January 31, 2020
Melbourne Stars v Sydney Sixers
Venue: MCG | Start: 7:15pm (AEDT)
Melbourne Stars – The Stars have stumbled at exactly the wrong time in BBL09, and enter the finals series with a handbrake on the momentum that carried them through the early stages of the season. Having won 10 of their first 11 games to seal top spot, David Hussey’s side have since lost three in a row to put further pressure on the success-starved club. As arguably the biggest club in the league, the Stars are just one of two clubs (along with the Hurricanes) to have never lifted the Big Bash trophy. And they’ve been in this position before; peaking at the wrong time to stumble when it matters most.
Nevertheless, they’ve earned themselves a double-chance in finishing atop the table, and a loss here would still keep them in the tournament with a berth in the ‘Challenger’ preliminary final. A win, by contrast, would send them straight to the final. In a blow to their finals hopes, opener Hilton Cartwright has been ruled out of the finals with a broken hand. A strong contributor alongside leading runscorer Marcus Stoinis this season, the Stars need someone to stand up in his absence. They’ve experimented with Nic Maddinson and Seb Gotch in recent games, although both have failed with scores of 7 and 5 respectively. Nick Larkin and Ben Dunk are other options, although neither stand out as options Hussey is keen to use.
In more positive news, Stars leading wicket-taker Haris Rauf returns after international duty with Pakistan. With 16 wickets in seven games, his presence will be key for skipper Glenn Maxwell in the upcoming finals. Given his return, it’s likely he’ll come in for Dilbar Hussain in the XI.
Sydney Sixers – By contrast, the Sixers have won three on the bounce and arguably couldn’t enter the finals in better shape. With Australian international Steve Smith, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon all fit and ready, there’s little wonder the Sixers are in some eyes the team to beat in the coming eight days.
Hazlewood has already weighed in on the Stars’ form issues, suggesting their heavy reliance on Stoinis and Maxwell makes them susceptible to being exposed on the big stage. “Our batting line-up, right down to six or seven, everyone has won a game here or there at different stages. We don’t tend to rely on one or two people,” he said. “That’s held us in good stead. They’ve got some key players and I think they rely pretty heavily on those guys.”
While the loss of Tom Curran (international duty) is a big one, the Sixers have surprisingly welcomed back Sean Abbott from a side strain injury in a huge pre-finals move. He will likely take up Curran’s role in bowling key overs at the death. And while coach Greg Shipperd will be all too aware of the damage Stoinis can do, he’ll be heartened by the fact neither of Hazlewood, Lyon or Abbott played when the big opener scored a BBL record 147 not out when these sides last played at the MCG on January 12.
Betting Analysis – The MCG surface has arguably become easier to bat on as the season has worn on while the outfield has undoubtedly quickened up in the last fortnight. And given Melbourne will feel temperatures in the high 30s and even low 40s in the lead-up to this clash, the pitch will likely be rock hard. For the home side, Stoinis is the obvious option in the top runscorer market against the Sixers, a side he has plundered 147* and 62 against this season. With the ball, the returning Rauf is also a standout betting option in the wicket taker market, his strike-rate far better than his fellow front line bowlers. For the Sixers, the MCG is Smith’s second backyard with an incredible test average of 113.5 at the venue. And while this is very much a different format, the sentiment remains that he is a strong option in the top scorer market for the Sixers. With the ball, look for a pumped-up Hazlewood to strike early.
Head to Head: Sydney Sixers
Top Runs Scorer – Melbourne Stars: Marcus Stoinis
Most Wickets – Melbourne Stars: Haris Rauf
Top Runs Scorer – Sydney Sixers: Steve Smith
Most Wickets – Sydney Sixers: Josh Hazlewood