Melbourne Stars (4-2) v Brisbane Heat (4-2) @ MCG
Preview - It's a top of the table showdown as the Stars host the Heat in an explosive matchup at the MCG on Tuesday night. The Stars are the hottest team in BBL6 right now, having won their past three games, two of them in dominant fashion against the Renegades and Scorchers. With both sides on four victories, the winner of this game will secure a final’s spot as well as having an outstanding chance of finishing in the Top 2 and securing a home semi-final. While the Stars have become accustomed to dealing with these pressure games in the regular season, having made the playoffs in all five BBL seasons, it's a different mindset for the Heat. Brisbane have been outside the finals for the past three seasons looking in, and would rarely have had a bigger game than this one one tonight The Heat coughed up their last game against the Scorchers, failing by 27 runs to chase a moderate 157 for victory, and don't want to be getting the wobbles at this time of year.
Squad Changes - The Stars have have issues coming into this game with both Peter Handscomb and Marcus Stoinis called up to the Australian ODI side. Handscomb's call up shouldn't come as too much of a surprise given his imperious form, however he has a modest List A record. The Stars have also opted to leave out both Liam Bowe and Jackson Coleman from their 13-player squad. The Stars do gain one massive inclusion with Adam Zampa released from his Australian duties for this clash. Zampa is a proven T20 performer and will strengthen an already on-song Stars’ bowling unit. Also coming back into the squad are wicket keeper Sam Harper and all-rounder Seb Gotch.
All the press this week has entered around the controversial suspension of Brendon McCullum for this crucial game. My quick take is it’s unnecessary and there are better ways of punishing the Heat superstar and the team itself. The fans shouldn't be denied one of the game’s drawcards. The Heat will badly miss McCullum, having already lost star batsman Chris Lynn. It's a double blow and they have reacted by bringing in experienced batsman Alex Doolan to replace McCullum. Big all-rounder Nick Buchanan is back in the squad replacing Xavier Bartlett.
Melbourne Stars Scouting Report - The Stars batting has been a bit scratchy in their past two games and they will be tested here without the likes of Glenn Maxwell and Peter Handscomb. Rob Quiney has really been carrying them with his outstanding form and the Heat will know that if they can remove Quiney early, they could get into a potentially brittle middle order. Luke Wright has underperformed in the past two BBL campaigns, and really needs to step up if the Stars are to challenge for the Title.
The Stars are firing on all cylinders with the ball. They have two very much in-form pacemen in Ben Hilfenhaus and Scott Boland, with two very reliable spinners in Michel Beer and Adam Zampa. With the Heat missing both McCullum and Lynn, the Stars will sense a real opportunity here to control things in the their bowling Power Play and really strangle an inexperienced Heat batting outfit from here.
Brisbane Heat Scouting Report - It has to be said the Heat were pretty listless with the willow against Perth when McCullum fell early, and without Chris Lynn. Jimmy Peirson now needs to play the role of aggressor, and while he is capable of doing that, whether he can be a consistent run scorer is another question. I think it is time to use Joe Burns back at the top of the order, as the Heat are lacking class and experience in this game, and Burns is a player that can potentially bat through the innings at a greater tempo. Greater responsibility will fall on the likes of big hitting all-rounder Ben Cutting. Cutting hasn't fired in BBL6, and if the Heat are to score 180+ tonight, I think they might need a few big bombs from Cutting.
The Heat are still missing Samuel Badree, although they have done a fine job in his absence. Young Mitchell Swepson has got plenty of press in the past few days after being selected in the Test squad to tour India, so it will be interesting to see how he responds to the greater level of scrutiny. The likes of Mark Steketee and Jake Wildermuth have impressed me with the way they have improved as BBL6 has progressed. Early on in this competition, I would have had the Heat as one of the Bottom 2 rated bowling teams in terms of execution and experience, however I think they have become better than that. It will also be interesting to see how these young bowlers respond without the calming force of Brendon McCullum out in the middle, with Joe Burns taking over as captain.
Verdict - It's a bit of a shame some of the big guns are missing from this top of the table clash, however I still expect this game to be fiercely contested. I think McCullum is not only a big loss for his batting prowess but his on field leadership. He has really improved a young side that was a bit raw and, without his presence in the field, I think the Heat might offer a bit here. For the Star, I am looking at Luke Wright as a key player in this game. The Englishman has been a disappointment for mine the past couple of years and they really need him to step up if they want to break through for a maiden title. I don't expect this to be a particularly high scoring game, given both sides are missing some heavy artillery. Expect both fast bowling units to try and defend the big square boundaries with plenty of balls on the shorter side and slower ball bouncers. I think the Stars deserve to be favourites at home, given their reliable and experienced bowling outfit and the recent winning streak they are on.
The Lurker - "I Haven't backed against the Stars this year and i'm not about to change my tune. Luke Wright is due to fire so I like him to score 25+ into a Stars win. For the Heat I like the High Bat/Bowler double of Alex Ross into Mitchell Swepson"