Sunday, 29 January 2017

The Aussies really do have a seam problem

Back in November I wrote a piece asking whether the Aussies had a seam problem (click here to read it). I received various comments, including a very polite tweet, I seem to recall, from the esteemed Mel Jones, indicating that this was really a non-issue. However Southern Stars coach, Matthew Mott, did identify pace bowling as an area for improvement, following their series win over the Proteas later that month (see here).

As the Aussies now prepare for a three match T20 series with the Kiwis in Australia, followed by a three match ODI series in New Zealand, it seems that their "problem", if it wasn't a problem before, then it certainly is now.

The last Southern Stars squad selected was for their home series against South Africa. It looked like this :-

Lanning, Blackwell, Beams, Bolton, Farrell, Ferling, Harris, Healy, Jonassen, Mooney, Perry, Schutt, Villani.

Of that 13 it seems certain that Ferling will not be fit to play in the upcoming home T20 series, which starts on 17th February, although it has to be said that she may well not have been picked even if she was fit.

That reduces the pace options (and I use the term loosely) to Farrell, Perry and Schutt (keeping Villani up your sleeve for the odd over of liquorice allsorts). Perry, of course, is herself currently injured, and while she has been batting sublimely, her bowling has been below par. In the WBBL she managed 39 out of a possible 48 overs and took just five wickets at an economy rate or 6.23 (31st best). If the Aussies do not strengthen their seam department this means that they will be relying primarily on Farrell and Schutt. That may be enough for the T20s, but for 50 over games that is light.

So who is out there that they can bring in? Unfortunately Lauren Cheatle, who had such a good WBBL01, which saw her given a chance in the national T20 team in early 2016, has had a forgettable WBBL02, after focussing on schoolwork and recovering from illness. Others with potential from the Shooting Stars are Heather Graham, Tahlia McGrath and Belinda Vakerewa.

Graham is a talented all-rounder, who certainly looks good with a bat in her hand, and can do a reasonable job with the ball. McGrath played most of WBBL02 as a batsman, who bowled if needed. She didn't set the world on fire. And Vakerewa only got six outings for the Thunder and bowled just 11 overs. Neither she, nor the others, looks ready to make the jump to the Southern Stars.

Unfortunately for the Southern Stars the new and exciting bowlers to emerge from WBBL02 were all spinning all-rounders - Ash Gardner, Sophie Molineux (just named Betty Wilson Young Cricketer of the Year) and Molly Strano (second highest wicket-taker in WBBL02).

All of which leaves Matthew Mott in a bit of a pickle. He will be praying that Perry can get herself fit, so that he has three decent seam options to turn to, and he can then include Gardner and Molineux in his squad to replace Ferling and Harris. But with the 50 over World Cup looming on the horizon I am still not convinced that the Aussies have the seam attack that will take them to a seventh WWC win in July.


Sunday, 22 January 2017

WBBL02 - semi-final time

WBBL02 has finally reached the semi-final stage with Sydney Sixers, Perth Scorchers, Brisbane Heat and Hobart Hurricanes making it through. Here is how the final table looked.

The semi-finals will be between

Perth Scorchers v Brisbane Heat

at the WACA, Perth on Tuesday 24th January


Sydney Sixers v Hobart Hurricanes

at the Gabba, Brisbane on Wednesday 25th January

The winners of both games will be into the final which will be played on Saturday 28th January.

We already know that there will be a new champion this year, as the current champions, SydneyThunder, failed to make the last four. The bookies make the Sixers favourites, but without the presence of Ellyse Perry in their semi-final line-up, they will be pushed all the way by the Hurricanes, who have once again punched well above their weight in this competition, as they did last year. The Canes have no real pressure on them, so I think they might just pull off a shock result.

Over in Perth I cannot see the Scorchers giving the Heat a sniff at a win. I think their bowling unit will be too strong, even for an in-form Beth Mooney, who has once again shown what a good T20 player she is. 

So I'm going for a Scorchers v Hurricanes final next Saturday, but T20 is a fickle mistress. Fingers crossed the two games are good, and the final is too. All three are live on free to air television in Australia and being shown around the world by various providers (BT Sport in the UK). 


Monday, 16 January 2017

WBBL02 - The fight for a Top Four slot

There are just eight fixtures left in the regular season of WBBL02, and seven of the eight teams are still in with a chance of qualifying for the semi-finals.

The last weekend sees each of the teams involved in two games against the same opposition.

In Sydney the Sixers have two games against the Renegades
In Perth the Scorchers have two fixtures against the Thunder
At the Gabba the Heat take on the Strikers in two games
And in Hobart the Hurricanes entertain the Stars in their final two games of WBBL02

Here is how the table looks at the moment :-

As things stand the Sydney Sixers have definitely made the last four, and the Adelaide Strikers cannot make the last four, which leaves six teams scrapping for the other three places in the semi-finals.

In prime position to take the second slot in the semis are the Perth Scorchers. Even if they win neither of their last two games against the Thunder then they will finish, at worst, equal fourth in the league. With a current good NRR that should be enough, provided they are not flayed by the Thunder in those last two games. Obviously just one win, or even a washout, will see them safely through without any NRR drama.

So, realistically, the fight is actually for the third and fourth slots in the semis. If the Hobart Hurricanes can win just one of their games against the Stars, then they will have the third slot. If the Melbourne Stars can win both of their games with the Canes then the third slot will be theirs. If the Stars can only win one game then they could still get through, but it will depend on other results, and probably NRR.

Over on the east coast the Brisbane Heat need at least one win to be in with a shout of the fourth semi slot. If they can win both games against the despondent Strikers, then it would definitely be theirs. One win and it depends on other results and possibly NRR.

As for the Sydney Thunder and the Melbourne Renegades all they can do is win their last two games and hope that those above them trip up, but it looks like WBBL02 will have a new champion on 28th January.


Tuesday, 10 January 2017

WBBL02 - The Final Run-In

Just four games left for each team now in WBBL02 and the current league table looks like this

The Sixers look like they are just one win away from booking their place in the semi-finals after six victories on the bounce, but which three teams will join them? The Renegades looked dead and buried, but three wins in their last three matches, including two wins over the Stars, means even they are still in with a shout of a semi-final slot.

Here is who the teams still have left to play :-

Sixers - Canes, Thunder and Renegades x2

Canes - Sixes,  Thunder and Stars x2

Stars - Strikers, Scorcher and Canes x2

Scorchers - Strikers, Stars and Thunder x2

Heat - Renegades x2 and Strikers x2

Thunder - Sixes,  Canes and Scorchers x2

Strikers - Stars, Scorchers  and Heat x2

Renegades - Heat x2 and Sixers x2

The Sixers could make life much harder for both the Canes and the Thunder if they were to beat them both in their next two games, but if they slip up they will be confident they can pick up the points they need in two games against the Renegades.

The Canes probably need to pick up two wins in their last four games to be certain of progressing. Their match-up with the Sixers will be a tough one to win, but they will hope to win two out of three against the Thunder and Stars.

The Stars, Scorchers and Heat all know that their destiny lies in their own hands. Only once will their paths' cross in these last few games of the season, when the Stars take on the Scorchers on 15th January, but that could well be a pivotal game for both sides.

Of the three teams on 10 points the Stars probably have the tougher looking run-in with two games against the Canes to finish their season. In contrast the Heat look to have the easier final few games with dual fixtures against the Renegades  and Strikers.

Just two points behind these three are last year's winners the Thunder, and the Strikers. The Thunder have been tanked by the Heat and the Canes in their last two games and will need to pick themselves up quickly if they want to defend their WBBL01 title. But their next game is against the high-flying Sixers which could add to their woes. The Strikers have found runs very hard to come by, and have lost their last four games, three times failing to get into triple figures. Their tournament looks shot, but I said that about the Renegades a couple of weeks ago and they have refused to throw in the towel.

The Renegades' chances of qualifying are still thin, but with two games against the Heat to come next up, they could make or break the Heat's chances of making the semis. If the Renegades could conjure up two wins for themselves they could still cling on to some hope. The only thing standing in their way then would be two games against the Sixers!

But the way this WBBL is going, who knows what might happen?


Monday, 2 January 2017

Half term report on WBBL02

We are now 29 games into the 56 league games that will make up the league phase of WBBL02, so just over half-way through, and time for a quick review and a few predictions. Remember all of the eight teams are aiming for a top four slot that will see them into the semi-finals (on 23rd & 24th Jan) and a chance to make the final on 28th Jan.

Well before the season kicked off I made a few rash predictions (take a look here if you want to see them all). At that stage I suggested that the top four would be :-

Sydney Thunder, Sydney Sixers, Hobart Hurricanes and Adelaide Strikers

This is how they currently stand
It is tight. Very tight! So what happens from here? Here is my half-term report on each team and their prospects for the rest of WBBL02.

Sydney Thunder - The Thunder may be top of the league but they have been anything but convincing, with losses to the Stars, Sixers and Strikers, and only just clinging on in their latest game against the Heat. But with probably only three wins needed from their last six games, which include two against the Hurricanes and the Scorchers, they should make their way to the finals. A second win against the Heat tomorrow would be very handy.
Their top order batting has been steady, without being flashy. Led impeccably by Alex Blackwell they have all contributed - Stafanie Taylor, Rachel Haynes, and Harmanpreet Kaur. It seems their bowling is their weakness. Ten different bowlers have been thrown the ball to date and young left-armer Sam Bates is handling the responsibility of opening the bowling with some aplomb (8 wickets and going at 4.5 per over).
They should squeeze into the top 4.

Melbourne Stars  -  The Stars may have been lucky to pick up back-to-back wins against the Sixers early in this competition, because, Meg Lanning and Emma Inglis aside, their batting looks thinner than a cat-walk model. True Jess Cameron and Katie Mack have shown flashes and they have missed the injured Nat Sciver, but they contrived to lose to the Heat chasing 129, having been 100/1 in the 15th over. They also lost their last game to bottom of the table Renegades (albeit with some assistance from the rain).
If their batting looks thin then their bowling is positively emaciated. Their best bowler by far has been Danni Hazell, who is now heading back to chilly England. Kristen Beams is now fit and will retake her place in the squad. They desperately need her to hit the ground running.
Their next game is against the resurgent Scorchers in three days. I can see them struggling there, no matter how many runs Lanning gets.
I think they will struggle to stay in the top four, but may just cling on.

Perth Scorchers - The Scorchers have arguably the toughest run-in with double fixtures against Thunder, Stars and Sixers still to come, but they have looked fired up in their last couple of games, particularly with the ball in hand, with Katherine Brunt proving a handful, and youngsters Emma King and Heather Graham doing a decent job. They also have eight games still to come.
So far their batting has failed to fire, with Suzie Bates in particular struggling. Elyse Villani has a couple of decent scores under her belt, but no-one else has made 50. Nicole Bolton adds stability in the middle-order and pinch-hitter Brunt may come into her own in one or two games to come.
I think they will finish in the top four.

Sydney Sixers - With a top order of Healy, Perry, Gardner, McGlashan, van Niekerk and Kapp - all of who have looked in good touch - this is going to be a tough team to beat. Once again they made a poor start to the competition, as they did last year, but this time they stopped the rot early and have won their last three games at a canter. Despite Perry losing her bite with the ball, they have control through Kapp, Aley and Gardner, and if they can keep putting the runs on the board then the bowlers' job becomes a lot easier.
I cannot see them not making the top four.

Adelaide Strikers - Sophie Devine put in the batting performance of the tournament with her 103* off 48 balls against the Hurricanes, but she has been ploughing a rather lone furrow, until Tammy Beaumont (57) finally got some runs in a losing cause against the Sixers. Their batting line-up always looked rather meagre and injury to Charlotte Edwards has not helped in any way.
The Strikers' bowling is workmanlike, but no-one has really grabbed a game with the ball. Their last two games are against the Heat, but by then it may be too late for either team to make the top four.
I can see them being in a tussle with Stars and Hurricanes for fourth slot - perhaps just missing out on NRR.

Hobart Hurricanes  - The Hurricanes have lost games against the Scorchers and the Strikers, which they really needed to win and have the delight of dual match-ups against the Stars, Thunder and Sixers still to come. If they can pick up two wins over the Heat on 8th and 9th Jan, then they will still be in with a shout, but it looks a tough ask.
Heather Knight and Hayley Matthews have struggled to make an impression with the bat, but Matthews does have nine wickets with the ball. They missed Amy Satterthwaite in their last game, but hopefully she will return from New Zealand before they take on the Thunder in three days time.
They could still scrape into the top four/five, but it will be a struggle and could well lose out on NRR.

Brisbane Heat - If you are a Heat supporter then it has been a complete roller coaster of a ride so far and I cannot see that changing in the run-in to the semi-finals. Their cause has not been helped by the injury suffered by Deandra Dottin when she clashed heads with her own team-mate on the boundary. The Heat are looking to replace her, but there are not many very attractive international options out there. Even before Dottin's departure the Heat had been struggling for consistency. They had won and lost against the Stars, Sixers and Scorchers. Their saving grace is that they still have two games to play against the Renegades. Win both of those in mid January and they might still be in with a shout when they play their last two games against the Strikers, but it's a long shot.
Destined to finish in the bottom two.

Melbourne Renegades - They recently picked up a surprise 9 wicket win against the Stars in a rain affected match, but have generally looked off the pace of the other teams in the league. While their internationals have floundered somewhat, local youngsters Molly Strano and Sophie Molineux have seized their chances with both bat and ball, which could well see them in contention for a place in the national side pretty soon. Every cloud...
I think they will struggle to pick up another win. 

So on that basis my top four finishers would now be :- 

Sydney Sixers, Sydney Thunder, Perth Scorchers and Melbourne Stars

but it looks like it is going to be another nail-biting finish to the season!