The Big Bash defending champions are back to defend their crown, and the Adelaide Strikers have a great chance of doing just that.
After a history of failing to perform in – and in some cases make – the finals, the Strikers were stronger than ever last year under coach Jason Gillespie, finishing second, knocking out the Melbourne Renegades in their semi-final and then belting the Hobart Hurricanes all over the Adelaide Oval to take home the trophy.
It was the Strikers’ first championship, and in front of their adoring South Australian home crowd, the Adelaide side will have similar aspirations this season.
Without many changes to a squad which was strong enough to get it done last year, there are few reasons to doubt them.
The Adelaide Oval is conducive to high-scoring games, and they will be expecting plenty more of them with the batting line-up they have assembled, while their bowling is also up to the task, remaining at a similar level to what it was last time around.
Adelaide fans are often treated to a lot of runs. (AAP Image/David Mariuz)
Travis Head (c), Wes Agar, Alex Carey, Michael Cormack, David Grant, Colin Ingram (South Africa), Rashid Khan (Afghanistan), Ben Laughlin, Jake Lehmann, Michael Neser, Liam O’Connor, Matt Short, Peter Siddle, Billy Stanlake, Cameron Valente, Jake Weatherald, Jonathan Wells, Nick Winter
Captain: Travis Head (Colin Ingram when Travis Head unavailable)
Coach: Jason Gillespie
Imports: Colin Ingram, Rashid Khan
The Strikers batting order was exceptionally strong last year, and their best XI will have few changes to the side which destroyed the Hurricanes in the final.
Australian internationals Alex Carey and Travis Head will lead the charge at the top of the order when available, but it’s the less-heralded Jake Weatherald who’s perhaps as big a threat. A century in the final capped off a stunning BBL|07 season for the opening batsman as he finished with 383 runs and a strike rate of 126.
Jake Lehmann could be set for a larger role this year, while Jono Wells also needs to have a strong season.
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BBL|08 season preview: Melbourne Renegades
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What we can expect to see from the Strikers in BBL|08 is a player like Michael Neser making the jump up to number seven. None of their recognised batsmen are going to provide a heap with the ball, although Travis Head could provide some valuable overs here and there. They do fall down int he all-rounder department, so they will be hoping their selected bowlers for each game stand up and do the job required of them.
For that reason, it’s likely Neser will bat at seven, forming the fifth bowling option and becoming the unofficial all-rounder of the side.
The Adelaide bowling attack is phenomenal, perhaps the strongest in the competition.
Billy Stanlake is the focal point, Neser and Peter Siddle are sure to feature heavily, and short-form specialist Ben Laughlin will be there to close out innings.
Spin is where the Strikers were a long way ahead of their opposition last year, though.
Liam O’Connor burst onto the scene late last season as a phenomenal spin option for the Strikers, but he will be lucky to get a run this year with Rashid Khan around for the entire season. Khan was the breakout player of the competition last year, with the Afghan tweaker ending up with a bowling average of 13 and economy of under six.
Billy Stanlake of the Strikers (centre) celebrates with his teammates. (AAP Image/David Moir)
International cricket impact
Four players could be in line for some time off with Australian duties. Captain Travis Head is the one who will definitely be away from the side for a while, having been selected in Australia’s Test team to take on India. He is likely to then be included in the shorter format games as well, so just how much cricket he will play for the Strikers this summer remains up in the air.
Alex Carey is also likely to be included in the limited overs sides, so he will probably be away for a week or so later in the summer, while Billy Stanlake will be in the same boat.
Peter Siddle is the other man who could spend some time away, but that would require a selection change in the strong Aussie attack, which is starting to look more and more likely thanks to the form of Mitchell Starc.
1. Alex Carey (wk)
2. Jake Weatherald
3. Travis Head (c)
4. Colin Ingram
5. Jake Lehmann
6. Jonathan Wells
7. Michael Neser
8. Rashid Khan
9. Peter Siddle
10. Ben Laughlin
11. Billy Stanlake
Keys to the season
Rashid Khan is back, but will anyone be able to figure him out?
If there was a player who batsmen just couldn’t figure out last year, it was the Afghanistani tweaker. Rashid Khan, young as he may be, spun a web around the competition.
He ended the season with 18 wickets, an economy rate of less than six and an average of 13.
It was just an incredible performance, and one we have not seen in the history of the BBL. He may well be the best T20 bowler on the planet right now, and the Strikers having him back in the fold for another season will make their charge for back-to-back premierships all the more possible.
Rashid Khan. (AAP Image/David Mariuz)
Where do the runs come from without Carey and Head?
Alex Carey and Travis Head are two well-known figures for the Strikers at the top of the order. Both are able to adapt depending on the situation of the game, but also score plenty of runs on a consistent basis.
Carey had a stunning BBL|07, ending with 443 runs (the second most in the competition), while Travis Head had 374 (the fourth most).
The duo are great, but will inevitably be missing at times this season through Australian duties.
Jake Weatherald had plenty of pressure lumped on him last year and didn’t fail, finishing with 383 runs, but he will need more support from the middle and lower order this time.
Jake Lehmann and Jono Wells are the two names you’d look at to stand up, because, with Michael Neser at number seven, the Strikers don’t have the deepest batting order.
BBL|08 season preview: Brisbane Heat
Billy Stanlake needs a huge season
Billy Stanlake has the potential to be one of Australia’s most fearsome quicks.
He has never quite reached that potential, with injuries playing their part, but Twenty20 cricket suits big Billy. He doesn’t have to bowl long spells, can vary his line and length, and get batsmen out with pure pace when he needs to.
The problem the Strikers have heading into the new year is that their attack out-performed all expectations 12 months ago. Michael Neser and Peter Siddle are solid bowlers, but they aren’t genuine superstars and could easily be prone to going the journey every now and again.
You’d expect the opposite for Stanlake, who has become a mainstay of the Australian T20 team.
Stanlake needs to lead the attack this season and lead it well for the duration.
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It’s time for Jake Lehmann to stand up
Jake Lehmann struggled to find his place in the side last year. The youngster is prolifically talented and after a huge start to the season last summer, had tongues wagging about a possible spot in the Australian side.
While that never materialised, and much of that talk has been blown by the wayside this season, Lehmann is a strong competitor and a good batsman.
Even though he won’t break into the Strikers top four when they can play their best XI, he showed more than enough last season to suggest he should be next cab off the rank, batting at five and ready to move further up the order when international duty calls for members of the top four.
Wed Dec 19
Sun Dec 23
Wed Dec 26
Mon Dec 31
Thu Jan 3
GMHBA Stadium, Geelong
Sun Jan 6
Fri Jan 11
Sun Jan 13
Mon Jan 21
Wed Jan 23
Ted Summerton Reserve, Moe
Tue Jan 29
Thu Jan 31
UTAS Stadium, Launceston
Sun Feb 3
Sat Feb 9
Traegar Park, Alice Springs
The Strikers won this thing for a reason last year. Their squad hasn’t taken any backward steps and, while the competition will again be hotly contested all the way through, the Adelaide-based club are going to be right up there again.
I’m not sure they will be able to win a second BBL in a row, but they should be able to make the top four once more and take out the minor premiership, continuing a run of success which has continually followed the club around.
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