Big Bash Semi Final 1
Adelaide Strikers v Sydney Thunder
Thursday January 21, 7:40pm
For the second successive season the Adelaide Strikers will host the first semi-final, this time welcoming the Sydney Thunder to the Adelaide Oval on Thursday night.
The Strikers finished four points clear on top of the table, losing only one match in the regular season although that was against the Thunder back on December 28. On Monday they survived a Chris Gayle blitz to defeat the Melbourne Renegades by 27 runs with Travis Head overcoming a rare failure with the bat to take three key wickets with his part-time off-spin. Captain Brad Hodge may need to call on Head again with their bowling heavily reliant on the accomplished pair of Adil Rashid and Ben Laughlin who between them have claimed 46% of Adelaide’s wickets in this year’s competition. The Strikers’ batting line-up will be boosted by the inclusion of Mahela Jayawardene, back from a quadriceps injury, although this will create somewhat of a selection headache following Jono Dean’s explosive 48 off 35 balls at the top of the order against the Renegades. Veteran seamer Gary Putland also makes his way into the squad for youngster Greg West. The home side will be hoping to avoid a repeat of last year’s semi-final when they when crashed out to the Thunder’s cross-town rivals the Sixers at the Adelaide Oval, ending hopes of a maiden title.
The Thunder qualified for the finals for the first time in their history following a thumping win over the Sydney Sixers on Saturday coupled with the Renegades’ failure to beat the Strikers. Against the Sixers Shane Watson made the most of his elevation to the opening slot, blasting 66 off 41 balls before an Andre Russell special (46 off 20) launched the Thunder to a massive 5/202. In reply Clint McKay, Fawad Ahmed and Chris Green all took three wickets each to leave the Sixers 46 runs short and secure a second derby win of the season. The Thunder will also face a dilemma about who will open with batting with Usman Khawaja now available, creating a logjam at the top of the order. Aiden Blizzard seems most likely to drop down after an underwhelming campaign in which he has scored 114 runs at an average of only 16.28 and strike-rate of 104.58. While West Indian import Russell has been damaging with the bat, the Thunder will be hoping that he tightens up with the ball, having conceded runs at 10.43 an over in the last two games.
The Strikers go into this match having won all four games at the Adelaide Oval this season – two batting first and two batting second. Interestingly first innings scores at Adelaide have regressed as the tournament has progressed – 187, 176, 174, 143 – however one thing that has remained consistent has been the performance of leg-spinner Rashid who has captured ten wickets at an average of 10 and economy rate of 6.25 at his home ground.
As ladder leaders and with an unblemished record at home the Strikers go into the match as 1.86 favourites with the Thunder 2.12 underdogs in their first ever finals appearance. If anything Adelaide’s price looks slightly on the higher side but their form has not been overly convincing in the last couple of matches and with Khawaja back for the Thunder I can’t have sufficient confidence to be backing the home side at those odds.
Where I do think the Strikers have a more distinct advantage is in their ability to clear the boundary. This season Adelaide have hit more sixes than their opponents on five out of eight occasions, while the Thunder have managed it just three times out of eight. The Strikers’ record in Adelaide is particularly formidable, hitting more sixes than their opponents in eight of the past nine games at the Adelaide Oval, including every game there this season. Over the course of this year’s competition the Strikers have averaged more sixes than their opponents (6.5 to 5.9), whilst conceding less sixes on average (5.6 to 6.1). The Strikers have also had ten different individual six hitters, while the Thunder have relied heavily on two players to clear the ropes – Watson and Russell – who account for almost 60% of sixes hit by the Thunder. So while I couldn’t quite have enough confidence to be backing the Strikes for the match at current prices, I’m more than happy to side with the home team to hit more sixes at around even money or better.