THE regular season is over and the finals are here! The BBL knockout rounds roar to life on Friday with three games in three days that will reduce the competition from five teams down to three, as well as confirming the first team into the grand final.
Here is the preview of the weekend ahead.
The Eliminator: Adelaide Strikers (4th) vs Hobart Hurricanes (5th) (Friday, January 21, 7:15pm, MCG)
The finals get underway on Friday, and will be immediately reduced to four teams standing with either the Adelaide Strikers or Hobart Hurricanes getting eliminated.
The Hurricanes bring a shellacking as their form into the finals, when the Melbourne Stars posted 273 on them, however, with none of their first-choice bowlers playing, it’s difficult to suggest anything serious should be taken out of what was a show of pure hitting and domination from Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis.
Their form with a team not made up of second-stringers however is a little more positive, having beaten the Melbourne Renegades, Sydney Thunder and Brisbane Heat within their previous four outings, their batting in fine form.
The ‘Canes will also welcome back Scott Boland, although he only played one game during the regular season so the impact he will have remains to be seen. Their bowling in this last competitive again against the Thunder also got a whacking, conceding 168, but with the Adelaide strikers struggling with the bat for much of the season, that may not matter all that much.
That said, the Strikers form with the bat has been better, beating the Sydney Sixers and Perth Scorchers in their last two games to qualify for the finals – an achievement which looked a million miles away at some points this season, with Ian Cockbain a revelation, Matt Renshaw finding his touch and Alex Carey set to return.
This will come down to the wire, but it feels like the Strikers might have a little bit more going for them.
Our best bet: Adelaide Strikers win $1.73 at PlayUp
The Qualifier: Perth Scorchers (1st) vs Sydney Sixers (2nd) (Saturday, January 22, 7:15pm, Marvel Stadium)
Neither team at the top of the table bring excellent form into the knockout stages of the Big Bash, but this match – a chance to go straight through to the grand final and receive a week off for their troubles – is as big as it gets.
The Scorchers have beaten the Brisbane Heat in their final game, but lost to the Adelaide Strikers in a shock defeat prior to that – and a heavy defeat at that.
The Sixers also lost to the Strikers before an unconvincing close out of the Brisbane Heat to finish the regular season, while they had also previously gone past the Sydney Thunder and Melbourne Renegades, only the game against the Thunder seeing them bat to their potential, racking up 197 runs.
It was that game which proved beyond all reasonable doubt just how good experience can be for the men in magenta, with Daniel Hughes and Josh Philippe both scoring half-centuries, while Moises Henriques made 47 from 27, and Steve O’Keefe took four wickets.
This isn’t a knockout game, but both teams will treat it like one, and it’s that experience which could prove invaluable for Sydney. Despite that, they need Henriques and Philippe – who are both in the top ten this season – to fire with the bat. There is no question about that.
It becomes even more imperative in the face of a Perth Scorchers attack where five bowlers have taken more than ten wickets and they tend to concede less runs than any other team.
Still, the Sixers batting experience and tight work in the field should see them into the decider.
Our best bet: Sydney Sixers win $2.12 at PlayUp
The Knockout: Sydney Thunder (3rd) vs Adelaide Strikers/Hobart Hurricanes (Sunday, January 23, 7:15pm, MCG)
The Thunder will fancy their chances against either the Adelaide Strikers or Hobart Hurricanes in Sunday’s clash.
While the Thunder started the season slowly, they have been consistent through the second half of the season, winning a vast majority of games to qualify for the finals in third spot and avoid an extra knockout game.
Their biggest strength has been found in their batting, with scores of 170, 168, 209, 172, 187 and 200 posted in their last nine games of the season, as well as two successful run chases of lower totals, being 139 and 133.
That batting has been led by young gun Jason Sangha, who has racked up 384 runs at 48 for the season, while Alex Hales has also scored 374 at 34, with a strike rate of 150 from the top of the order. The way runs have flowed will concern the Strikers or Hurricanes immensely given their own bowling deficiencies.
That could be the difference-maker in the knockout whichever team the Thunder have to face, and they should advance through to the challenger for a spot in the decider.