by James Willoughby, Omnisport
Both the Melbourne Stars and the Hobart Hurricanes will look to build on recent wins when they meet at the MCG in the KFC Twenty20 Big Bash League on Saturday.
The Stars showcased the power in their bowling attack by notching a remarkable 10-wicket Duckworth-Lewis win against the Perth Scorchers at the WACA on Wednesday.
Thanks to Lasith Malinga's amazing figures of 6-7 from four overs, Perth were bowled out for just 69, the lowest ever team total in Australian Twenty20 domestic history.
The Sri Lankan was not bowling express pace and it was more his guile, changes of pace and yorkers that did the damage. James Faulkner bowled a particularly lively spell and snared two wickets while veteran leg-spinner Shane Warne showed he still has plenty to offer with 1-9 off three overs.
Hobart opened their BBL campaign with a tremendous eight-wicket win against the Brisbane Heat on Sunday that was largely thanks to the heroics of Travis Birt (57 not out) and Owais Shah (32 not out).
The pair combined for an unbeaten 95-run partnership that guided Hobart to their victory target of 173 with one over to spare.
Birt topped the competition for run-scoring with 345 last year and Shah, who posted 282, was not far behind.
If those two remain in form this season, Hobart will be difficult to beat. Retired Test star Ricky Ponting will be a big boost to the side after recovering from gastro while Tim Paine looked in great touch with the bat in Brisbane.
Birt/Shah v Stars bowlers
A large portion of Hobart's wins last season came thanks to this pair. They have the ability to add a large amount of runs in quick time and how Melbourne bowl to them is likely to have a large bearing on the match.
Birt prefers to use brute strength and power to dominate the bowlers but may find it tougher to dominate attacks on the wider expanses of the MCG. Shah, who is more of a timer and placer of the ball, enjoys facing quick bowling and may be tested by the Stars spinners, which include Warne, Glenn Maxwell and David Hussey.
The likes of Ponting, Paine, George Bailey and Scott Styris mean that with the bat, the Hurricanes are not reliant on just two batsmen. It would make the Stars' task of winning a lot easier if Birt and Shah were dismissed cheaply.
All-rounder Evan Gulbis impressed with the ball for Hobart against the Brisbane Heat, finishing with figures of 3-29 from his four overs. He cleverly changed his pace and his mediums added an extra dimension to a pace attack that included Doug Bollinger, Michael Hogan and Ben Laughlin.
Gulbis – who is a Victorian – made ducks in his first four Sheffield Shield innings. He'd rather become famous for something else and that might just be being part of a successful Hurricanes team in the second edition of the BBL. He can bat as well and may sneak under the radar of some sides this season.
The Stars won a run-fest by 19 runs in last season's clash, held at Blundstone Arena in Hobart.
Englishman Luke Wright smashed 117 runs off 60 balls for the Stars as he posted the highest score in Australian Twenty20 domestic history. He combined for 172 runs with Rob Quiney for the first wicket as the winners posted a mammoth score of 3-203 from their 20 overs.
Shah (55) and Birt (51) gave the Hurricanes a chance and the hitting of the latter was immense. Birt smashed his 51 from just 23 balls and hit five sixes.
But Hobart collapsed after they both departed with Stars left-armer James Faulkner, who is from Tasmania, taking 4-46 off his four overs. The Hurricanes finished at 9-184.
Melbourne Stars: Shane Warne ©, Jackson Bird, James Faulkner, Peter Handscomb, Scott Henry, Brad Hodge, David Hussey, Clinton McKay, Lasith Malinga, Glenn Maxwell, Rob Quiney, Cameron White, Luke Wright
Hobart Hurricanes: George Bailey (c), Tim Paine (vc), Doug Bollinger, Travis Birt, Xavier Doherty, Evan Gulbis, Michael Hogan, Jason Krejza, Ben Laughlin, Ricky Ponting, Owais Shah, Scott Styris, Jon Wells
Facts and figures:
Lasith Malinga's figures of 6-7 against the Scorchers are the best individual figures in Australian Twenty20 domestic history.
Travis Birt hit Stars paceman Clint McKay for five boundaries in a row – two fours and three sixes – in last season's match.
James Faulkner was one of the best bowlers in the BBL last season, taking 13 wickets from his eight matches at an average of 17.61.
Hobart's Xavier Doherty claimed the best bowling figures of any player in the debut BBL last season, with his 4-17 against the Adelaide Strikers edging former team-mate Rana Naved-ul-Hasan.