Richard Mann looks ahead to this weekend's action from the Big Bash - read his full betting preview and tips here.
Another double-header greets Big Bash fans on Sunday morning, and this one is even better than Saturday's offering.
First up is SYDNEY THUNDER versus Adelaide Strikers in a clash that has been re-routed from Sydney owing to the recent coronavirus spike that has brought about tighter restrictions in New South Wales.
On the face of, that ought to suit the Strikers, but they host a Thunder outfit who have generally saved their best cricket for the Adelaide Oval, a point illustrated by their defeat of table-toppers and defending champions SYDNEY SIXERS at the same ground on Friday.
A blistering hundred from Alex Hales underpinned a Big Bash record score of 232-5 in that match and even without the injured Daniel Sams, they never really looked in any danger in the second innings despite the Sixers mounting a typically brave reply.
While that win put the Thunder in the record books, it also arrested an alarming run of results that had threatened to derail a promising campaign that had seen them triumph in six of their first eight matches.
Key the Thunder's success this term has been a strong middle order featuring the aforementioned Sams and Ben Cutting, but the likes of Hales, Usman Khawaja and Callum Ferguson have been guilty of too often throwing away good starts at the top of the order and it was interesting to hear the former talk after Friday's win about the importance of converting more often.
With Thunder having seemingly reset their season, I'm hopeful they can now go all the way, or at least make the final, and picking up maximum points in their final two matches, both in Adelaide and against the Strikers, will be a good place to start.
The true nature of the surface in South Australia clearly suits their batting line-up well; Hales in his element when taking on the short square boundaries, similarly Ferguson whose square cut is his trademark shot and one which he earns full value for at this ground.
Conditions ought to suit Khawaja, too, and he has happy memories of playing here for Australia, for all his bat swing has just looked a little out of sink in the last few weeks. He's a class act, though, who could easily come good when it matters, while the middle order is even stronger for Sam Billings' arrival and impressive form.
For the Strikers, the return of Australian internationals Michael Neser and Travis Head are obvious boosts, though not as much as the long-overdue decision to return to the Alex Carey and Jake Weatherald partnership at the top of the order.
I've been arguing for such a move in these pages all season, and a first-wicket partnership of 66 against Brisbane Heat earlier in the week paved the way for a fabulous Carey century and a dominant victory that kept the Strikers firmly in the mix for the latter stages.
With the batting finally looking in better shape and their pace bowling always smart and frugal, the Strikes are a solid outfit, but much of their success has been built around the brilliance of leg spinner Rashid Khan and his departure to join up with Afghanistan leaves them vulnerable to a powerhouse batting unit like the one the Thunder boast.
I'm not sure they have enough firepower in their own lower order, either, and if Thunder can make early inroads with the ball and rely on one of their top three to go big again, I think they'll have too many guns for the Strikers.
At the prices, I have no qualms about backing the Thunder at 4/5, and doubling up with the Sixers later in the day makes sense.
The Sixers remain the team to beat this season, even more so now they welcome back a depth of international talent to their squad, and I don't expect them to be nursing too many scars from their Hales mauling on Friday.
That the Sixers made such a fine fist of that colossal run chase, when so many other sides would have crumbled, says everything about the reigning Big Bash champions and I think they will be too streetwise for a Hobart Hurricanes outfit that are always dangerous but have now lost four of their last five.
It's another double-header in the Big Bash on Saturday morning with Melbourne Renegades taking on Brisbane Heat before a crucial clash between MELBOURNE STARS and Perth Scorchers.
Despite losing their opening four matches of the competition, the Scorchers are up to second in the league table following a golden run that has seen them win seven out of their last eight, including when seeing off Hobart Hurricanes on Friday.
Things are really clicking into place for the three-time Big Bash winners as Jhye Richardson continues to press his claims for international honours with consistently brilliant displays with the ball, and the batting begins to look increasingly formidable.
Though below their usual high standards in this competition for a couple of seasons now, the fact that the Scorchers can draw upon the experience of former captain and now head coach, Adam Voges, is a real positive for them, as is being able to pick up results on the road as well as back in their beloved Perth.
They are going to be a tough nut for anyone to crack, but the Stars are a classy outfit themselves with any number of match-winners in their ranks.
A couple of promising starts for Marcus Stoinis in the last two matches has suggested he isn't far away from finding the form that made him the standout batsman in the competition last year, while fellow opener Andre Fletcher has finally found his feet in recent weeks.
How that pair nullify Richardson will be key to deciding who comes out on top here, but Jason Behrendorff hasn't been the same bowler with the old ball as with the new one, while the rest of the Scorchers attack still looks a little vulnerable in the continued absence of Ashton Agar.
If Stoinis and Fletcher can keep Richardson quiet, I really think a Stars middle order featuring the likes of Glenn Maxwell, Nic Maddinson and Hilton Cartwright can do some damage later in the innings.
With Nathan Coulter-Nile fit again, and Stoinis himself back bowling, the Stars look well stocked in that department, too, especially as leg spinner Adam Zampa is always such a banker for the men in green in the middle overs.
As such, the Stars will be real danger side for whomever the face from here on in and 11/10 about Maxwell's men on Saturday, in what is essentially a home tie, is just too big to ignore.
Posted at 1900 GMT on 22/01/21
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