After dropping their first two games, the Sydney Thunder will be desperately hoping to get their title defence back on track with a win over the Brisbane Heat at the Sydney Showground Stadium on Wednesday night.
A comprehensive nine-wicket loss to the Sixers on the opening night was followed up by a similarly crushing defeat to the Melbourne Renegades last Thursday to leave the defending champions reeling. Bowling first against the Renegades, the Thunder’s star quicks from last season Andre Russell and Clint McKay showed few glimpses of their form from BBL05, with both taken for ten runs an over as the Renegades posted a formidable 7/179. In more encouraging news for the reigning champions, precocious speedster Pat Cummins bounced back from a poor performance against the Sixers to record the excellent figures of 1/26 off four overs.
However chasing an imposing total against a quality bowling attack proved far too difficult for the Thunder with seven batsmen dismissed in single figures as they slumped to 130 all out. Young opener Ryan Gibson impressed again with a fighting 39, but received little support aside from veteran Ben Rohrer (30) and Cummins who made the most of an elevation to number six in the batting order, striking four sixes on his way to a quickfire 36.
The Thunder have received a timely boost with Shane Watson returning from a calf injury, while Aiden Blizzard has also been brought in to try and mend a faltering batting line-up.
The Heat claimed a dramatic 10-run win over the Adelaide Strikers in their first encounter of the season, with their much maligned bowling attack managing to defend 49 off the last five overs. Earlier Brisbane got off to an explosive start with openers Brendon McCullum and Jimmy Peirson belting 90 off the first eight overs, before new recruit Alex Ross took charge in the final stages, finishing with 64 off 36 balls, including 34 off his last ten deliveries to lift the Heat to a monstrous 5/206.
However for the best part of the chase it looked as if 206 was not enough as the Strikers rumbled their way to 133 without loss after 11 overs. It was left to tall paceman Mark Steketee to make the original breakthrough, before he then came back to claim a further two wickets in the final over to get Brisbane over the line. While Steketee took the plaudits, West Indian leg-spinner Samuel Badree also played a crucial role with his four overs going for just 22, including a maiden in the 14th over which proved pivotal.
Although the Heat claimed the two points it should not be forgotten that they very nearly failed to defend 200 for the third time in their history, with the likes of Jason Floros (0/40 off three overs), Ben Cutting (2/46 off four overs) and Jack Wildermuth (0/27 off two overs) all guilty of profligacy with the ball.
Sydney Showground Stadium
The pitch at the Sydney Showground Stadium in the opening match looked a beauty for batting with the Thunder managing to reach 8/159 despite suffering a mid-innings collapse of 5/15, while in reply the Sixers absolutely breezed their way to the target, losing just one wicket and scoring at nearly nine runs an over. What was noticeable was how much more effective the spinners were, conceding runs at just 6.80 an over compared to the quicks who leaked runs at 8.91 an over.
- The Thunder have won just two of their last eight matches at home.
- Four Thunder batsmen have been dismissed in single figures in both games this season.
- The Heat have won four out of five matches against the Thunder.
- The Heat have outscored their opponents in the first six overs in six of their past eight matches.
The market has overlooked the return of Watson, installing Brisbane as favourites to record their second win of the season and consign the defending champions to their third straight loss.
I think the Heat are fair jollies, having shown that their potency with the bat is limitless, especially against an attack coming off two ordinary performances, and while their bowling remains a significant concern, I’m not sure the Thunder are adequately equipped to exploit their vulnerability. Having said that, at the current prices you would not want to be with the Heat if they bowled first with the likes of Watson, Morgan and Russell capable of inflicting some damage against this attack, and while the Thunder as a batting unit will be unlikely to take the game away from Brisbane, there is every chance the odds will move in the wrong direction until it is time for the Heat to arrive at the crease.
Therein lies the key to the match odds strategy – with a violent batting unit containing the likes of McCullum, Lynn, Ross and Cutting up against an out-of-sorts attack with key contributors such as Russell and McKay proving expensive, we dearly want to be with the Heat when they bat so that’s exactly what I’m proposing – simply back Brisbane when they bat, whether that be first or second.
However if you’re looking for a pre-match wager, the area to focus on is the first six overs. Against the Strikers the powerful opening pair of McCullum and Peirson smashed 79 off the first six, continuing a fine tradition of the Heat getting the jump on the opposition. Although their win/loss record has been not overly impressive, Brisbane have outscored their opponents in the first six overs in six of their past eight matches, averaging a lively 57 during this period, while conceding an average of just 46 with the ball.
In their last eight games the Thunder have averaged only 49 during the first six overs despite often having the services of Usman Khawaja over that period. The Thunder’s record with the ball in the opening stages was strong last season, however with Cummins, Russell and McKay all proving very inconsistent in BBL06 they have conceded an average of 50 over their first two games.
While the return of Watson gives the Thunder more brawn at the top of the order, he will still be joined by the more sedate Gibson who, while scoring runs, has amassed them at a modest strike-rate of 115. Additionally the Heat regularly use their most economical bowler in Badree within the first few overs, with the opposition tending to take less risks against the wily Trinidadian. So with the match-ups as well as the data pointing in the same direction, I’ll also be backing the Heat to be ahead of the Thunder after six overs.
BACK – Brisbane Heat when they bat for 2 units.
BACK – Brisbane Heat Highest 6 Over Total at 1.75 or better for 1 unit.