BBL finalists: route to the title and how the squads stack up

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Sydney Sixers, Perth Scorchers, Sydney Thunder, Brisbane Heat and Adelaide Strikers can all win the BBL

Five teams are still in with a chance of winning the BBL title. Here’s a look at how each side reached the knockouts, what they need to do next and the state of the squads after a long campaign

Sydney Sixers

Qualified: 1st

Road to the playoffs

Defending champions the Sixers were the team that utilised the Bash Boost point better than any other team in the competition, claiming nine throughout the season including the point that sealed top spot against Melbourne Stars. But they also won more games than any other team and proved themselves to be clutch chasers. The Sixers won four games in the last over on the back of their exceptionally experienced middle order. It was back-to-back, last-gasp wins on the Gold Coast against the two Melbourne sides that really kick-started their season and then they completed three clinical chases in January against Brisbane Heat, Perth Scorchers, and Sydney Thunder to qualify for the finals with three games to go. They did lose two of their last three matches with two poor bowling performances but returned to their best against the Stars to claim top spot.

Path to the title

If the Sixers beat the Scorchers in the Qualifier at Manuka Oval on Saturday, they will qualify for the BBL final and likely host it in Canberra. An SCG final hasn’t been ruled out but border restrictions for certain states will make it difficult. If the Sixers lose the Qualifier, they will host the Challenger in Canberra and would need to win that before travelling to Perth for the BBL final, where they were bowled for 97 earlier in the season.

How the squad shapes up

The Sixers squad has been boosted by the inclusion of Moises Henriques and Sean Abbott. Mitchell Starc is an outside chance to join them but it depends on his fitness after requiring a scan on his hamstring following the Test series against India. The three overseas of James Vince, Carlos Brathwaite, and Jake Ball, who have been together since Jason Holder’s brief three-game stint ended in late December, are available throughout the finals, but it will be interesting to see how Ball is used after he was the X-Factor sub in the last game against the Stars. The batting order is incredibly deep with Josh Philippe and Vince opening up, Henriques bolstering the middle order, while Jordan Silk and Dan Christian are in red-hot form lower down. The attack is well balanced with a variety of options to turn to depending on the surface and the match-ups.

Perth Scorchers

Qualified: 2nd

Road to the playoffs

The Scorchers overcame a horror start to the season to storm into second spot, and probably should have clinched first had they played better against Brisbane Heat in the final match. The Scorchers were winless from their first four games, but they clicked into gear on New Year’s Eve once Jason Roy and Liam Livingstone had shaken the rust from 14-days quarantine. The batting line-up was settled with the English pair moving to the top of the order and Josh Inglis sliding to No.4. It gave them tremendous depth and the well-established attack some scores to defend. The Scorchers won four in a row at home and eight of their next nine before the loss to the Heat.

Path to the title

The Scorchers blew a chance to secure two home finals but they can still host the BBL final at Perth Stadium if they can beat the Sixers in Canberra in the Qualifier. The Scorchers lost both matches they played at Manuka Oval this season including one against the Sixers. But they have won a BBL final at Manuka Oval against the Sixers in BBL03. If they lose to the Sixers, they return home to Perth to host the Challenger. If they win that they will fly back to either Canberra or Sydney to face the Sixers again with just a 48-hour turnaround.

How the squad shapes up

The squad is as well-balanced as any with only a couple of concerns. Ashton Agar is unlikely to available for the finals series having not played all tournament due to a calf injury, despite being named in Australia’s T20I squad to tour New Zealand on February 7. Mitchell Marsh, who is also in the Australian squad, is unavailable to bowl due to a side strain but will play as a batsman. Marsh’s inability to bowl does put pressure on the Scorchers’ fifth bowler in Aaron Hardie. He has been targeted in recent games with Ashton Turner forced to get creative in using either himself or Livingstone to make up some overs. Cameron Green is being rested ahead of the South Africa Test tour.

Sydney Thunder

Qualified: 3rd

Road to the playoffs

The Thunder won five of their first six matches to sit pretty on top of the table and looked like the team to beat. But when Daniel Sams suffered a concussion in the loss to Brisbane Heat, they lost four of the next five with the balance of the side thrown off when he missed a couple of games. They righted the ship with a dominant performance against the Sixers in Adelaide with Alex Hales plundering a century to help the side post a BBL record score. Hales continued his incredible form against the Strikers to secure third spot for the Thunder and make them a real threat for their second BBL title.

Path to the title

The Thunder will host the Knockout against the winner of the Eliminator between the Heat and Strikers at their home-away-from-home in Canberra. If the Thunder win the Knockout, all roads to the title lead through Perth. They either face the Scorchers in Perth in the Challenger or the Final. Perth Stadium won’t hold as many fears for the Thunder as it does other teams. The Thunder have won two of four matches at the venue and nearly pinched a third against the Scorchers this season. They also have to beat the Sixers in Canberra in either the Challenger or the final. They beat the Sixers in Adelaide but lost the rain-affected clash in Canberra.

How the squad shapes up

The Thunder are well balanced but the fitness of Sams is important. He injured his wrist in the loss to the Hurricanes and has missed the last three matches although is hopeful of playing in the finals. Brendan Doggett‘s form with the ball gives the Thunder plenty of options from a bowling perspective and potentially a selection headache if Sams is passed fit. Hales and Usman Khawaja are a formidable opening combination but Khawaja is due for a big score and finals may bring the best out of him.

Brisbane Heat

Qualified: 4th

Road to the playoffs

The Heat left it right to the last day to steal a spot in the finals thanks to a nail-biting win over the Scorchers in Adelaide. The Heat’s season started horrendously losing four of their first five games. Ironically, a hamstring injury to Chris Lynn actually kickstarted the Heat’s season. Jimmy Peirson took over as captain and the Heat won three out of four, with the only loss a controversial one-run defeat to the Hurricanes. Lynn returned and promoted himself to the top of the order with good effect but, unlike the three stable sides above them, the Heat continually tinkered with their batting line-up and looked like they would miss the finals after two horror defeats to Perth and Adelaide where they were bowled out for 115 twice. The Heat needed to win their last two matches and did thanks to blistering half-centuries from Lynn and superb allround performances from Marnus Labuschagne on return from the Test squad.

Path to the title

The Heat and the Strikers have the toughest road to the title. They each have to win four games in eight days. The Heat at least get to host the Strikers at the Gabba, a ground that suits them well. Should they win they will then head on the road to face the Thunder in Canberra 48 hours later for the Knockout. Should they win the Knockout, they will need to beat the Sixers and Scorchers in Canberra and Perth to clinch the title.

How the squad shapes up

Labuschagne’s inclusion initially looked problematic for the Heat but his all-round package gives them a lot of versatility. It gives the dynamic duo of Lynn and Max Bryant at the top some middle-order stability, however their last two innings have stalled a touch with Labuschagne and Joe Denly have got together. But they have power down the order and then a balanced attack that has benefitted hugely from Mitchell Swepson‘s return. He has made up for the absence of Mujeeb Ur Rahman who won’t return for the finals. The Heat have been the most adventurous with the X-Factor sub, and can afford to be given the bevy of allrounders and fast bowlers they have in their squad. Their major flaw is there is no left-hander in their batting line-up, with Sam Heazlett on the outer, which leaves them vulnerable given every finalist has either a legspinner or a left-arm orthodox in their line-up.

Adelaide Strikers

Qualified: 5th

Road to the playoffs

The Strikers can count themselves incredibly fortunate to be playing in the Eliminator. Had either the Hurricanes or the Stars (including a Bash Boost point) won their last match the Strikers would have missed the finals. Had both results fallen the other way the Strikers would have finished seventh on the table. They have been inconsistent but mainly paid a price for some unforced errors at home. In back-to-back matches they capitulated from strong positions with bat and ball against the Renegades, who had lost seven matches in a row, and missed the chance to claim an easy Bash Boost point against the Stars, although they still won the game. Those two results alone would have secured third spot. They had to rely on favours from the Renegades and the Sixers to finish in fifth.

Path to the title

They have the toughest road to the title. They need to win four games in a row in eight days, all away from home. It starts with the Heat on Friday at the Gabba. If they win that they face the Thunder in Canberra on Sunday. Then they face trips to Perth and back to Canberra or vice versa, to win their second title.

How the squad shapes up

The Strikers have tinkered endlessly with their batting line-up but have finally settled on the opening combination that won them BBL07. Alex Carey and Jake Weatherald have found form at the right time, but their middle-order is a worry. Phil Salt is batting out of his preferred position, Jon Wells has failed to fire this season and Matt Renshaw is also battling for runs. The attack has been strengthened by the return of Michael Neser and they do have options depending on the conditions at the Gabba to play an extra seamer or a second spinner. Rashid Khan’s absence has hurt them and he won’t return this season.

Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Melbourne

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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