Perth Scorchers (3-1) Brisbane Heat (3-1) @ The WACA
Preview - It's a blockbuster at the top of the table as the Heat make the long trip to Perth take on the Scorchers. With both sides sitting pretty at 3-1, the winner of this game will climb to outright first on the table, and with a home semi-final very such in their sights. The Scorchers have built up an imposing record at the WACA over the years and are already 2-0 this year having brushed aside both the Strikers and Thunder. However the Heat are a class or two above those sides, at least on paper, and I think this is a real litmus test for both teams to put down an easy measuring stick ahead of the finals. The Heat suffered their first loss of BBL6 on Tuesday night as the Sixers came home with a wet sail to win by 3 wickets. Last season the Scorchers torched the Heat, coming to Brisbane and winning by 9 wickets. The Heat do have some fond memories of Perth though, where they won the BBL2 Grand Final in 2012/13 by 34 runs. Chris Lynn, Joe Burns and Ben Cutting are the only surviving members of that side.
Squad Changes - The Scorchers lose veteran batsman Adam Voges to injury as he strained a hamstring while attempting a shot against the Thunder. However they do welcome back Ashton Agar, the bowling all rounder who has been released from the Test squad. The Heat suffer a massive blow with experienced leg spinner Samuel Badree missing the game with a hamstring injury. Badree has really controlled the bowling Power Play for the Heat in at least three of their opening four games, and it leaves a giant hole in their already slightly brittle bowling line up. Meanwhile, there is some doubt over star batsman Chris Lynn, who strained a hamstring in batting against the Sixers. It would be a gigantic blow for the Heat to lose both Badree and Lynn, especially with tougher tests in the BBL in front of them after a road trip to Perth. The Heat bring into their squad 18 year old fast bowler from the Gold Coast, Xavier Bartlett. Bartlett has represented Australia at Under 19's level and played for the Cricket Australia 11 in the recent Matador Cup.
Perth Scorchers Scouting Report - Star Batsman Shaun Marsh is yet to fire a shot in anger for the Scorchers this year since returning from injury, with just 19 run in three games. Marsh has looked a bit scratchy in each innings, and has faced a total of 30 balls, meaning his strike rate is also well down below 100. I am sure the Heat will be looking to put a few dots on Marsh early, and try to get him to play a panic shot. One player who has not struggled is Englishman Ian Bell, who's looked right at home in the bouncier conditions in Perth. Bell has made over 40 in both games in Perth, and is the 7th leading run scorer in BBL 6, with 149 runs at a good average of 37 and strike rate of 127. A lot of foreign batsmen struggle when they come to Perth, but the Scorchers did their homework on Bell and he is proving one of their bankers. Another player in great touch is big all-rounder Mitchell Marsh. Marsh has 140 runs and has only been out twice so far, averaging 70. Marsh has threatened to explode a few times and, whilst he hasn't quite blown sides away, he is still striking at 140 and having an excellent start to BBL6. Marsh is particularly destructive at the WACA and you simply can't bowl in the slot to him late in the innings, as he can really hammer those short straight boundaries.
The Scorchers are the best performed bowling side so far in BBL6, three times restricting their opposition to less than 150 runs from their full 20 overs. The Scorchers were really dominant in the bowling Power Play in both their home games, with early wickets from their pacemen the key to really decimating both the Strikers and the Thunder. In David Willey, Andre Tye and Mitchell Johnson they have three genuine strike bowlers who can take top order wickets. This will be Willey's last game before he goes to India to represent England in their ODI series, so be will be looking to go out with a bang here. However the Scorchers are yet to come up against a real quality top order batting line up and they will get that test tonight against the explosive Heat Top 3. The Scorchers still look a bit light on for quality T20 spin options, however Ashton Turner has done a serviceable job and they get Ashton Agar back for this game.
Brisbane Heat Scouting Report - The Heat have an in-form Top 3 capable of taking down any attack, however they will face some proven quality here in the Scorchers' seamers in their home conditions. Heat captain, Brendon McCullum, is already proving his worth with 148 runs at an average of 37 in four games to date. With McCullum, the average is great, however his strike rate of 182 so far in BBL6 is even more valuable. I expect the Scorchers to try and test McCullum with some shorter balls into the ribs, but don't expect the Heat captain to take a backward step. Alex Ross is a player who has really struggled this season batting at Number 4 for the Heat. Teams appear to have worked him out a bit and I expect the Scorchers to target him with Mitchell Johnson and try and rattle him early. While the Heat top order have been firing, they also get a couple of key contributions in the middle order from Joe Burns and Ben Cutting. Burns has had limited opportunities in BBL6, however compiled an excellent half century against the Sixers to propel the Heat to 186. Cutting hasn't quite fired yet, although there were signs he isn't far away in his last innings.
The Heat really will need a couple of their bowlers to step up in the absence of Samuel Badree here. I can't see them using young leg spinner Mitchell Swepson in the bowling Power Play, so they may revert back to off spinner Jason Floros or use one of their fast bowlers. Ben Cutting is the Heat's most experienced bowler and, while he has picked up key wickets, he has also been expensive throughout BBL6. Cutting has six wickets, but is going at 9.95 runs per over and was responsible for a couple of big overs in the Sixers overrunning the Heat in Brisbane. Mitchell Swepson has bowled well at times, however is going for over 9 runs per over, while Jake Wildermuth is going for 9.9, so the Heat really need one of those bowlers to drag that back a bit if they are going to contend at the business end of the year.
Verdict - It's advantage Scorchers here, at least with the team changes with Badree out for the Heat, and Agar back in for the Scorchers. I think that is a massive blow for Brisbane as I can't see any of their other bowlers being able to step up and fill that void. Losing Chris Lynn would be a further hammer blow. That's not to say the Heat can't go to Perth and get a win here. In T20 games, sometimes it only takes two players to fire to win a game, and the Heat have those players in their arsenal. I expect this game to be one of the higher scoring games so far in BBL6, with both sides batsmen enjoying the extra pace and bounce. Brisbane Heat like batting at the Gabba, so I don't think they will be too worried about the conditions in Perth. I expect Shaun Marsh to get some runs tonight after a a really quiet BBL so far. Expect both team's spinners to be targeted with some down the ground, lofted shots, with the ball really not gripping and sliding on to the bat. Perth are a very hard nut to crack at home and it would take a great performance from the Heat to get a win tonight. However, as we have seen, anything can happen in the BLL, and I expect another cracker tonight.
The Lurker - "I'm still filthy about last night, but The Lurker does not suffer back-to-back defeats and likes the Scorchers at home tonight. The Heat losing Badree is a big blow to an iffy looking bowling line up, and I think that could prove vital. Get on Shaun Marsh to score 25+ into a Scorchers' win and Andrew Tye to take the most poles for the Scorchers."