The Big Bash League (and a full-on summer of cricket) is ready to grab our attention once again. Seven weeks of action include 32 group stage matches and three finals, from December 20 2013 to February 7 2014.
Reigning champions the Brisbane Heat have compiled another strong squad; the Melbourne Renegades continue to attract fans after a surprise BBL|02, and the Sydney Thunder have recruited batting superstar Mike Hussey.
Biggest question is who is going to start off strong? Let’s look at the Melbourne squads. The Stars and the Renegades both made the BBL|02 semi-finals; however both bowed out to strong opponents. Unfortunate and inclement weather was detriment to the Stars campaign; while the Heat, thanks to a marvelous Luke Pomersbach century, defeated the boys in red by 15 runs.
The Renegades have again recruited a strong squad; keeping 13 from BBL|02 and adding the likes of James Pattinson, Peter Siddle and Fawad Ahmed to their squad. While Siddle is set to play in the Australian test team (and miss a possible four matches), it is still advantage Renegades. For the majority of the BBL competition (where no Sheffield Shield is played) the squad has very little, if not none, in the way of players being called up to either the Australian or other international squads – the depth more than covers for an injured or national player.
Consistency for the Stars is going to come from confidence and good scores. In particular, when it comes to the one day international matches, the back half of the season could see the likes of Clint McKay, David Hussey, James Faulkner and Glenn Maxwell called up to the Australian team, leaving something of a hole in the line-up.
This will be where the likes of Marcus Stoinis, Alex Keath and even established all-rounder Luke Wright can fill the void – Wright and his destructive batting have been evidently displayed in the past two seasons.
Sydney Sixers and Thunder
A mixed BBL|02 for the Sixers saw them drop four games in a row, and what looked to be a promising campaign somewhat fizzled out. This time around, the magenta have bolstered the batting ranks in the form of Jordan Silk and Marcus North. Ravi Bopara also adds another element to the T20 arena. Winners of the inaugural BBL, the Sixers strength lies in getting the strong wins early.
The Thunder lose handy all-rounder Sean Abbott to the other side of the city; however, bowlers Luke Feldman and Dirk Nannes can quite capably fill in the pace gap. Michael Hussey will don the lime green shirt in BBL|03 as well. Important for the Thunder this time around is to get wins on the board, and work as a team; the talent is on show, but in BBL|02, the workmanship was not. Optimism is key.
Brisbane Heat and Perth Scorchers
Round 1 sees the reigning champs play the runners up – and the Heat squad will again boast big hitter Pomersbach, as well as red-headed quick Alister McDermott and veteran captain James Hopes.
What Brisbane did so well in BBL|02 was create pressure on the opposing batsmen; and in Twenty20 it is not the easiest thing to achieve. Having Daniel Vettori and his deceptive bowling arm is just another bullet in the chamber for the Heat to make another run at the title.
Perth has a very young side – Ashton Agar, Sam Whiteman and Patrick Cummins are just three players under the age of 21. Do not discount that, however – Agar showed just how promising he was with the bat in the Ashes series this year in England. Simon Katich and Adam Voges add crucial experience.
Adelaide Strikers and Hobart Hurricanes
Last season, thanks to some very lusty blows from Nathan Reardon, and the timing of the seasoned Michael Klinger, the Strikers delivered an exciting brand of cricket. Unfortunately, the blue boys missed out on the semi-finals simply on run-rate.
New in BBL|03 is English powerhouse Alex Hales, who last season belted a whopping eight sixes against the Sixers – although that time round he was wearing Renegades red. Natural aggression and big hitting are second nature to Hales. Add Gary Putland and the wild and woolly Shaun Tait, and it is not going to be so easy for the opposition to simply score runs.
Hobart have two of the cleanest hitters in Australian domestic cricket: Aiden Blizzard and Travis Birt. One only has to hark back to BBL|01 and the three Clint McKay full tosses that were sent hurtling over the Bellerive Oval roof.
Ben Laughlin was the Hurricanes best bowler in BBL|02; his slower ball is a perfect weapon at the death in Twenty20. Aided by Evan Gulbis and the spin of Xavier Doherty, the Hurricanes are yet another one to watch – so close last year.
Cricket is a funny game, and Twenty20 even more so. Numbers suggest the Heat can take a second title; while squad depth also points to the Renegades, who will be hungry for redemption. The action kicks off on December 20.
Early ladder prediction
1. Heat 2. Renegades 3. Hurricanes 4. Stars 5. Strikers 6. Scorchers 7. Thunder 8. Sixers
(Please note that this is only a prediction before the start of the season)