BBL 08 Final, Melbourne Stars vs Melbourne Renegades: The lead-up
For the first time in the 8-year history of the Big Bash League (BBL), a final will be contested between two crosstown rivals. In less than twelve hours from now, the Melbourne Stars and the Melbourne Renegades will face each other in the BBL's first ever derby final.
The two 'finals' - a broad term that includes the semis as well - that also included the Hobart Hurricanes and the Sydney Sixers, produced a mix of heartbreaks and thrillers.
A recap of the form of the four finalists.
Season summary: Played 14, Won 10, Lost 4, Points 20. Lost to Melbourne Stars in the first semi-final.
Clearly the strongest team of the season. Since 2016, no talk of BBL is complete without a mention of two big hitters, Chris Lynn and D'Arcy Short. Lynn's hitting has earned him the tag of Lynnsanity and his ability to forge partnerships with an equally fiery Brendon McCullum has led to the creation of the Bash Bros, a brand that has become a household name in Brisbane.
However, their erratic form in this season led to Hurricanes skipper Matthew Wade staking a claim for the Bash Bros brand with D'Arcy Short. The two lead the run charts with 592 and 637 runs respectively.
Coupled with a bowling unit involving James Faulkner and Jofra Archer, the Hurricanes did everything right on 10 occasions before faltering in the all-important semi-final. A possible reason could have been their decision to stick to nearly the same XI through the league stage.
Once the eighth win was in the bag, the team think-tank could have tried their reserves such as Tom Rogers and Aaron Summers, the latter touted to be a promising speedster. In their final league game at Canberra, they ran into a fresh-from-baggy-green-exploits Pat Cummins who accounted for both the New Bash Bros (if we can call them that).
The Hurricanes played both hard and fair but in the end it came to the question of crossing the penultimate hurdle; an extra mile. They will now have to wait a good ten months for the next journey. We hope the momentum would still be alive then as it was in the period between the seventh, when they finished runners-up, and the eighth.
Season summary: Played 14, Won 8, Lost 6, Points 16. Lost to Melbourne Renegades in the second semi-final.
A team list that largely resembles the New South Wales' First XI, three-time finalists Sydney Sixers endured phases of rising and falling fortunes before qualifying for the semis with eight wins.
That they managed to bowl out two teams for sub-100 scores (Renegades for 99 at Marvel Stadium and Heat for 98 at the SCG) suggested the bowling unit was well-oiled. The batting, on the other hand, was a source of much concern with key players like Daniel Hughes suffering form-losses that could be attributed to the shifting of his regular batting position from opener to No.3.
He opened in the all-important semi-final in the company of Josh Philippe and set the base. In the interim, there were other openers such as James Vince and Jack Edwards both of whom did little in terms of setting solid foundations for the rest of the batting line-up.
That a long season had already taken a toll on the team was probably evident in the manner in which the Sixers played their final league game, the last one for the season, against the Melbourne Stars.
Set 169 to win and 108 to earn the right to host a semi-final at the SCG, the Sixers batsmen collapsed to 77 all out handing the Stars an easy win. Just two days before this game, Brisbane Heat chased down 158 in 10 overs against the Stars at the Gabba and earned themselves a place closer to the semis.
They then had to wait for Stars to lose the last league game. As someone who had disagreed with the Heat on two occasions this season, Sixers captain Moises Henriques probably intended a third - this time to Heat's quest for a semifinal berth - and succeeded in his bid.
Season summary: Played 14, Won 7, Lost 7, Points 14. Defeated Hobart Hurricanes in the first semi-final
Seven time semi-finalists, once runner-up. The seventh, this season's, would not have come through had it not been for the Sixers' shoddy batting display in the final league game of the season. Till two days ago, the Stars were precariously placed on the points table courtesy of a Max Bryant-Ben Cutting blitzkrieg at the Gabba.
Flashback 2017: The Stars were playing their sixth semi-final in as many seasons of the BBL. One player, a pacer who had got an Australia limited overs cap the previous year, was playing his first game of that season. That it isn't a good idea to use a knockout game as a proving ground became evident when the pacer conceded 40 runs in the team's defence of a low score of 139.
Cut to the present: The same pacer plays the semi-final again but with prior experience and in top form. He goes on to pick 4/23 including the wicket of the opposition skipper Matthew Wade.
The pacer in question here is Daniel Worrall. By not experimenting at as crucial stage a stage as a semi-final, the Stars smartly rotated their resources during the league stage. After the seventh season in which they finished a lowly eighth, the team was in a transition mode with the retirements of Kevin Pietersen and Luke Wright and the exit of James Faulkner back to his home city team.
The think-tank wasted no time in signing Nic Maddinson who had shifted base to Victoria and when he got injured, they brought in Nick Larkin as cover. Their overseas lineup included Dwayne Bravo, moving in from crosstown Renegades and armed with fresh knowledge of how to crack final finishes courtesy of two stints, the IPL for Chennai Super Kings and the CPL for Trinbago Knight Riders.
Complementing him were leg spinning superstar Sandeep Lamichhane and in his absence, the handy Yorkshireman-turned-Surreyman Liam Plunkett.
The player who was instrumental in lifting the fortunes of the team was Marcus Stoinis. Skipper Glenn Maxwell promoted him to open the innings and the former made the most of his chances, while also pitching in on the bowling front with handy wickets. As someone who indulges in a sledge or two, friendly ones though, Stoinis signalled his team's intent to never lose sight of the trophy during the course of the tournament.
Season summary: Played 14, Won 8, Lost 6, Points 16. Defeated Sydney Sixers in the second semi-final and secured finals hosting rights
Crosstown rivalry is a new concept in cricket. The presence of two teams from the same city induces competition between the teams to showcase themselves as the city's favourite. The Premier League in football has five teams based out of London alone with the winner securing bragging rights. In this context, the Renegades and Stars and the Sixers and Thunder represent modern cricket's two crosstown rivalries.
In the battle between the Stars and the Renegades, the Stars lay claim to the title of Melbourne's Favourite Team. They have their consistent semi-final appearances, barring one season, to support their claim. The Renegades, however, have remained an enigma since the inception of the BBL. They have made it to the semis on only two occasions before the current season and were yet to make a finals appearance. That jinx has been broken this time around.
Reason for the Renegades' form can be attributed largely to their dependence on one key player, Aaron Finch. Finch has been part of the Renegades since season 1. With the BBL schedule clashing with Australia's limited-overs commitments, the Renegades have gotten used to seeing their skipper leave the BBL midway to join the national team. The batting firepower at the top sort of fizzles out.
This season, however, has seen a change of approach from the Renegades as they presented playing caps to the young Sam Harper and Mackenzie Harvey, nephew of former Australian Ian.
Harper spent two seasons with the Stars where he was the fourth choice keeper after Ben Dunk, Peter Handscomb and Seb Gotch. The move to Renegades has immensely benefitted him as he has notched up 335 runs so far at a strike rate of 141.35 with a solitary half-century to his name. He has his sights on the baggy green too and appears to be a promising prospect.
The high point on the bowling front is that of Kane Richardson topping the season's wickets tally and in the process earning himself a national call-up for the series against India. But the biggest successes for the Renegades came from Hobart from where Cameron Boyce and Dan Christian were drafted in. The latter's blazing heroics in the semi-final were instrumental in taking his team through while the former, despite a failed opening gambit, has a half-century to his name.
Come daybreak, the city of Melbourne and BBL fans from the rest of the world will wake up to an event featuring two close buddies leading their respective teams to a possibly intriguing battle that could help overturn certain criticisms of a sporting league and set the tone for a new chapter in Australia's cricketing landscape.