By guest contributor Greg Evans With 3 rounds of the Big Bash played out of 7, we are practically at the half-way point of the regular season competition and so with some “runs on the board” this is a good time to analyse how the competition is unfolding. What follows is a basic summary of the form for each of the 8 teams in the competition with a view to identifying the teams most likely to make-up the Top 4 qualifiers for the finals. #1 Melbourne Renegades Easily the biggest disappointment of the competition so far. The round 1 capitulation to Adelaide was followed by an improved, yet still sub-standard performance against Perth. Round 3 was another improvement with a come-from-behind upset win over the Sydney Thunder, so with a 1 win – 2 loss record they are still in the competition but are definitely under performing. Of greatest concern is the fielding, with plenty of misfields and dropped catches (which cost them victory in the 2nd game) and the wayward captaincy of Andrew McDonald who, with his poor bowling changes and fielding positions looks to be out of his league. Good fielding is an often undervalued aspect of T20 cricket and McDonalds captaincy has failed to really pull the team together and gel them as a unit. The team has loads of talent, but are mostly playing as individuals. Body language is typically poor and the energy and enthusiasm of team mates supporting each other in the field (usually associated with strong units) is largely absent. With Brad Hodge returning from injury and some individuals (Nannes, Afridi) starting to (finally) come into form they have been improving and there is optimism that they will come good as a team. They are currently firing on only about 2 pistons, however, and they will need to win 3 out of 4 of their remaining games to qualify for the finals so there is not much room for error. If it comes together in time and they qualify they are likely to return to favouritism and would be very be dangerous in the finals. However, there is a risk that Afridi has picked up an injury in the Thunder game and he may lose game time which would be a significant setback to the teams building momentum. #2 Hobart Hurricanes At the other end of the spectrum, Hobart is undefeated over the first 3 rounds and the market has changed them from being the least to the most favoured team in the competition. Perhaps the market has finally realised that bowlers can win matches as Hobart have proved by successfully defending totals of 140, 169 and 171 in their first 3 games. Some of the batsmen have found some form, particularly Phil Jacques who has played some solid innings which have given the batting order stability if not set the world on fire with his run-rate. Jacques anchor-like innings have allowed explosive players like Travis Burt and Owais Shah to play with freedom and confidence. Unfortunately Hobart have lost main strike bowler Hilfenhaus to the test team, which weakens them a little. Hilfenhaus performed admirably in the Melbourne test and so is unlikely to be back for Hobart any time soon, but if he flops in Sydney he may be pushed out of the team team by a fit Ryan Harris so it’s not out of the question for him to be back before the finals. Xavier Doherty has been in great form and is also captaining the team well while Rana Naved has been a feature of the death overs and picking up wickets consistently even though Krejzas form has been patchy. They should be renamed the “Hobart Stranglers” they way they are choking the life out of opposition run-chases. They have 3 of their remaining 4 games at home so are near certainties to make the finals. #3 Brisbane Heat No huge surprise for this team to be languishing near the bottom of the table with no wins from 3 outings. The hype surrounding the NZ players was easily the biggest red-herring of the tournament build up as not only was Vettori injured and unavailable, but McCullum is now off playing for Otago and also unavailable. It’s been reported that McCullum will only play 1 more game for Brisbane (when he can fit it in) and Vettori may not play at all. Vettori didn’t even travel with the team to Perth, so it’s quite clear these two don’t have any great commitment to Brisbane. The batting depth has been exposed and while the market has practically written off this franchise it is not all bad news for Brisbane. Matt Hayden has shown glimpses of some good form and has the potential to carry the team, while Peter Forest put in a good innings in Perth. Dan Christian, who has been on the fringe of the test team, looks likely to have missed out for now and should remain in the Brisbane side which is also a plus. Also, Ryan Harris has returned from injury to play 2 games and due to the outstanding performance of the Australian test bowlers is likely to miss selection for the Sydney test, so will probably play even more games for Brisbane in this competition. The team has also picked up South African all-rounder Van Der Merwe, who is unknown by most and may be capable of surprising a few with his orthodox spinners and power hitting. #4 Sydney Thunder The Thunder have started the season well with 2 wins from their first two games, however it should have become obvious now to even blind Freddy that there are some serious problems with this “team”. Chasing 153 in the first game it was David Warner who blasted his way to 102 at a strike rate of 200. An outstanding piece of individual brilliance and to say that he carried the team that day is a massive understatement. Yet Warner is unlikely to play again this season due to test committments, so where does that leave the Thunder ? Enter super-star #2 for game #2 – Chris Gayle who blasted 100 at a strike rate of 185 to chase down a total of 155. Almost equally impressive it was another major carry of a team that did not have it’s lack of depth exposed. Finally, in game #3 they were exposed when, cruising to victory on the back of another Chris Gayle innings, he got out in the 18th over and they capitulated. One can only imagine what the dressing room of this team must be like, but it is obvious that the other batsmen in the team (some who are quite good at domestic level) are shadowed (and probably feeling demoralised) by the rock stars that they can’t live up to. To add to their problems Doug Bollinger appears to have aggravated his hamstring injury and will miss more game time. The other bowlers are holding up ok, however, despite their inexperience. The question is whether this team can hold it together when the pressure really starts to mount and their deficiencies are exposed. Opposition teams are starting to learn to manage the strike to marginalise Chris Gayle. They may yet make the finals off another 2 Gayle innings, but they are a massive risk if he gets injured and there is a big question around whether Gayle can continue to carry this team like he has (and is expected to). #5 Melbourne Stars Another team which is laden with star power but is somewhat under-performing. Boasting one of the best T20 batting line-ups of the competition Dave Hussey and Rob Quiney have been stand-outs, but with the likes of Cameron White, George Bailey, Matthew Wade and Adam Voges in the side this team bats deep and they have not yet failed to score 150+ in their first 3 games. Clint McKay has been in great bowling form and Shane Warne has been bowling solidly with a knack for picking up crucial wickets. They have been well supported by young up-and-comer James Faulkner who looks a handy all-rounder and who cleverly picked up the crucial wicket of Chris Gayle in game #1. The English imports Luke Wright and Jade Dernbach have been disappointing to date, despite their strong T20 pedigrees, but there is optimism that they are still acclimatising to local conditions and fitting in with the team so they can be expected to improve as the competition progresses. Cameron White is the Australian T20 captain, so he has plenty of experience and respect, though his recent form with the bat has been disappointing and he recently has come across a bit apathetic and bordering on arrogant which suggests complacency met be a concern. With 1 win and 2 losses the Stars need to win 3 of the remaining 4 games to qualify so, like the Renegades, there is not a lot of room for error. Keep an eye on the English players for signs of improvement and also the interaction between White and Warne because there is a potential ego clash here and these two need to be of one mind. If this team keeps improving and plays to it’s potential they will be very hard to beat at the business end of the competition. #6 Adelaide Strikers Last years Big Bash Winners were well favoured pre-tournament, however, losing Dan Christian to Brisbane and Shaun Tait to the Renegades was always going to hurt them. Keiron Pollard was ruled out of the competition before a ball had been bowled this year, yet there are still some things to like about this team and they demolished an under-cooked Renegades in game #1 at home to kick start the competition. Game #2 saw Adelaide fall victim to the Gayle Force in Sydney, despite playing solidly, but the wheels have continued to fall off this team with big hitting Dan Harris copping a side strain injury. Game #3 at home saw the Adelaide batting order surrender meekly to the Hobart Stranglers and reports suggest that invaluable international all-rounder Johan Botha (who has been a centrepiece of the spin-centric Adelaide attack) has only 1 more game to play before returning to South Africa. Alfonso Thomas has been solid, but not spectacular in the pace bowling department and Kane Richardson has shown promise though the bowling attack overall does look a bit soft and green. Also, classy longer-form batsmen Klinger and Ferguson have not really fired. It’s not all bad, however, with Tom Cooper returning to the squad with a handy 43 at a stroke rate of 159 in a losing side last start. Overall, Adelaide are a well captained side, but with injuries to key players, the withdrawal of Botha and only 1 more game scheduled to be played at home it’s hard to see how Adelaide can win 3 of their remaining 4 games to qualify for the finals. #7 Sydney Sixers The Sixers have started the competition well, with 2 wins and 1 loss – which was to the undefeated Hobart Hurricanes in Hobart, so there is no great shame in that loss. They have one of the best pace attacks in the competition with the ageless Brett Lee spearheading an attack which features recent test player Mitchell Starc and the promising Josh Hazelwood. The exciting youngster Pat Cummins is also on the roster and there are whispers about that he may recover from his heel injury sooner than expected so he may feature at some point. Shane Watson is also on the roster and, if fit, he is no doubt included into the Australian test squad. However, like Shaun Marsh and Ryan Harris before him, Watson may get a surprise game or two in the Big Bash in an attempt to prove his fitness. Old spinner Stuart MacGill has proven he still has a bag of tricks and (at home) on the spin friendly SCG he has performed well with the ball even if he is a sluggish liability in the field he takes the pressure off the spin of Steve Smith who can, at times, be erratic with the ball. The Sixers batting is at times a little fragile, however, with only one score over 150. Their two wins relied heavily on the now unavailable Brad Haddin for game #1 and then Dwayne Bravo for game #3. Bravo has been great with the bat and in the field, yet he is reported to only be contracted for 4 games with the Sixers so most likely only has 1 more game to play. Smith and Henriques are ungainly sloggers, but they can get runs, while Lumb and Maddinson at the top of the order have been misfiring somewhat. Smith is a young stand-in captain with Haddin is on test duties, but he appears to be doing a reasonable job as the team seems to have good energy and the right buzz in the field. They only have 1 more home game, but only need to win 2 out of their remaining 4 to qualify for the finals so they are likely to scrape in, but unless the batting improves they may struggle at the business end. #8 Perth Scorchers One of the surprise packets of the competition so far, the Perth Scorchers (made up largely of the West Australian domestic players who have been struggling in shorter form cricket this season) have won 2 and lost 1 game so far without setting the world alight and they remain “under the radar” for most. Excluding the 1 failure against Hobart in game #1, the under-rated import Herschelle Gibbs has returned to his destructive best and is in great form. Like Gayle or Warner he has the capability of winning games off his own bat and he’s been getting good support from Marcus North and Mitchell Marsh at the top of the order. Yet to see the middle order really fire, but the talent is there even if the form isn’t. Admittedly, game #2 was won almost single-handedly by Shaun Marsh who has since moved on to the test team, but if he fails in the Sydney Test like he did in Melbourne, he might be back for Perth sooner than many think. Norths captaincy has been excellent and while Collingwood (like Gibbs) has been considered a “lesser import”, his inclusion in the circle and with the “Sheep Dog” Hogg in the outfield (who looks as fit as anyone) Perth is now the strongest fielding team in the competition and good fielding is very important in T20 cricket. Hogg and Michael Beer have formed a very handy spin partnership which is perhaps second only to Hobart’s Doherty/Krejza combination. Mitchell Marsh and the other pace bowlers have been a bit disappointing without being diabolical, yet the the recent return of Coulter-Nile should bolster the pace department. Perth only need 2 more wins to make the finals, but with everything coming together nicely for this team after a slow start they do look likely to be contenders and they may be a good chance to secure a home final. The market is only just waking up to them. Summary T20 is a volatile game and individual matches can be very hard to predict even if it is fun to try. This competition has already thrown up plenty of surprises and massive momentum swings in games. One piece of individual brilliance can turn a match so one thing you can take for certain is that there are no certainties in this competition. Even so, on the basis of the above analysis we’ll have a shot at predicting the top 4 finalists and their possible pre-final prices as :- 1. Hobart Hurricanes – 3.85 2. Perth Scorchers – 4.15 3. Melbourne Stars – 3.70 4. Sydney Sixers – 4.30 Final Warning – Beware the Renegades. If they can qualify they’ll be a major threat in the finals.