The Big Bash League, otherwise known as the BBL gets underway on Tuesday with the Sydney derby between the Sydney Thunder and Sydney Sixers.
The domestic T20 competition enters its sixth season and this season promises to be bigger than ever.
Here’s my team by team season preview of each of the eight competing teams:
Perennial contenders, the Melbourne Stars have a settled squad but will be ravaged at times by unavailability owing to international commitments.
Kevin Pietersen (pictured above) steps out of the commentary box for another campaign and appears set to anchor the batting again after an impressive BBL5, although he won’t be on hand for the opener in Hobart.
Glenn Maxwell is under the microscope after some controversial recent comments about his place in the pecking order and it’s surely time for him to back up words with some match-winning performances.
On the bowling front, John Hastings’ likely absence for the duration of the tournament is a serious blow as he has been a reliable presence through the middle overs.
This could open up an opportunity for Evan Gulbis to take on a more prominent role with the ball after he impressed in limited appearances at the back end of last season.
Leggie Adam Zampa was their leading wicket-taker in BBL5 and should once again threaten after tests cleared him of concussion following a recent outfield collision with teammate Tom Triffitt.
The Stars are a team in gradual decline but might be able to sneak into the playoffs once again.
Unibet Odds: 5.50
Last Season: 2nd
The Renegades were criticised in many quarters for their failure to reprimand Chris Gayle for his infamous ‘Don’t Blush Baby’ line to TV reporter Mel McLaughlin.
While the franchise has done the right thing by cutting ties with the Caribbean lothario, both his runs and his aura are going to be difficult to replace.
With Aaron Finch woefully out of sorts in the Chappell-Hadlee Series, there are some serious question marks over their star power with the bat and it’ll be interesting to see how they utilise Cameron White in the tournament after he has been mooted with a return to the top of the order.
The red half of Melbourne will, however, be hoping to leave rivals in a spin after making two key acquisitions on the slow bowling front.
The ageless Brad Hogg has switched from the Scorchers while offie Sunil Narine joins fellow West Indian Dwayne Bravo (pictured above) in the line-up having undergone remedial work to address a suspect action.
Look for the Renegades to bat first wherever possible, post competitive totals and hand the game over to that miserly pair.
The Renegades are gifted an opportunity to get off to a flyer with two home games leading into their New Year’s Day clash with cross-town rivals the Stars but I couldn’t find a spot for them in the top four.
Unibet Odds: 6.00
Last Season: 5th
Perth were unable to ‘three-peat’ after a comprehensive semi-final defeat to the Stars and after a sustained period of success this season, it could be more of a struggle for the sandgropers.
Classy Englishman Ian Bell is well known to Australian audiences and will replace fellow Pom Michael Carberry as one of the franchise’s imports, with Justin Langer banking on him to provide more run support to the consistent Michael Klinger (pictured above).
While skipper Adam Voges has recovered from the nasty head knock suffered in a recent Shield fixture and offers a steadying influence in the middle order.
Local fans will be delighted by the signing of Mitchell Johnson, who should have happy memories of life at the WACA having taken several bags at the venue during his Test career, although he has admitted to a little rustiness having hardly gripped a ball since his international retirement.
With Brad Hogg gone, a lot rests on the shoulders of Ashton Agar, particularly with swing king Jason Behrendorff unlikely to feature as a result of stress fractures.
As always, the Scorchers will be tough to beat at home and their season will likely hinge on how they perform on the road.
Unibet Odds: 6.50
Last Season: 4th
After a promising start, the Sixers were unable to overcome the tournament-ending calf injury sustained by skipper Moises Henriques, dropping their last five games to pick up an unwanted first wooden spoon.
In short, things are unlikely to get too much better this time around as, while they boast the distinction of having the entire Australian Test attack amongst their ranks, they’re unlikely to see much action from any of them!
Michael Lumb departs having made a notable impression on the first five seasons of the BBL but while his replacement Jason Roy might not be a household name in this country, his flamboyant strokeplay is highly regarded in English cricketing circles and should allow Brad Haddin to play a more circumspect role upfront.
Sean Abbott and Doug ‘the Rug’ Bollinger (pictured above) form a capable if unspectacular new ball pairing in the absence of Starc and Hazlewood but the Sixers are going to have to post (or chase) some serious scores in order to climb up the ladder.
Unibet Odds: 7.00
Last Season: 8th
Once the laughing stock of the competition, the Thunder surged to their first ever title to deliver retiring skipper Mike Hussey a fitting end to an outstanding career. Kurtis Patterson was close to Test selection and will be called upon to really step up following the retirement of Jacques Kallis and the limited availability of Usman Khawaja, who anchored successful run chases in both the semi and final and was close to being the player of the tournament.
Bowling-wise, the Thunder appear to have one of the better attacks in the competition with Clint McKay a very savvy operator at either end of the innings and Pat Cummins a potent new ball threat to go with the spin of Chris Green.
Freakish West Indian Andre Russell gives the champions an X-Factor in all three facets of the game that not many other teams can call upon.
The Scorchers have shown that defending your crown is possible and while the Thunder have lost a wealth of experience, there’s more of a resilience about their set-up these days.
Unibet Odds: 7.50
Last Season: 1st
BBL5 was a case of déjà vu for the Strikers, who stormed to the minor premiership before suffering a surprise loss to a Khawaja-inspired Thunder in their home semi (indeed, the Green Machine were the only franchise to topple Adelaide last season having inflicted their lone defeat in the group stages).
Adil Rashid’s 18 wickets will be hard to replace and with Jon Holland also a doubtful starter the spin stocks look a tad thin but their pace attack is reliable and will once again be spearheaded by Kane Richardson and the variations of Ben Laughlin.
The Strikers look particularly strong with the bat, thanks largely to the likes of Travis Head, Tim Ludeman and Brad Hodge, still a force at the level beyond the age of 40, while Ben Dunk is a useful addition from the Hurricanes.
We’re also expecting a breakout season from Jake Lehmann, son of national coach Darren, who looks destined for higher honours.
A lot may depend on the fortunes of ‘gun for hire’ Keiron Pollard (pictured above), who returns to the city of churches for a second stint having been forced to sit out all of last season with a knee injury.
The Strikers look one of the stronger units in the league and should feature prominently once again.
Unibet Odds: 8.00
Last Season: 3rd
The Heat were never really in the hunt last season after dropping their first four matches but there are reasons to believe that better times are ahead for the Daniel Vettori-coached franchise.
Having been forced to sit out last season’s campaign due to national team commitments, the recently retired Brendon McCullum is a virtual new signing and will form a deadly double act near the top of the order with Chris Lynn (pictured above), who topped the overall aggregates in BBL5 with some of the most devastating ball striking we have seen in a while.
The Kiwi ace has been hitting the ball well in trial matches and appears primed to have a big impact.
With the likes of Nathan Reardon and all-rounder Ben Cutting also in their midst, the Heat have plenty of strike power with the bat and should post some imposing totals.
Samuel Badree proved to be a solid acquisition and gives the Heat a measure of control through the middle overs but their pace bowling stocks look thin on the ground and opportunity abounds for one of their home-grown quicks to stand up and deliver.
Andrew Fekete’s red ball form saw him included in Australia’s Test squad for the aborted tour to Bangladesh late last year and the challenge is to convert this into some solid displays under a different type of playing environment.
With Mitchell Swepson in their squad, it will also be interesting to see how often Vettori elects to play two spinners at the Gabba, a venue not known for favouring slow bowling in modified formats.
McCullum may provide the X-Factor the Heat need and a fairly soft draw in the opening exchanges should enable them to build some momentum.
Unibet Odds: 8.50
Last Season: 6th
A victory over eventual champions Thunder was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise bleak campaign for the Apple Islanders and with their squad arguably weakened it’s difficult to see how they could break back into the finals this time around.
Kumar Sangakkara is all class but probably didn’t justify the pay packet after failing to make the most of his starts and enters what surely will be his swansong under some pressure to deliver following the off-season departure of Ben Dunk.
That aside, usual suspects Tim Paine and George Bailey will be expected to provide the bulk of the runs.
Pantomime villain Stuart Broad is likely to get plenty of stick off Australian crowds but gives the Hurricanes a viable new ball option and will link with the team after the cessation of England’s Test series in India, although he has been troubled by a recent tendon injury to his right foot.
His ability to control the run rate in the early overs will be key in a line-up also containing ‘The Wild Thing’ Shaun Tait (pictrued above), who will take wickets but also bowls a lot of ‘four balls’ and has never been noted for his miserly economy levels.
Overall, the Hurricanes appear to lack the depth of some of the other franchises and may need to rely on some brilliant individual performances for their wins.
Unibet Odds: 11.00
Last Season: 7th
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