The two best teams in the competition have very few weaknesses and both sides may need to be bold in trying to exploit any weak link
Sydney Sixers and Perth Scorchers are unequivocally the two best BBL teams and Saturday night’s Qualifier looms as a mouth-watering clash.
It also has huge ramifications in the title race. The teams split their two meetings this season based on where they were played. The Scorchers thumped the Sixers in Perth, but the Sixers provided an emphatic response in their second meeting at Manuka Oval. The Qualifier will be played at Manuka Oval but the winner will gain direct entry to the BBL final and will also get to host it. The reward for winning is massive.
After a 14-game regular season, there is plenty of evidence as to how the two teams are likely to line up, but these are three key areas that could decide the contest with views from the BBL’s player acquisition and cricket consultant Trent Woodhill.
New-ball Powerplays vital
The game could well be decided in the two Powerplays. Jhye Richardson and Jason Behrendorff have been arguably the best new-ball pairing in the competition with Richardson claiming the most wickets in this year’s BBL. Jackson Bird has taken more Powerplay wickets than any other bowler this season while Steve O’Keefe has been straggling teams and Ben Dwarshuis was Player of the Match in the win over the Melbourne Stars thanks to his Powerplay exploits.
Both sides have explosive Powerplay batting with Josh Philippe and James Vince looming large for the Sixers while Jason Roy, Liam Livingstone, and Colin Munro have been setting games up for the Scorchers.
“I think it’s whoever bowls the best, not so much in the Surge, I reckon it’s actually the Powerplay,” Woodhill said.
“If Richardson has a day out and gets through Philippe and Vince then it brings Hughes and Henriques in early. But the same can be said about Ben Dwarshuis, if he deals with the threat of that top four from Perth.”
Behrendorff may be the big threat for Philippe. Left-arm pace is his significant weakness, averaging just 19.66 against it and striking at 104.42. Behrendorff knocked him over for 5 in Perth. Three of Philippe’s five dismissals for single-figure scores in this BBL have been against left-arm seamers with Sam Rainbird dismissing him in the last game against the Stars in the first over while James Faulkner trapped Philippe lbw for 1 in the first game of the season.
Targeting the weak links
Both sides have extraordinary depth but both teams have areas that can be exploited. The Sixers have proven as a batting unit they can win games after batting collapses. But against the Scorchers they may not get the same breathing room to rebuild as they have against other bowling attacks and may need to target a bowler.
“Where they’re [both] good, there’s no weakness,” Woodhill said. “You look as a batting unit, who are you going to target, who is the fifth bowler. For Sydney, they will target Aaron Hardie, and depending on the surface, they might have to target Fawad Ahmed as well. AJ Tye, Behrendorff, and Richardson are tough.”
Hardie and Tye were collared by the Sixers in the win at Manuka and Hardie was also targeted by the Melbourne Stars at the MCG. That’s forced Scorchers captain Ashton Turner to get creative without the ability to turn to Mitchell Marsh as a sixth bowl. Livingstone has bowled overs in three of the last four games for the Scorchers and could be called upon again. Turner may be reluctant to use himself with only one left-hander to bowl at.
“Does the Perth team target Jackson Bird?” Woodhill said. “Or do they target another spinner?”
The Scorchers did all three in the match in Canberra with Livingstone, Roy, and Munro clubbing nine fours and five sixes off Bird, O’Keefe, and Lloyd Pope but ran aground in the second half of the innings as the surface slowed up and Carlos Brathwaite, Dan Christian, and Jake Ball tied them down with slower balls.
Will the X-Factor be used at all?
The Scorchers have hardly used the X-Factor all year trusting their first-choice XI to do the job for most of the year. They have only used 15 players in total and subbed Kurtis Patterson for his only game when Marsh injured his side.
The Sixers may use their sub as they wrestle with the balance of their attack. The return of Dwarshuis and Sean Abbott saw them use Jake Ball as the sub in the last game against the Stars. They have also played Pope in both matches against the Scorchers with them having five right-handers in the top six and all of those, bar Josh Inglis, having a perceived weakness against legspin.
“The Sixers might bowl Jackson Bird upfront and then bring Pope in,” Woodhill said. “Jackson’s job is to bowl over No.1, hit the top of off. He’s got more powerplay wickets than anyone in the competition. He might look to come in and take a wicket and then pull him if he’s not successful.
“Do they stick with Jake Ball at the death or do they make him an X-Factor and play both Pope and Bird? That’s the challenge. It’s a cracker. I’m really excited. I can’t split those two teams.”
Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Melbourne
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