The 2016/17 Big Bash League commences on Tuesday night when defending champions Sydney Thunder host cross-town rivals Sydney Sixers at the Sydney Showground Stadium.
After claiming their maiden title last season the Thunder have shed plenty of experience with captain Mike Hussey and South African all-rounder Jacques Kallis both no longer in the squad, while new skipper Shane Watson has been ruled out of the first couple of games with a calf injury. Additionally, Usman Khawaja will be absent with the Australian test side and he will be sorely missed after his mercurial efforts in BBL05.
Those vacancies place the onus on stand-in captain Ben Rohrer and English signing Eoin Morgan to pick up the slack in the top order, while there will also be an opportunity for younger players such as Kurtis Patterson and Jake Doran to shine.
The Thunder’s bowling attack is relatively untouched with Kallis the only significant omission from last season, while they also gain the services of talented speedster Pat Cummins. Dynamic West Indian Andre Russell will be looking to lead from the front after he and new-ball partner Clint McKay combined for a sensational 34 wickets in last season’s tournament, while spinners Fawad Ahmed and Chris Green provide diversified slow bowling options. Although they historically have a poor record in the Sydney derby, the Thunder claimed both matches played between these sides last season and will be looking to replicate last year’s victory in the tournament opener.
The Sixers endured contrasting fortunes to their city rivals last season, dropping their last five games to finish with the dreaded wooden spoon. Only English opener Michael Lumb managed more than 200 runs over the course of the competition, however Lumb has not been retained with the Sixers turning to two of his countrymen in Jason Roy and Sam Billings to rejuvenate their batting line-up.
After missing a significant portion of BBL05 though injury, captain Moises Henriques is back on board and will be hoping to push for higher honours. The Sixers’ bowling attack has been heavily impacted by national selection with Nathan Lyon and Jackson Bird joining long-time absentees Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood in the test arena, which leaves veteran Doug Bollinger to lead the line alongside all-rounder Sean Abbott and new acquisition Joe Mennie. Although the Sixers will be without Australia’s premier spinner in Lyon, they still have plenty of slow-bowling options available with Steve O’Keefe and Johan Botha both likely to play a part in the season opener. While their depth looks a little shallow given all the international call-ups, the Sixers have composed a strong line-up with plenty of power and versatility.
Sydney Showground Stadium
Last season the average first innings total at the Sydney Showground Stadium was 6/156 with only one score below 150 so conditions were generally favourable for the batsmen. Despite that, star all-rounder Russell worked his magic with the ball at home, picking up nine wickets in four matches at the impressive average of 12.67.
- Sydney Thunder won six out of 10 matches last year, however only two from four at Sydney Showground Stadium.
- The Thunder will be without four players who between them scored 65% of their runs last season.
- The Sixers won only two of eight matches last season, dropping their last five straight.
- The Sixers also have five players unavailable due to test duty, including four bowlers.
- In the English NatWest T20 Blast, Jason Roy scored 495 runs at an average of 45.00 and strike-rate of 164.45.
The Thunder have been installed as favourites to claim a third-straight win over their cross-town rivals, with punters expecting the Sixers to continue their struggles of 2015/16.
Indeed if this match was played last season then you would expect the champions to be a much shorter price against the cellar-dwellers, however a new season brings a number of personnel changes which will have a telling impact here. The Sixers have recruited smartly with Roy and Billings shrewd signings, while it was clear that the Magenta Men clearly missed their skipper Henriques who provides a key all-round option. Their attack has been hampered by international recognition, however at this point they have the requisite cover to ensure that they are not putting out a sub-standard bowling unit so it’s difficult to pinpoint too many weaknesses in their squad.
Meanwhile the Thunder have lost a raft of quality, particularly in their top-order, without acquiring comparable replacements. Their bowling attack remains strong, however they are down on a couple of options in Watson and Kallis, plus it’s hard not to get the sense that the likes of Russell and McKay will find last season’s deeds difficult to replicate. There will also be extra pressure on inexperienced players such as Patterson, Doran and Chris Green who only really played a peripheral role last year, so overall they look a much more fragile prospect from 12 months ago.
All things considered the Sixers have the stronger squad for mine so I’m expecting them to turn around their poor form from last season and shock the champions with an upset in the derby.
BACK – Sydney Sixers at 2.05 or better for 2 units.