THE DUST has settled on week one of the BBL|12 finals series, with three games in as many days setting the scene for this week’s challenger and final bouts. Reigning champions, the Perth Scorchers are gunning for a record fifth title and have already qualified for the decider, where they will meet either the Sydney Sixers or Brisbane Heat. Before the action gets back underway on Thursday, catch up on all that’s gone down to date.
STORY SO FAR
Though inclement Sydney weather marked a somewhat anticlimactic start to the postseason, fans were first treated to an Usman Khawaja batting masterclass. The Brisbane Heat skipper accelerated past the halfway mark with his side sent in to bat, blasting 94 (55) in a 128-run partnership with Test teammate Marnus Labuschagne (73 off 48).
Their efforts, and a brutal eight-ball Matt Renshaw (24) cameo saw the Heat post a venue best score of 5-203 at Sydney Showground Stadium. Though it would have been tough to beat in a full game, the contest was reduced to nine overs apiece as rain halted play, with the Thunder 1-52 off 6.5 overs – eight runs short of the DLS par score.
Play failed to get back underway amid a second downpour, leaving the Thunder stranded in arrears and David Warner unbeaten on 36. The result meant Brisbane, the lowest-ranked finals contender, set up a knockout meeting with the Melbourne Renegades at Marvel Stadium on Sunday.
The Perth Scorchers flexed their muscle to beat close competitors, the Sydney Sixers by seven wickets in Saturday’s qualifier. It was one of the season’s most highly anticipated clashes, and aside from fielding mishaps from either side, players largely lived up to the quality expected of them in the first-versus-second showdown at Perth Stadium.
Scorchers skipper Ashton Turner (84* off 47) steadied an early wobble as his side chased down Sydney’s 8-151 with nine balls to spare. The middle-order maestro came in with the score reading 3-22, and put on an unbroken 132-run stand with Cameron Bancroft (53* off 45) to guide the hosts into this season’s decider.
Sixers spearhead Sean Abbott showed his class with the ball for 3-25, claiming all three of his side’s wickets. Earlier, Moises Henriques helped steer Sydney’s innings with 58 off 43, while Jordan Silk peeled off a handy 47*. David Payne (3-33) and Jason Behrendorff (2-17) combined to remove five of the Sixers’ top six, as Perth progressed.
The Brisbane Heat’s hopes for a second BBL title remain alive after their seven-wicket win over the Melbourne Renegades on Sunday night. Travelling to Marvel Stadium for another knockout bout, the Heat played chasers for their second final in three days, successfully surpassing the hosts’ 5-162 with seven balls in the bank.
Khawaja was again in the thick of the action, fronting the innings with 59 off 47, and putting on a 75-run stand for the opening wicket alongside Josh Brown (39). Though a wobble in the power surge saw Tom Rogers (2-33) remove both Khawaja and Labuschagne (23), Renshaw guided the Heat home with 27* off just 13 deliveries.
Brisbane’s bowling unit also proved up to the task. Xavier Bartlett (3-18) returned to the side to claim player of the match honours, while Michael Neser (2-33) claimed the key wicket of Aaron Finch and Spencer Johnson (0-23) proved economical. Their efforts flew in the face of a vintage Shaun Marsh knock, as the West Australian carried his bat for 82* off 53.
WHAT’S TO COME
Week Two of the BBL|12 finals series gets underway on Thursday February 2, as the Sixers and Heat lock horns in The Challenger. The winner will face the Scorchers on Saturday February 4 at Optus Stadium to decide which team will be BBL champions.
There will be plenty of selection fall out between the two bouts, particularly in the Brisbane Heat camp. After playing key roles in the finals thus far, captain Khawaja, Labuschagne and Renshaw will all depart for Australia’s Test tour of India. They will also not have access to Mitch Swepson.
The Sixers face a similar blow to their batting stocks with Steve Smith also departing with the Test team, while squad members Nathan Lyon and Todd Murphy follow suit.
Things are slightly different for the Scorchers, whose incredible depth will be tested in the bowling department. Jhye Richardson is unlikely to recover from his hamstring injury in time, and Lance Morris will be unavailable. That leaves one of Matt Kelly or Peter Hatzoglou to claim a spot in the final.