The Big Bash group stage is drawing to a close and fans have been treated to another exhilarating five weeks of T20 cricket. It has been a rollercoaster ride and little has gone to plan as much-hyped teams like the Melbourne Stars have flopped, while rank outsiders like the Adelaide Strikers are soaring. Superstars have suffered injury woes, while new giants of the league have been born, and there has rarely been a dull moment. Here are five key things we have learned so far:
Scorchers are extremely hot again
The defending champions are on course to win a fourth BBL title in seven seasons if they maintain their magnificent levels of resourcefulness. The Perth team has frequently been depleted – Mitch Marsh has been away with both the Australian Test and ODI teams, Shaun Marsh and Cameron Bancroft were on Ashes duty, Andrew Tye, Jhye Richardson and David Willey have been called up for the ODIs and Michael Klinger and Adam Voges have both missed games – but the Scorchers keep on rolling with the punches and finding a way to win. Topping the ladder with seven wins out of nine is ominous form to take into the semi-finals and once again Perth will be the team to beat. They are the $4.33 favourites in the Big Bash betting odds and deservedly so as they have been sharing the responsibility around the squad well and will improve when big name players return.
Adelaide continue to defy expectations
The Strikers finished sixth last season and were expected to fare even worse this time around after losing the league’s top scorer, Ben Dunk, to the Stars. But while Dunk’s new team are bottom of the ladder and in dire straights, the Strikers are the second best team in the league. Six wins from eight has seen them go from huge outsiders pre-season, to $8 third favourites as the group stage reaches its denouement. Only the Perth Scorchers and Melbourne Renegades are priced shorter, and that is testament to the fine rebuilding job the Strikers did in the summer. Before the season, respected pundits said “whoever is in charge of the Strikers recruitment process has some answering to do” after they lost a host of stars, while question marks lingered over the “hardly enthralling international contingent of Rashid Khan and Colin Ingram”. But the Adelaide recruitment team has been utterly vindicated: Khan has taken 12 wickets, has the second best bowling economy rate in the league and has emerged as the most exciting youngster around. Ben Laughlin and Michael Nesser are also on fire, while Alex Carey is the second top scorer in the league. The Strikers will be a real danger heading into the semi-finals as the side has enough depth to cover losses if players are called up for international duties.
Australia look crazy to ignore Lyon’s roar
Nathan Lyon made mincemeat out of England’s finest batsman during the Ashes and inspired his team to a 4-0 series win. However, for some reason he does not feature in the ODI team, and Australia have already lost the series in his absence. Whilst in the Big Bash, Lyons is showing them what they are missing. He went straight into the Sixers team and immediately improved it, and starred when he took three wickets as they secured a thumping win over the Stars. Lyon now leads the league for bowling efficiency, ahead of Khan, and that makes the decision to omit him from white ball cricket for his country all the more mystifying.
D’Arcy might also leave them less short
Australia struggle in limited overs cricket and their T20 team has not achieved a great deal of late, so it might be time to mix things up a bit. It is hard to argue with an opening partnership of Aaron Finch and David Warner, but D’Arcy Short is actually making a pretty compelling argument. With 504 runs, he is 136 clear of second placed Carey at the top of the BBL scoring chart, and he also leads the league for fours and sixes, while he is the only player to hit a century this season. The Hurricanes have a strong chance of reaching the semi-finals and with Short in the driving seat they have an outside chance of glory.
BBL may have reached a critical mass
The Big Bash is undoubtedly one of the great success stories in world sports as it is only in its seventh season and its popularity has soared. Until now. Since expanding from 32 to 40 games for BBL7, attendance rates have dropped 12% and TV ratings have fallen slightly. This plateauing popularity will give Cricket Australia plenty of food for thought as it mulls over plans to expand to a full home and away season for BBL8. There are mitigating factors – the heat, big teams like the Stars and Sixers flopping, displeasure at star players being snatched away for international duties – but those problems could continue to plague the league going forwards. It might be best to keep the Big Bash as a shorter and snappier format to ensure the excitement does not wane.
TOP IMAGE: By Haley Jackson, via Wikimedia Commons.