Sydney Thunder (0-4) v Melbourne Stars (1-1) @ Spotless Stadium
Preview - The Thunder are down to their final chance in BBL as they look for a win at their fifth attempt against the Stars at Spotless Stadium on Wednesday night. The Thunder have made a dreadful start to their title defence, losing their opening four games, with three of those losses verging on uncompetitive. The Thunder have been unable to deal with the losses of veteran leaders Michael Hussey and Jacques Kallis, as well as the giant chasm left by Usman Khawaja's absence with the Australian Test team. The Melbourne Stars roll into town as heavy favourites despite a surprise 7-run derby loss against the Renegades. The Stars' big guns in Glenn Maxwell and Kevin Pietersen failed to fire as the Stars lost to the Renegades for the first time in six contests.
Squad Changes - Eoin Morgan will play his final game for the Sydney Thunder of BBL6 against the Stars. Morgan is off to India to captain England's ODI team and will be replaced for the remainder of the BBL by fellow English all rounder James Vince. Promising young spinner Arjun Nair is back in the Thunder squad after he made his debut against the Renegades. The Stars make just one change to their squad, with Seb Gotch coming in for Cameron Gannon.
Sydney Thunder Scouting Report - I must sound like a broken record, however I would really like the Thunder to try something different at the top of the order. Kurtis Patterson and Ryan Gibson are not big time T20 performers, and the Thunder have not been able to make any inroads in the Power Play. They have lost their 1st wicket with the score on 16, 0, 12 and 16 in their first four games, meaning they are always chasing their tail. The Thunder's batting Power Plays have been nothing short of a disaster in their past three games. Scores of 2/27, 2/33 and 3/27 after their opening six overs are unlikely to win them any game of cricket, let alone a T20 game. Not that I am pinning all the blame on Patterson and Gibson, far from it. The Thunder coaching staff and senior players are the only ones who can really turn this around, and they can do that by stepping up and making a couple of changes. Shane Watson has added nothing from Number 3 in two games so far and needs to step up and take back the reins by opening the batting. Eoin Morgan has been good in patches, however Andre Russell is having a very quiet tournament by his lofty standards. If anything Pat Cummins deserves a chance in the Top 5 given he is the Thunder's leading run scorer in the BBL so far.
The Thunder's bowling hasn't been terrible in BBL6, in fact in most games they have put up a decent account of themselves. They had the Heat 6/62 before they scrambled over the line, while in bowling first against the Renegades and Scorchers they managed to restrict both sides to scores in the 170s, which isn't fantastic, but only slightly over par. Pat Cummins has really hit his straps in the past couple of games and his 1/28 against the Scorchers could have again been so much better with a bit of luck. I'm not sure how fit Shane Watson is, but I would like to see him bowling his full equivalent of 4 overs. Watson made a key breakthrough against the Scorchers, totally deceiving Michael Klinger with a clever change of pace, and the Thunder could really use his guile and experience in the middle and later overs.
Melbourne Stars Scouting Report - You would have to think the Stars would be smarting from their mediocre batting performance against the Renegades. Glenn Maxwell was given a golden opportunity opening the batting, yet offered one of his brain fades running past a ball in the opening over. With Robert Quiney still not fit to resume his place in the side, I would stick with Maxwell at the top, although you can expect Pat Cummins to give him a decent working over. Kevin Pietersen looked in great nick before cue ending one to mid off. If the Stars are to bounce back tonight, one of those two key players will want to hit back with a bang in a smallish ground like Spotless Stadium. Luke Wright played well for his 44, however looks to struggle a lot more against spin. If I were the Thunder, I would be tempted to give Chris Green a bowl at him in the Power Play to try and build a bit of pressure on Wright. Both David Hussey and James Faulkner got starts, but uncharacteristically failed to go on with it as the Stars slipped to a surprising defeat. Whilst it is far from panic stations, it will be if the Thunder upset them in Sydney tonight.
The Stars' bowling has lacked a bit of cut and thrust, if I were being honest, in the opening two games. Most sides have one or two enforcers capable of bowling at good pace, however the Stars have their strike power in other areas of their bowling. Scott Boland is their quickest bowler, however he struggled in taking 1/44 from 4 overs against the Renegades, and don't be surprised to see the Thunder's batsmen try and take him on early. Ben Hilfenhaus has an excellent T20 record with 105 wickets from 83 games at an economy rate under 8, however he might be getting a fraction long in the tooth. On the flip side, James Faulkner was excellent in the middle overs against the Renegades, showcasing his full array of change-ups and subtleties as he dragged the Stars back from a poor start with 1/19 from 4. Michael Beer and Adam Zampa are among the better T20 spinners in the world, however have been a bit below their best in the opening two games. However they should sense a real opportunity here against a brittle Thunder batting line up lacking in confidence.
Verdict - It's hard to see anything other than a victory for the Stars tonight looking through the team lists and the respective records of both sides. However, you would have to think the Thunder are going to strike a blow at some stage during their BBL so, back at home, this game could be a bit closer than expected tonight. I do feel however that the stage is really set for either Glenn Maxwell or Kevin Pietersen to fire tonight and if the Stars can rack up over 175, form suggests the Thunder have very little chance of running down a score like that. I expect the Thunder to make a couple of changes to their batting order today, and put more onus on their senior players up front to lay a better platform for a side struggling to gain any momentum whatsoever with the bat. With some patchy weather around Sydney today, I don't expect this to be one of the higher scoring games of BBL6 so far. The surface at Spotless is likely to be a little tired and hold up a touch I expect the spinners to play a big role tonight in restricting as well as taking wickets.
The Lurker - "I must admit I did have a think about throwing a massive dart here and taking the Thunder. They will win a game at some point of BBL6, however I don' t think it will be tonight. The Thunder will remain stuck on a doughnut as the Stars register their second win of the season, but it will be closer than what people expect. I'm having a bit of a lash at KP to score 50+ and get on the cheeky double of Maxwell to score 25+ into a Stars win."