What, where and when?
After 56 regular season games, the KFC BBL finals are set! On Thursday, the league-leading Hobart Hurricanes host the Melbourne Stars at Blundstone Arena from 7:30pm local time. The following night, the second-placed Melbourne Renegades face the Sydney Sixers at Marvel Stadium from 7:40pm AEDT.
Thursday night's match in Hobart will be the second time the Hurricanes and Stars have squared off in the BBL finals. In BBL|03, the Stars entered the finals against Hobart as red-hot favourites having gone a perfect 8/8 in the regular season. But on a February night at the MCG, Hobart – led by former Stars batter George Bailey – pulled off the major upset with a dominant seven-wicket win. Leg-spinner Cameron Boyce, who claimed 3-11 and removed the key figures of Luke Wright, Glenn Maxwell and David Hussey, was named player of the match. The Hurricanes would lose the final to Perth, and in two trips to the tournament finale (the other being last season) they have yet to taste ultimate success.
The Stars, like Hobart, are yet to win the BBL. From BBL|01 to BBL|06 they made the semi-finals every year but only once have progressed to the final, which was in BBL|05 when they lost to the Sydney Thunder. They’re back in the finals against after missing out last year, this time with Glenn Maxwell at the helm.
Friday's rivals have never met in the finals and own two contrasting records at the business end of the competition. In BBL|02, the Renegades finished top of the table with seven wins from eight matches, but lost the first semi-final to the Brisbane Heat, who would go on to take out the title. The 'Gades second finals appearance came just last year, where they lost to eventual champions Adelaide Strikers. The Sixers have made the finals four times in seven previous seasons and were crowned inaugural BBL champions in 2011-12. The Magenta Men haven't played a finals match since losing the final against the Scorchers two seasons ago, a nine-wicket thumping at the WACA Ground.
What's at stake?
As it is single elimination in the BBL finals, winners advance and losers go home. The two winners will meet in the final on Sunday, February 17 at the venue of the highest-placed winner. History suggests hosting the final does not hold a significant advantage; the home side has won three and lost three finals, while the Scorchers won the 2014-15 title at a neutral venue in Canberra.
Look out for …
D'Arcy Short and Matt Wade, Hobart's dynamic opening combination. Together, they have put on eight partnerships of 50 or more, with two stands in excess of 100. Their season-high partnership is the unbeaten 158 against the Strikers to win by 10 wickets. As a pair they've been lethal but individually they've been just as damaging. Short is the competition's leading run-scorer with 602 runs at 55, while Wade has 590 runs at 45. Both players have six half-centuries, score at a rapid rate and hit many sixes.
One player that might be able to curtail the Short-Wade combination is Stars’ international leg-spinner Sandeep Lamichanne. The Nepalese wizard has played only six games due to national duties and Bangladesh Premier League commitments, but in limited opportunities has taken 11 wickets at just 13.45 runs apiece. On Sunday at the MCG, with the Stars needing to win to make the finals, the 18-year-old claimed 3-11 in the thrashing of the Sixers.
The Renegades return to the finals has been spearheaded by fast bowler Kane Richardson. The right-armer is the competition's leading wicket-taker with 24 wickets in 12 matches. His ability to take wickets in the powerplay and in the closing stages of the innings is what has separated him from his peers and why he has earned a call-up to Australia's T20 and ODI sides.
Taking on Richardson at the top of the order for the Sixers will be young gun Josh Philippe. The dashing right-hander, who has been compared to Steve Smith, has had an inconsistent yet at times brilliant season. His best was on show at the SCG last month when he took down the powerful Hurricanes with a blazing 86 from 49 balls, a match-winning knock that featured nine fours and three sixes.
How can I watch?
The semi-finals will be broadcast live on Channel 7, Fox Cricket and Kayo, while you can listen to radio coverage from Croc Media. But if you're in Hobart or Melbourne, get to the match and get the full BBL experience in person. Get your tickets at bigbash.com.au/tickets.