Almanac Cricket – It ain’t easy being Green: A BBL Finals preview by a Melbourne Stars fan

“The Cricketer”
by Kate Birrell

 

You’re going to hear and read the word ‘choke’ a lot in every preview of the Big Bash League finals. I know this all too well because, over nine years ago, I decided to adopt the Melbourne Stars as my BBL team and I can verify that the ‘C’ word is bandied about when reporting on their performance on a near-annual basis.

 

When Cricket Australia announced that one of the new teams would be based at the MCG, I started following them on Twitter.  When they announced their first few players, I received a direct tweet attaching a picture of David Hussey holding a card saying “@josephryan79 you’re a star”!  Australian player, good pun, personalised message?  Ok, I’m in!

 

Now, I know that the target audience of the league is roughly 30 years younger than me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy following this side.  The Stars have been a fun team to watch. I have great memories of watching so many of these performances live at the ‘G’ – Handscomb smashing one hundred to overcome the Scorchers, Faulkner sending Brett Lee back over his head in a super over, and more.  Watching on TV, I have great memories of Lasith Malinga taking 6/7 in Perth, and Luke Wright belting them to all corners in Hobart.

 

This year has been no exception.  With a relaxed and happy attitude to the game, the Stars were playing carefree, enjoyable cricket and getting amazing results.  The Renegades should have beaten the Stars in the second derby at Docklands, but from nowhere we saw one of the cleanest displays of hitting by Glenn Maxwell, depositing seven sixes to various parts of the stadium to pull a win from the jaws of defeat. I thought it was one of the best innings I was ever going to see but then, only two days later at the MCG, Marcus Stoinis hit the highest individual BBL total of all time, 147, contributing to the highest ever team total, 220.  It was a sublime innings!

 

This attitude of fun and enjoyment was adopted by former coach Stephen Fleming and appears to have been carried on by new coach David Hussey.  It makes sense – if you spend time getting annoyed at a bad moment in T20 cricket the whole game may pass you by.  With a relaxed, carefree attitude you can take a few risks too, when they are needed.  It also helps repel the pressure that the media and expectant, hopeful fans like me are placing on them.  When the team is relaxed, they seem to be at their best, as demonstrated with 10 wins for the season in BBL09.  After mental health breaks last year, Glenn Maxwell and Nic Maddinson are back on field, smiling, and seem to be loving every minute.

 

But back to that word ‘choke’.  Yeah, the Stars have been a good team in the regular season, qualifying for semi-finals in all bar one season, but their finals effort has been, well, less than ideal.  In Season 2, in Perth, a wet ball, a sneaky change of captain to avoid a suspension for Shane Warne, and a no ball based on fielding restrictions, conspired to hand the game to Perth.  Then, the following season, after an unbeaten regular season, we failed to even make the final after a limp semi-final loss to the Hurricanes.  The year that we actually won a semi-final, we ran into the Sydney Thunder on their one good year and a rampant Usman Khawaja, who hit 100 in the final to take the title.  A history of these upsets meant reporters and social media pundits were beginning to label the Stars as a nervous side who couldn’t handle pressure.

 

Then there’s last year.  I went to Docklands for the final and halfway through I was preparing to celebrate. Cue 7/19 off 30 and the game was lost.  Enough has been written about that day, so I won’t go into detail lest I trigger nightmares for anyone.  I have clear memories of Dunk and Maxwell hitting catching practice to outfielders but, perhaps most haunting, was the roar from the Renegades fans when, with 3 balls to go, the required score was more than six runs a ball.  I wanted to defend the boys, but there was no way to sugarcoat it.  I heard this match described by a Stars player early this season as “Oh, yeah, we had a bad 40 minutes that day”.  This is the ultimate example of “understatement”!

 

So, I’m preparing to head along to the MCG on Friday for the ‘Qualifier’ against the Sydney Sixers.  How are the Stars going to go this week as they try to correct this abysmal finals record?  (That is the point of a preview after all, to actually look forward and have a guess what’s going to happen, right?)  Well, the glorious thing is that I have absolutely no idea.  In-season form has been absolutely no guide to finals form over most of the history of the Big Bash, with the top team falling over on a regular basis, only going on to win the title on one out of eight occasions!

 

Arguably this year, there’s a strong case that the Stars, the team that won 9 straight games and is hosting the qualifier final, is actually the underdog!  Does that take the pressure down?  The three losses to close the season may be a sign of a side that took the foot off the accelerator knowing they had crossed the finish line, after guaranteeing their finals spot with three games to go. But, the loss of winning form is possibly reason for concern. Other factors also suggest the Stars might have reason to be worried – the batting has been shaky for the last few games, and now player losses are taking a toll.  Losing Lamichhane (due to an unexpected international commitment) and Cartwright (injury) at this stage of the season hurts.

 

On the other hand, the Sydney Sixers have been building steadily over the course of the season.  Keeper-opener Josh Phillippe has found form, Vince has been playing very well, and skipper Moises Henriques is playing like he’s inspired (having recently become a Dad, perhaps he is inspired!).  They also have a couple of very handy inclusions in Steve Smith and Josh Hazlewood.  Heard of them before?  While they haven’t played a lot of BBL recently, they are obviously amongst the best cricketers on the planet and can be expected to have an impact.

 

My tip is that the return of one key player will make a big difference.  A mate attended the early season match at Moe and told me to keep an eye out for the Stars replacement bowler who, to the naked eye, was bowling faster than Shahid Afridi (or even the guy he replaced in the squad, the legendary Dale Steyn).  When I got to see this man – Haris Rauf – bowl for the first time I was thoroughly impressed.  His pace, movement, and (entertainingly) his celebrations captured the eye, and the joy he has when playing the game is contagious.  This is one of the things I love about the BBL – it’s identified some amazing new talent that may not have otherwise come to light.  While established players such as Gayle and De Villiers have come to Australia with much hype, and generally failed to deliver, a number of lesser names, particularly from emerging cricket nations, have been able to thrive and establish themselves through this competition (and other T20 leagues around the world).

 

So I can only hope that attitude of ‘fun’ and enjoyment that the Stars started the season with, reflected so well by Haris Rauf, is back for the finals.  For the first time, the BBL has a ‘double chance’ final, giving the top two teams a second bite of the cherry after a loss in the first final.  So, the pressure of elimination is gone in the first instance.  Of course, whoever loses this game is likely to cop a meeting with a very strong Adelaide Strikers side, and then the pressure might be back on. But we can deal with that later!

 

So whatever happens, it’s been a great season with some really memorable moments.  I’m sticking by the Stars, spearheaded by some top notch bowling from Rauf, in Friday night’s game.  But you know what would really be memorable?  Holding up the cup at the MCG next Saturday. Until then though, let’s have some fun…!

 

@josephryan79

 

 

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About Joseph Ryan

Lawyer, amateur sportsman, and full-time sports-watcher. Follows Melbourne Demons and Melbourne Storm and is trying to be better at golf.

Comments

  1. Do I sense a bit of a knee tremble of apprehension, JWR? I enjoyed this background and preview. Should/could be quite a finals series.

  2. Thanks for the summary

  3. A fairly comprehensive summary, thanks Joseph.

    I, too, support the Stars, initially because I am an MCC member. I try to get to at least four matches per season. I was fortunate enough to be at the famous 80,000+ match four years ago when Luke Wright smashed a ton; and I was also at the match where Stoinis scored his imperious 147no.

    I reckon the Stars are gone: Cartwright and Lamma are huge losses (as you point out), Maxwell has lost some form, and even Stoinis doesn’t look quite right now; the depth is poor; and how they would be rueing Dunk’s long-term deal. The recruitment of Dilbar Hussain is bewildering – you cannot tell me that there were not better local cricketers available in Australia? AB deVilliers certainly enjoyed his offerings.

    One positive is that Rauf is back. But the Sixers have Smith – and I reckon he has been a revelation.

  4. Ian, yes there’s some trembling!

    Smokie, I’m hoping Rauf and a refreshed NCN can get some early wickets and get things rolling!

  5. At 5 for 50 chasing 142 the Stars are choking. Lyon and Hazlewood are world class in any format. Still, this is the stage for Maxwell to prove he is the real deal Too often he gets out in these situations. Wait ans see.

  6. And the woeful finals record continues. I blame it on Eddie infecting the club with a nasty strain of the Colliewobbles (and gee, have the Stars dialed it up to a coronavirus level!) Looking forward to thursdays game … I’m backing the boys to break the shackles and make it to saturday weeks final.

  7. Carn The Mighty Melbourne Stars says

    I knew the Melbourne Stars were gone even chasing 142 because the Sydney Sixers have the best bowling up in the competition and runs on the board in a final are very hard to chase down, with the added pressure. I even thought that in the earlier matches when the Melbourne Stars were on top of the ladder, that the Stars played better when batting first, as proven with Marcus Stoinis making 147 not out against the Sydney Sixers, who were without Josh Hazelwood back then. The other loss was Dale Steyn, who the Stars knew would only be able to play the 1st 6 matches. Instead, the Sydney Sixers get strengthened with Hazelwood, Steve Smith and now Abbott back. I am more confident that the Melbourne Stars can make runs against the less heralded Sydney Thunder bowling attack, especially if the Stars bat first. Then, if the Melbourne Stars win and then bat first in the Big Bash Final against the Sydney Sixers, I still believe in miracles. Stoinis and Maxwell can do it and it just takes someone like Peter Handscomb to make runs with them. Maddinson is facing the axe but Dunk isn’t the answer to come back either. Coulter Nile needs to fire also as either a pinch hitter or a big hitter. It would help if Larkin can make another score too. Dan Worrell needs to start taking wickets again and keep his economy rate down. Easier said than done. Maybe as underdogs, the Melbourne Stars can finally win their 1st Big Bash title.

  8. With a little help from my friends, I have come up with a song that summarises the Melbourne Stars current Big Bash season.

    Stoinis is the competition’s run machine
    Maxwell, you’re a credit to the Green
    Zampa celebrates his wickets
    Lamichhane left on an airline ticket
    And Cartwright’s loss is bigger than it seems

    Mr Dunk has lost all form with the bat
    Stars, can you pull a rabbit out of the hat
    Handscomb used to make runs
    Losing 4 in a row is no fun
    And Maddinson is now facing the axe

    Come on Stars Come On
    Come on Stars Come On

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