One might argue that the Boxing Day Test between Australia and India will take centrestage, there is little significance of scheduling a T20 league in the country at the same time. But in a year where the world has been deprived of cricket, more the better seems to be the way forward.
Keeping that in mind, we resume with the Big Bash League (BBL) 2020-21 where Sydney Thunder take on Melbourne Renegades in Match 14 of the tournament at the Manuka Oval, Canberra. Thunder have won two matches in a row and currently sit at seven points from three games, while Renegades after playing a perfect match against Perth Scorchers in their first game, have now lost two in a row and find themselves with three points from as many matches. One of their losses included a BBL record-breaking 145-run mauling at the hands of Sydney Sixers.
The good news for the Renegades is that their skipper Aaron Finch is set to return for this match after a short break after either being bio-secure bubbles or playing competitive matches since September.
Slow off the blocks
Finch will definitely come in handy when it comes to improving the strike-rate of the opening partnership that currently stands at 115.7 for the Renegades, which is not particularly great. However when you look at the Scorchers their openers have scored at a strike-rate of just 106.8, scoring at an average of 14.7 – significantly lesser than Renegades, who have scored at 20.8.
Renegades are the only team who have scored at a run-rate of under six (5.3) in the powerplays (Overs 1-4) this season, while Thunder with a run-rate of 6.3 are just a tad better – an area both teams need to address.
More talent incoming
Renegades were boosted by the availability of 15-year-old Noor Ahmad, who troubled the batsmen and eventually got the wicket of Peter Handscomb for his troubles. This could be the last match before Imran Tahir is made available. A good performance from Noor in this game could hand the captain and the team management some good headache.
With Sam Harper and Rilee Rossouw firing in the previous match, it is now the responsibility of the openers – Shaun Marsh and Finch to strike form and get the team off to a good start, which is something they have lacked in the tournament so far.
As far as the Thunder are concerned, they will be looking forward to having Sam Billings in the setup to add a bit more experience in the top-order. We saw 20-year-old Oliver Davies score a mature unbeaten 22-ball 36 in the previous game, but Billings can fit right into the spot at No. 4, which will make the top four – Usman Khawaja, Alex Hales, Callum Ferguson and Billings – one of the most formidable units in BBL. With Ben Cutting and Daniel Sams to follow, Thunder surely possess a dangerous set of batters.
Billings is set to join the team after Christmas after completing his quarantine period after arriving from South Africa. Whether he will be drafted straight into the XI on Boxing Day is to be seen.
Kiwi fast bowler Adam Milne got a crack in the previous game for Thunder as well. His pace troubled the batsmen, but he returned with no wickets, but conceded just 17 from his four overs. Also, the form of their skipper Callum Ferguson is a huge plus. He has scored two fifties in three matches so far and is a crucial cog in the Thunder line-up.
It is not advisable to change a winning combination and hence, we can expect Thunder to play the same XI. But with Chris Green going for plenty this season without much success, it might be a bad idea to try Arjun Nair in a like-for-like replacement at least for a game. Brendan Doggett and Chris Tremain are the other fast bowling options
Thunder likely XI: Usman Khawaja, Alex Hales, Callum Ferguson (c), Oliver Davies/Sam Billings, Baxter Holt (wk), Ben Cutting, Daniel Sams, Chris Green/Arjun Nair, Nathan McAndrew, Adam Milne, Tanveer Sangha
While the return of Finch is a boost, they will need the entire batting unit to click. So far, it has been just one, maybe two people stepping up, but that has got to change. As far as their bowling is concerned, they seem to have the right combination of pace and spin. But, they do not have a sixth bowler. In such a case, a couple overs from Beau Webster will not hurt.
Jake Fraser-Mcgurk has not had the best of seasons, having scored just 15 runs from three innings so far. Mackenzie Harvey could as a result see himself in the XI this time, instead of one of the X-Factor subs.
Renegades likely XI:
Shaun Marsh, Aaron Finch (c), Sam Harper (wk), Rilee Rossouw, Beau Webster, Mackenzie Harvey/ Jake Fraser-Mcgurk, Mohammad Nabi, Will Sutherland, Kane Richardson, Josh Lalor, Noor Ahmad
Match: Sydney Thunder vs Melbourne Renegades, BBL 2020-21, Match 14
Venue: Manuka Oval, Canberra
Date: December 26, 2020
Time: 12:40 PM IST