bit light and they will rely heavily on veteran Michael Klinger who has scored the most runs in the history of the BBL, while more responsibility may be placed on young all-rounder Ashton Turner who made his international debut last season. Given all the absentees I can’t be backing them at such a short price, however I would advise to look for opportunities to back Perth when defending a low total which has become their speciality over recent seasons.

Whilst they may play in pink, last season’s runners-up look to be the dark horses of this year’s tournament with a relatively well-balanced side that has a habit of punching above its weight.

Stability has helped the Scorchers and Stars to successive top four finishes and the Sixers have adopted the same approach with a near-identical squad to BBL06, starting with English recruits Jason Roy and Sam Billings who will be vital contributors to a top-order also featuring the dependable Daniel Hughes, the inconsistent but mercurial Nic Maddinson and captain Moises Henriques.

The bowling attack is led by last season’s top tournament wicket-taker Sean Abbott, although the Sixers are a bit light on pace-bowling support for Abbott with Jackson Bird more suited to the longer formats, while Ben Dwarshuis, Henry Thornton and Mickey Edwards all lack experience. Luckily for the Magenta Men they possess the strongest spin-bowling attack in the competition with Steve O’Keefe and Johan Botha to be joined by Nathan Lyon at the conclusion of the Ashes series.

One area that the Sixers have failed to address is the lack of hitting power in the lower-order with a reliance on Botha and Abbott who are far more trustworthy with the ball, while new wicket-keeper batsman Peter Nevill is not renowned for the finding the boundary at will.

I expect the Sixers to be around the periphery of the top four at worst and whilst I am tempted to back them, the absence of Roy and Billings from halfway through the tournament, coupled with that suspect pace attack, is just enough to put me off.

After breaking through for a maiden title victory in BBL05, Sydney Thunder returned to the doldrums last season by claiming an unwanted fourth wooden spoon.

Unfortunately for the fans in Western Sydney they seem right in the mix for another low finish after taking negligible steps to address the issues which saw them rooted to the bottom of the ladder last year. The primary issue for the Thunder in BBL06 was a lack of runs to which they have reacted to by bringing in the experienced Callum Ferguson as well as destructive English ‘keeper-batsman Jos Buttler, although he will only be available for the first half the tournament.

The biggest gain for the Thunder may be that they will have Usman Khawaja available in the latter stages after the classy left-hander failed to play a match last season. However the gain of Khawaja will be offset by the loss of Pat Cummins who is highly unlikely to play any part in the Thunder’s campaign. As a result they will rely heavily on Kiwi quick Mitchell McClenaghan who replaces Andre Russell as the Thunder’s second foreign import, with the likes of Clint McKay, Gurinder Sandhu, Chris Green and Fawad Ahmed to provide support.

A further concern for me is that this Thunder squad is littered with ageing players who appear past their best such as Shane Watson, Aiden Blizzard and Ben Rohrer, while the likes of Ferguson, McKay and Sandhu will need to bounce back after underwhelming displays last year.

Overall I certainly wouldn’t advise laying the BBL05 champions at such a big price, however I am choosing to steer well clear of a side that looks average on paper and has historically the worst record in the history of the BBL.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Melbourne Renegades at 5.40 or better for 1 unit

 BACK-to-LAY – Melbourne Stars at 6.40 or better for 1 unit (trade out at 3.00 or better)

 LAY – Brisbane Heat at 7.20 or better for 1 unit

BACK – Hobart Hurricanes at 14.50 or better for 0.5 units

Top Tournament Runscorer

Looking back at the past three seasons the top tournament runscorer has always satisfied two key criteria – they must bat at the top of the order and be able to score at a strike-rate in excess of 125. Interestingly, the top runscorer has not always come from a top team with the winners from the last two seasons coming from teams that missed out on the playoffs (Ben Dunk – Adelaide Strikers and Chris Lynn – Brisbane Heat).

So although I don’t fancy the Heat to contend strongly for the trophy I am willing to back their opener Brendon McCullum to be the highest runscorer in the competition. McCullum finished fourth last year, opens the batting, scores at a brisk rate and is coming off a successful Bangladesh Premier League campaign so with those credentials I cannot go past the charismatic Kiwi.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Brendon McCullum Top Tournament Runscorer at 9.00 or better for 0.5 units

Top Tournament Wicket Taker

In attempting to identify the top tournament wicket taker we can very quickly take a lesson from history and rule out all spinners on account of the fact that no tweaker has ever finished with the most scalps in the competition.

Then when looking at the type of fast bowler who typically takes out the crown, it becomes evident that they must bowl at the death (where cheap wickets are abundant) and mustn’t have too many high-quality teammates in their attack to share the wickets around with. Based on that we’re leaning towards the Thunder’s Mitchell McClenaghan who ticks all boxes and should be a nice price to finish on top the wicket-taking ladder.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Mitchell McClenaghan Top Tournament Wicket Taker at 13.00 or better for 0.5 units

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