Adelaide Strikers (0-2) v Sydney Sixers (2-1) @ Adelaide Oval
Preview - It's a New Year's Eve firecracker as the Strikers host the Sixers in the annual showdown at a jam packed Adelaide Oval. Last year no one will ever forget Travis Head's remarkable innings where be plundered three consecutive 6's in the final over to rescue Adelaide from a seemingly hopeless position. After being set 177 by the Sixers, the Strikers were in early trouble before Head's memorable 101 not out from 53 balls, before a bumper crowd of over 46,000. Head belted 56 from the final 14 deliveries he faced, dispatching the Sixers' bowlers to all parts. This year, the teams meet on different terms with the Strikers in desperate need of a victory after starting the season with consecutive losses. After making the finals comfortably in the past two seasons, the Strikers are in danger of being cast adrift if they can't pull out a win tonight. For the Sixers, it's the chance to pull clear of the chasing pack and register a third victory from four starts, as they look to rebound from finishing in last place in 2015/16 with just the two victories.
Key Changes - Both sides have some key in and outs for what is always a highly anticipated game. The Strikers lose strike bowler Kane Richardson, out for 2-4 weeks with back soreness. In his place they bring in relatively unknown left arm spinner Tom Andrews. Potentially explosive Canberra based batsman, Jono Dean, also enters the Strikers 13-man squad for the first time this season. Dean averages 24 from 11 T20 games, at an impressive strike rate of 142, and could be asked to make an immediate impression in this game. The Sixers lose key left arm spinner Steven O'Keefe to Australian duty. O'Keefe has bowled outstandingly in the three games so far, and it's a big ask for rookie replacement Soumil Chibber as he replaces O'Keefe for the trip to Adelaide. Chibber is a spinner with multiple leg spin and off spin variations, and is an interesting prospect who could prove highly effective early, given a lot of teams won't have seen much of him. It is unclear whether Jason Roy is fit to return at the top of the order. Also some mystery surrounds whether Nic Maddinson could be a late inclusion, given he was dropped from the Australian Test side.
Adelaide Strikers Scouting Report - Adelaide really need their T20 Internationals in Australian Travis Head and West Indian Keiron Pollard to fire sooner or later if they are going to get their season up and running. Head was a star of BBL5, however has had a slow start to this season, with a stuttering 23 and 13 in losses to Brisbane and Perth. Pollard has fared even worse with just 5 runs from 2 matches for the big hitting West Indian. Head had been in great touch earlier this season with the Australian ODI side, and memories of the 101 n/o he smashed in the corresponding game last year against the Sixers might help jet propel his season. I had a few doubts over whether veteran captain Brad Hodge could still produce the goods at this level, however he has well and truly squashed those in the opening two games of BBL6. Hodge played a lone hand scoring 56 runs from 33 balls against the Scorchers, as wickets tumbled around him. Despite being 42, Hodge looks as good as ever and his record of averaging 36 through 264 T20 games at a strike rate of 131 is one of the best in the world.
With Kane Richardson potentially out of the whole of BBL6 with a back injury, I would be putting the onus on Ben Laughlin to return to the side and really lead the attack. I was a bit mystified that the Strikers decided to leave him out in Perth, even though he did bowl poorly in Game 1. Laughlin is the sort of slingy, death bowler, with great change-ups, that can keep batsmen in check. With 112 wickets from 121 games at an economy rate under 8, he is a proven performer and, on a big stage like this game, I would definitely be recalling him to the starting side and giving him the death overs where the Strikers have struggled to date. I would also like to see Travis Head be given some bowling. The Strikers have a very inexperience spin bowling attack of Liam O'Connor and Tom Andrews, and I can see the Sixers trying to ruffle them early with some lusty blows.
Sydney Sixers Scouting Report - The Sixers have an interesting dilemma at the top of the order if either Jason Roy or Nic Maddinson are fit and available. While I can't see an out of sorts Brad Haddin retaining his position at the top, Sam Billings showcased his talent with a stylish 40 from 30 balls. The Sixes also got nice even contributions from Moises Henriques, Jordan Silk and Johan Botha, and if they can slot Roy and Maddinson back in, their batting line-up takes on a much more imposing and deep nature. Botha, the fiery South African turned Australian all-rounder, will be keen to make an impression against his old side. Moises Henriques has looked in good nick all series so far, and I think he will relish trying to take a piece of the Strikers' inexperienced spin attack in this match. Look for Henriques to take them on early and often.
The Sixers finally put it all together with the ball against the Scorchers, limiting a really strong batting to 8/130 on a wicket that was holding up at the SCG. They got their tactics right in the Power Play, where they had been really sloppy in the opening two games, by employing their most experienced bowlers in O'Keefe, Botha and Bollinger. Youngster Ben Dwarshuis was excellent in the latter overs, and was far more suited in the role. With the longer straight boundaries of the Adelaide Oval, I expect him to be effective again here, with his slanting yorkers and full length attack. Will Somerville took the two key wickets of Michel Klinger and Ian Bell in an impressive first performance of BBL6. A tall orthodox off spinner, Somerville was playing just his second T20 match. Whilst he bowled well, both wicket taking deliveries were fairly innocuous, and I think some teams might be able to get a hold of him given he doesn't much mystery to his bowling.
Verdict - I would be very wary of the bounce back factor in this game. Sometimes you have games in professional sport where one team wants to win, and the other team has to win. That is the case here, and I just wonder whether Adelaide will be that 10% more desperate tonight, especially in front of a huge home crowd. All the late changes will also be important here as well. For instance, if the Sixers have both Maddinson and Roy to call upon, then they look a far more intimidating side on paper. I reckon either Travis Head or Keiron Pollard, or perhaps both, might have a big say in this game. Both are excellent T20 cricketers and will be determined to make an impact to reverse the fortunes of their struggling side. With the shorter square boundary in Adelaide, I expect the quicker bowlers to bowl a more fuller length, with plenty of changes of pace, on the usually excellent batting surface. Expecting this game to one of the higher scoring games of the series, given over 400 runs were scored in Adelaide the previous match. Expect both sides to go hard in the Power Play, as scores of 160 or 170 are unlikely to cut it for a victory target.
The Lurker - "The Lurker has had to think long and hard about dart to throw here. Not knowing whether Roy and Maddinson will plays hurts be a bit but I have landed on the Strikers to edge this one. I just can't see them starting 0-3 especially in front of a big home crowd. Have a lash at The Strikers to win by 1-20 runs or 1-4 wickets and a high bat double of Travis head into Moises Henriques"