With his side having dominated this KFC BBL season to secure top spot and a home semi-final with a game to spare, veteran George Bailey says one uncontrollable aspect of the game will play a major role in determining if his Hobart Hurricanes can win their maiden Big Bash title.
Having finished the regular season with just their fourth loss from 14 matches, against the Thunder in Canberra on Saturday night, the Hurricanes will return to Hobart for a home semi-final against either the red-hot Brisbane Heat or star-studded Melbourne Stars on Thursday night.
The short history of the BBL has not been kind to teams that have finished top of the table at the end of the regular season; in the seven years of the competition, only once has the team that finished top lifted the trophy.
An even more ominous sign for the Hurricanes is the fact that five times in seven seasons, the ladder-leaders have lost their home semi-final, a defeat in the cut-throat knock-out stage knocking dominant sides out of the tournament even before the final.
In BBL|02, a memorable century from Brisbane Heat’s Luke Pomersbach sunk the Melbourne Renegades at Docklands Stadium after the Gades had finished the regular season two games clear at the top of the table.
A year later, the Melbourne Stars were unbeaten from eight games in the regular season before they were knocked out by the Hurricanes at the MCG.
And in BBL|04 and BBL|05, the Adelaide Strikers finished top but were stunned at home in their semi-final showdowns, first by Nic Maddinson and then by an Usman Khawaja century that’s arguably one of the best innings in the tournament’s history.
Last season, it was the Hurricanes who defied their underdog status, finishing fourth and producing a brilliant performance in their semi-final to oust the top-of-the-table Perth Scorchers in the west.
Twelve months later, Bailey is hoping the same fate doesn’t befall his side.
“There’s an element of luck in the way the semis are set up,” Bailey said of the finals system that sees first play fourth and second play third in knockout games.
“It actually doesn’t matter if you’ve had a good tournament or a poor tournament. Or if you’ve been the leading run-scorer or haven’t scored a run in your last 10 games. You start from scratch.
“We’ll take a lot of confidence from the way we’ve played over a sustained period, as will the three other teams.
“It’s very much about just getting to Thursday and playing hopefully your best game of the year so far.”
One element the Hurricanes hope will give them edge in their finals push is their re-jigged spin-bowling attack that has taken on a new look since the surprise mid-tournament retirement of Johan Botha.
Botha’s exit has meant in-form opener D’Arcy Short has bowled more of his left-arm wrist spin, while Afghan recruit Qais Ahmad has impressed in his two matches since he was a late addition to the squad last week.
The pair have taken eight wickets between them and conceded less than 6.5 runs an over in Hobart’s past two games – left-arm finger spinner Clive Rose has bowled just two overs in each of those matches - giving skipper Matthew Wade some solid options in the middle of an innings.
“For someone so young, (Ahmad) seems to have a really good knowledge of his own game,” Bailey said. “And a good amount of self-confidence too.
“It’s a real luxury to have both him and D’Arcy spinning the ball both ways in the team.
“Once Johan left, it meant D’Arcy had to step up. He’s a pretty complete cricketer so he’s done it really well.”