The Melbourne Stars have looked like a side capable of lifting the trophy in the last two seasons of the league, but their game unravelled on the big nights when they had to put their best performance one last time to lift the cup. They had a similar story last season, following a defeat in Big Bash League (BBL) 2018 also. This time, the team has geared up to fill the vacant slot for their maiden BBL title.
The fortune of the team lies heavily on the Australian international superstars such as Glenn Maxwell, who will again don the skipper’s hat after a fairly unsuccessful run in the Indian Premier League (IPL) as the captain of Kings XI Punjab, along with all-rounder Marcus Stoijis and leg spinner Adam Zampa. The trio will bring their international experience into the BBL for the Stars. Captain Maxwell would love to silence his critics with the bat in this tournament after another dismal outing in the IPL 2020.
As far as the batting department is concerned, the team is richly endowed with talent and experience as the pair of Maxwell and Stoinis, along with overseas recruits in Nicholas Pooran, will form the core of the batting, to be supported by an ever-so-impressive Ben Dunk and Nic Maddinson, along with wicketkeeper-batsman Seb Gotch. The team also has the new sensation in Australian cricket, Will Pucovski, to bolster the squad. In general, all batsmen who are likely to be featured in the first preferred XI during the 10th edition of BBL are in a rich vein of form and it augurs well for the Stars in the hot pursuit of an elusive title.
The team has been jolted by few developments just before the start of the tournament. England wicketkeeper-batsman Jonny Bairstow, who has been the go-to man for Eoin Morgan’s side at the top of the order in white-ball formats, has made himself unavailable for the tournament. He was a tactical buy for the Stars who were looking at him for the role of an opener, to partner with Stoinis. They expected him to help create a dominating top order that would have sent warning signs to the opposition camps even before the start of games.
Stars' head coach David Hussey expressed disappointment over Bairstow's absence from the tournament. "We're naturally disappointed Jonny won't be able to link up with us this season but we wish him well on his recall and England's winter tours," Hussey said in a statement.
Bairstow was replaced by West Indies wicketkeeper-batsman Andre Fletcher as a like-for-like replacement. Fletcher has been a regular fixture in T20 cricket across the world and has played more than 200 T20 games, and he is likely to be available for the full-length of the tournament.
"I'm really looking forward to coming over to the Melbourne Stars and being part of what should be an exciting season ahead. Hopefully, I can bring my brand of batting and recent form to the Stars during the BBL," Fletcher stated on the prospect of joining the Stars for BBL 10.
Hussey is looking forward to having Fletcher and is expecting the West Indies player to bring power and entertainment to the Stars’ top order. Hussey also wants to make good use of Fletcher’s experience of being in a team that knows how to win major tournaments.
"We're glad Andre was in a position to join us and he'll bring plenty of power and entertainment at the top of the batting order. Andre is a former T20 World Cup winner with the West Indies so he knows what it takes to succeed in major tournaments and I'm confident he'll be a great asset around our group," Hussey commented on Fletcher joining the Stars camp.
In the bowling department too, the Stars are blessed with impressive international recruits from Australian teams, along with impressive emerging talents of the world. While the duo of Nathan Coulter-Nile and Billy Stanlake, who are rich in international experience, will have the task of providing breakthroughs with the new ball and check the opposition batsmen from running away with the game in the last overs, wrist spinner Adam Zampa and a 20-year-old spinner from Afghanistan, Zahir Khan will have their tasks cut out in the middle overs to check the momentum of opposition's innings.
Zahir showed his class and variations in the Caribbean Premier League earlier this year and he would love the prospect of bowling at the MCG with big boundaries to support his flighted deliveries. Presence of Zampa who has developed into a world-class spinner in white-ball formats will also prove helpful for the team. Stars would be looking forward to getting the best out of the wrist spinners in the middle overs.
Absence of Harris Rauf would have hurt the Stars but they were quick to call up Dilbar Hussain again this season as his replacement after his debut in the last edition of the league. Hussain was handed out a debut last season against Brisbane Heat and he had a forgettable night when AB de Villiers took a liking to him and the Pakistan pacer ended up conceding 56 from his four overs. However, his stellar returns in the finals of Pakistan Super League last month may well have convinced the Stars in bringing him back.
Hussey welcomed the prospect of Hussain’s development after a ‘whirlwind debut’ against de Villiers last year. "I'm looking forward to working with Dilbar again this season and supporting his development together with our wider bowling group. His Stars debut was a whirlwind last year - it was his first senior T20 match and he effectively came down to Melbourne at very short notice and ended up bowling to AB de Villiers at the MCG,” Hussey said of Hussain.
He has included many new tricks in his repertoire and the experience of a PSL season would help him perform better this season, according to Hussey. "He's a genuine 140km/hr bowler with a good yorker and an incredible slower ball. With another year of experience and his time in the PSL, we're keen to see what Dilbar brings to the table for us this year. The fact that not many players have faced him before can be a real advantage for us."
The Stars have been a prolific team in the last two seasons and this time around, nothing less than the trophy would make them happy about their games as they seem to have all their bases covered.
Marcus Stoinis, Jonny Bairstow (OS), Nic Maddinson, Nicholas Pooran (OS), Glenn Maxwell, Hilton Cartwright, Seb Gotch (wk), Nathan Coulter-Nile, Adam Zampa, Zahir Khan (OS), Billy Stanlake
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The touring Pakistan squad has been denied the permission to train before the scheduled date of start of the T20 series on December 18 in wake of many squad members testing positive for the novel coronavirus. Had they not tested positive and not caught flouting the isolation norms, they could have got the permission to train while in isolation after spending three days in complete quarantine. “I have very carefully considered this situation At this time, I continue to have ongoing concerns about the risk of cross-infection within the squad. There have been a number of active cases identified among the team. Public health considerations will continue to be foremost in our response to COVID-19, whether this involves individuals or teams. We appreciate the challenges that this decision will have for the touring team,” Dr Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand's director-general of health, confirmed Friday that the tourist will not get leeway on training. Earlier, the team was served a ‘final warning’ for breaching the coronavirus containment protocols and the CEO of Pakistan Cricket Board, Waseem Khan, made all squad members aware of what the consequences will be of another breach of protocols which can be as reprimanding as sending back home without any cricket on the tour. Overall, there are eight active cases of COVID-19 in the Pakistan team camp while the two have been deemed ‘historic’ by the health officials in New Zealand.
England fast bowler Steven Finn, once known for his deadly outswingers and the ability to swing the ball at sheer pace has come out with his side of the story behind a horrific run in the 2013-14 season, which saw him being sent back to England from a tour down under. Talking about it to The Cricket Monthly, Finn said, “I’d I got sent home from [the 2013-14] tour because I found myself down a rabbit hole that was so hard to get out of.” “If I was braver and more confident in knowing what was going on, I'd have probably sent myself home a long time before I did get sent home,’ he added, signifying the amount of trauma that he had been through. The pain and the mental illness started from the time when Finn’s ‘hitting the stumps with his legs’ became too frequent that ICC had to make a law regarding it being a no-ball. It’s often called ‘Finn’s Law’. “It's frustrating that it happened - a knee-jerk reaction from the ICC to change the rules of the game that had a knock-on effect on me,” Finch said about the law. Finn, 31, has been plagued by injuries, and courtesy that he hasn’t played a single game since 2017 having debuted in 2010-11. Talking about the trauma that he went through after the law change, Finch said, “You're in your hotel room in tears, or if someone asks you about your bowling, you get really emotional, because you're in this rabbit hole where you don't see a way out. Every day you're practicing and there are people lining up behind the nets to watch you suffer through the process.” Saying that it was the right decision to send him, the Middlesex bowler also agreed that he wasn’t able to express himself better, mostly because he wasn’t willing to listen to his inner self. “People are aware and willing to talk and be vulnerable [about]. I wasn't willing to be vulnerable and honest about my mental state and that cost me,” said Finch. “You're not selectable because your mental frame of mind is affecting how you're performing, and if you were to go out onto a pitch, you'd be more fragile than you would usually be,” he added. But where did he learn to bowl so close to the stumps and did it ever cause problems in his childhood, did he knock stumps back them as well? Answering such questions, the man with the record for fastest Englishman to 50 Test wickets said, “I loved Glenn McGrath when I was a kid. He was my favorite bowler ever - I'm ashamed to say it but for the '99 World Cup I had an Australia shirt.” “I loved how he and Shaun Pollock and those guys got real tight to the stumps. From watching McGrath get so close to the stumps and have that little dart in, it naturally came into my game as a result of trying to copy him,” added Finn, who has 125 wickets in 36 Tests for the English side. What added more to Finn’s mental pressure was the fact that players couldn’t talk more freely to the Press back then. Finch, who plans to detail his playing career through various talks as motivational lessons in the future said, “We had a wall up around ourselves at that time, and this was part of the regime: you don't say anything to the press that isn't acceptable. It meant the media didn't get a true depiction of what we were like as people.” “Now I think you do interviews with players and they seem more like humans - you know more about where they're at,” he added.
Glenn Maxwell, middle-order Australian batsman or rather a well-known raunchy hitter of the cricket ball has defended his art of Switch hits as being part of the evolution of cricket. The switch hits have once again come under the attack of former cricketers as being an ‘unfair’ method of play, against a bowler. However, responding to those criticisms, Maxwell, 32, said, "It's within the laws of the game. I think batting has evolved in such a way that it's just got better and better over the years which is why we're seeing these massive scores getting chased down and scores are going up.” Earlier former Aussie captain Ian Chappel had targeted Maxwell and his switch hits saying, "It is very skillful, some of it's amazingly skillful - but it's not fair.” Maxwell, who scored 167 runs in the recently concluded ODI series at a strike rate of 194.18, said that bowlers also need to evolve as batters have, also noting that the process is on with different fieldsets and different kinds of deliveries being invented. "I suppose it's up to the bowlers to try and combat that, and the skills of bowlers are being tested every day. They're having to come up with different change-ups and different ways to stop batters, and with the way, they shut down one side of the ground and what-not,” Maxwell said. Further, the man, who almost took Australia t a 3-0 whitewash courtesy of his 38 balls 59 at Manuka Oval, which invariably included the famous switch hits, added, "I suppose the way that batting is evolving, I think bowling has got to evolve to the same stage, so you see guys come up with knuckle balls and wide-yorker fields and different tactics.”
Kiwi captain Kane Williamson was once again on the Twitter trending list and once again for all the right reasons. The 30-year-old not only supported the Black Lives Matter movement of the West Indies team but was seen consoling and comforting Kemar Roach the West Indian fast bowler, who lost his father on the very day of the first Test between the two countries began. On receiving the said news, Roach, 32 was seen being comforted by Williamson. The Cricket West Indies official Twitter handle shared the picture of the two men having an emotional hug. "CWI extends deepest condolences to Kemar Roach and his family on the passing of his father. Both the #MenInMaroon and the @BLACKCAPS teams wore black armbands on the opening day of the 1st Test in his honour," Windies Cricket wrote in a tweet. Earlier in the day, all the players wore black armbands in solidarity with Roach’s personal loss. The Twitter, always a friendly place for Williamson was once again seen showering overwhelming support to the skipper for his actions as well as for the innings that he played on the field. Williamson’s team, batting first at Seddon Park, Hamilton, after having lost the toss, was in a slight danger when the debutante Young, went out for just four runs when the score was 14. It was Tom Latham and Williamson who steadied the ship and sailed it past 150 as they added 154 for the third wicket before Roach dismissed Latham. However, Williamson was undeterred and went to build yet another partnership with senior-pro Ross Taylor. At the end of the first day, the partnership had reached a total of 75 and Williamson was batting not out on 97 while Taylor remained not out on 32.