Melbourne Renegades (2-1) v Melbourne Stars (1-2) @ Docklands Stadium
Preview - It's another high octane Melbourne derby with plenty on the line as the Renegades and Stars collide for the second time inside a week. In front of 70,000 fans at the MCG on New Year's Day, the Renegades broke a five match losing run against the Stars with a tense 7-run victory. Ex-Stars Captain, Cameron White, proved a match winner for his new side as he crashed 64 n/o from 44 balls before the Renegades ace spin bowling pair in Brad Hogg and Sunil Narine went to work. The Renegades are well placed to end a four year finals drought in BBL6, having won two of their opening three matches. The Stars are reeling a bit after two disappointing losses to the Renegades and Thunder, after opening their campaign with an easy victory over the Thunder. Suddenly this is a huge game for a side that often sleepwalks their way into the finals. The Stars have never missed the finals, however with the ODI series against Pakistan looming, and some of their big players likely to be involved, this game has become almost a must win if they want to stay in touch with the Top 4
Squad Changes - The Stars make one big change to their 13-player squad with opening batsman Robert Quiney fit again and Seb Gotch making way. Quiney's absence in the past two games has been felt after his imperious 75 from 43 balls with 5 sixes leading the Stars to a big first up win against the Hurricanes. Quiney's inclusion could well make Marcus Stoinis vulnerable in terms of his spot in the Stars line up, given he is yet to fire with the bat and is not bowling many overs. For the Renegades, explosive fast bowler James Pattinson makes his long awaited return from injury. It's been a frustrating twelve months for Pattinson, however alongside Chris Tremain he gives the Renegade two genuine strike bowlers. The Renegades have also made a big overseas move with Sri Lankan all rounder Thisara Perera replacing the injured Dwayne Bravo for the remainder of BBL6. Perera is a vastly experienced T20 cricketer having played 189 games. While Perera has a modest average of 19 with the bat, that is handy coming in from Number 6 or 7 as he is likely to do for the Renegades, while his strike rate of 140 is explosive. Perera also has a pretty solid record with the ball with 164 wickets at an economy rate of 8.3 and an average of 26. With the Renegades lacking some strike power in terms of boundary hitters in their middle order, this seems like a pretty shrewd signing at this point in the competition.
Melbourne Stars Scouting Report - The Stars will be hoping to welcome back Robert Quiney at the top of the order which will give their batting line up far better balance. Whilst I like Glenn Maxwell at the top of the order, it has left the Melbourne Stars quite vulnerable and lacking a bit of quality in their middle order. If Quiney opens, it allows you to push Maxwell at 4 and Hussey and Faulkner back to 5 and 6. At the moment, the Stars batting tails away very quickly with Faulkner at 5 and Stoinis at 6. While both those players should be able to score runs, they won't want to be relying too much on Sam Harper at 7 and Adam Zampa at 8 as shown by the Stars' poor finishes in losses to the Renegades and Thunder. The last two games they have had decent starts but been unable to maintain the rage. Kevin Pietersen remains a key player at Number 3 for the Stars and has looked in good touch in both his innings to date. Pietersen is not only a world class batsman, he is an intelligent batsman, and he summed up the conditions really well at Spotless Stadium during his 60 from 37 balls. Pietersen took the time to get himself in on a slow and low surface, before going up the gears late in his innings. Glenn Maxwell has looked in excellent touch, however hasn't quite taken off in the past two games, while David Hussey and James Faulkner need to do a better job of finishing the Stars innings.
I felt a little bit sorry for Ben Hilfenhaus after his last ball heartache against the Thunder. He bowled a really sloppy first over before coming back strong with an excellent couple of death overs before he failed to land his yorker to Eoin Morgan on the final ball. Hilfenhaus really worked over Pat Cummins with some slower balls and had nailed some of his yorkers in the lead up to that fateful final ball. I was also impressed by some of Scott Boland's bowling IQ and executions at the death as Morgan struggled to get him away. Michael Beer does his best work in the Power Play, however seems to be a lot easier target later in an innings given he doesn't put much work on the ball. I expected James Faulkner to do the Stars' death bowling, however he was been a bit hot and cold with the ball in BBL6 and the Stars really need him to step up in this big derby tonight.
Melbourne Renegades Scouting Report - It will be interesting to see whether the Renegades continue with their experiment of opening the batting with Sunil Narine. Despite making 21 from 13 balls and doing a decent job up front, I wouldn't be continuing this gimmick type move. With Cameron White in excellent form and Thisara Perera aded to boost the middle order, I don't think there is any need to open with a batsman that might come off in Narine. I have always liked Cameron White as a batsman. He just has a high batting IQ and sums up game situations really well. Having played for the Stars for four seasons, he knows some of their bowlers inside out, and I would be promoting him back to the top of the order or at least at Number 3 ahead of Marcus Harris. Harris has made a few handy contributions but is not going to scare opposition teams like White does. Aaron Finch will be intent on really making his good form count having squandered great platforms in his last two games. The big question mark for the Renegades is can they finish innings off, and the likes of Ferguson, Perera, Cooper and Neville will no doubt have to chase runs under pressure in the coming games at some point.
The Renegades were one squad that really went out and addressed their weaknesses in the off season. They have missed the finals for three years in a row and probably the main reasons were they leaked runs and didn't have the quality spinners to really strangle a side and make key breakthroughs. However, in Brad Hogg and Sunil Narine I can say comfortably they have the best and most experienced spin bowling pair in the competition. I don't base that just on their reputations but on their performances in BBL6 so far. Hogg has 5 wickets from 5 matches, with an impressive double of averaging 15 and an economy rate under 6, while Narine has 4 wickets at 19 at an economy rate of 6.5, meaning the Renegades have 8 overs that they can really take to the bank most games. James Pattinson coming back in is a plus, however after severals months out of the game I wouldn't be surprised if the Stars target him early. Tom Cooper has a really interesting role of bowling the first over and that's been about it. It might be a real cameo type role, however Cooper is doing an outstanding job of it, having dismissed the key man Glenn Maxwell for a duck in the New Year's Day game.
Verdict - I talk a lot in this section about which team might have more to play for, and this game is a more desperate game for the Stars. However, that is off set slightly by the fact of this being a derby game, so both teams are going to be 100% up for the contest. Both sides look stronger on paper if anything, with Quiney back for the Stars and the Renegades adding Perera and Pattinson, so it is hard to split them there. I think it's a real worry for the Stars that in their last game Maxwell and Pietersen combined for 94 runs, yet they still couldn't find a way to beat the Sydney Thunder. With Hogg and Narine dictating terms in those middle overs, there is a pretty big advantage there for the Renegades.
Expect the Renegades to try and give Tom Cooper an over as soon as Maxwell comes in. The Stars have not missed the finals in five BBL seasons, however they are in real danger of doing so if they drop to 1-3 after tonight. James Faulkner is a real big match player and I don't think he would have been too happy with his display so far, so expect something from him tonight. Overall, Docklands is one of those grounds where mid-range scores of between 160 and 180 seem the most likely. I'm sure the Renegades won't be too phased if the wicket is slow and holds up, given they have high quality spinners, although the Stars are well served too through Zampa and Beer.
The Lurker - "The Lurker had a decent think about this game, however has decided to stick solid and back the Stars. Get on the Stars to win into Kevin Pietersen to score 25+. Also I really think this one is going to go right down to the wire, so get on the Stars to win by a margin of either 1-20 runs or 1-4 wickets."