The Sydney Thunder's KFC Big Bash League title defence could be bolstered by the return of two international superstars this summer.
While the reigning BBL champions are tight-lipped on who exactly will fill their two overseas slots this summer, Thunder general manager Nick Cummins confirmed on social media this week that both spots had been filled for BBL|06.
West Indies star Andre Russell's success in his debut season in lime green makes him a 'must sign', and the Thunder will have been desperate to beat off rival BBL clubs to ensure his return, while England one-day captain Eoin Morgan also looms as a prime target for the Thunder.
Russell – whose seemingly golden touch as a Twenty20 gun for hire has seen him involved in title wins in domestic T20 tournaments in Bangladesh and Pakistan as well as the Windies' World T20 triumph – finished the season as the top-ranked allrounder in the official BBL rankings, snaring 16 wickets and managing the highest strike rate (186.86) of any batsman who played more than two innings.
Last month, Cummins said the club would look for a player with a lot of Indian Premier League experience to fill the gaps left by retired skipper Mike Hussey and South Africa legend Jacques Kallis, who appears to have made the transition to life as a coach after a stint as Kolkata mentor in the IPL.
With former Australia allrounder Shane Watson already on their list, the Thunder's top priority is strengthening their batting line-up – particularly given Usman Khawaja will likely be engaged with international duties for much of the summer – while leadership experience is another priority.
Morgan, who played four matches for the Thunder in BBL|04, ticks all those boxes.
However, the Irish-born batsman's availability may prove a sticking point, with England due to play a limited-overs series in India in January.
Big-hitting West Indian Carlos Brathwaite is also attracting attention from at least three Big Bash clubs after his World T20 final heroics in April and could potentially find a home at Spotless Stadium, while Morgan's England teammates Jos Buttler and David Willey also loom as potential targets – although they may also be held back by international duties.
South Africa superstar AB de Villiers is another who ticks all the boxes, but the Thunder ruled out a tilt at the Proteas captain when he scuppered rumours of his Test retirement in January.
While several of de Villiers' South Africa teammates, including Faf du Plessis and David Miller, come with plenty of IPL and leadership experience, the Proteas have a packed home summer against Sri Lanka at the same time as BBL|06, making it unlikely any of them would be lured Down Under.
It is a similar tale for New Zealand's top batsmen including skipper Kane Williamson and opener Martin Guptill, with the Black Caps scheduled to meet Bangladesh throughout December and January.
Quick Single: Boom Boom keen on Big Bash
Pakistan allrounder Shahid Afridi is keen on a return to the Big Bash, telling cricket.com.au in an exclusive interview if he was offered a contract, he would "surely give it a go", but Cummins seemingly put paid to any suggestion of the veteran coming to the Thunder on social media.
"We already have both our O/S players signed so (Afridi is) not an option for us," Cummins wrote on Twitter.
The Thunder also have key international positions to fill for the Women's Big Bash League.
Quick Single: India's big boost for the Big Bash
Securing the return of World T20-winning Windies captain Stafanie Taylor will surely be a must for the inaugural champions, while captain Alex Blackwell has suggested the club may also look to India, after the Board of Control for Cricket in India has cleared the way for its female players to join an overseas domestic T20 competition for the first time.
"I think we saw in the Indian team some very dynamic players, including Veda Krishnamurthy and Harmanpreet Kaur, I think these two stood out," Blackwell told cricket.com.au.
"And of course Jhulan Goswami, she's a legend of the game and someone I'd love to see in the Women's Big Bash. She's a great team person and I've certainly enjoyed many battles with her over the years.
"Hopefully we'll get one of the best players around the world. We're the champion team and hopefully a team people want to play for, I'm looking forward to seeing who that person might be."