Bairstow withdrawal puts pressure on strong Melbourne Stars core

BIG BASH TEAM GUIDE - MELBOURNE STARS: A batting line-up featuring Marcus Stoinis, Ben Dunk, Nicholas Pooran and Glenn Maxwell as a strong core, even if Stars fans will bemoan the withdrawal of Jonny Bairstow

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Big Bash 2020-21: Team-by-team guides

Coach: David Hussey

Captain: Glenn Maxwell

Last season: Runners-up (group winners)

How did they do last year?

In short, they were exceptional. Under Glenn Maxwell’s captaincy and new head coach David Hussey, who succeeded Stephen Fleming, Stars dominated the round-robin phase, leading the group stage ahead of the playoffs.

Marcus Stoinis hammered 705 runs – 139 more than his nearest rival at the top of the overall run-scoring charts, and sits in fourth place on the T20 Player Index. Meanwhile, Haris Rauf, Adam Zampa and Sandeep Lamichhane took 55 wickets between them.

Of that trio, only Zampa returns this year, however. Rauf quickly became the find of last year’s tournament, drafted in late as a replacement for England seamer Pat Brown, who was ruled out of a maiden Big Bash stint with a back problem. He bowled quickly, ending the tournament with the best strike rate of any of the top 15 wicket-takers.

Dale Steyn and Dilbar Hussain also turned out as overseas players, though neither are part of this year’s plans, and Rauf’s unavailability due to international commitments is a blow.

However, Stars’ decision to put their trust in data analysis company CricViz paid dividends last year – analyst Ben Jones spent 10 days with the team ahead of the competition, before working remotely thereafter. That partnership is continuing; they topped the table for the first time since the 2013/14, when Cameron White was captain.

Yet, as in the past, it all ultimately ended in tears – victims of a rain-affected Sydney final, meaning that they remain without a Big Bash crown despite finishing as runners-up on three occasions.

Who are their key players?

Glenn Maxwell: It is hard to look past the multitalented Australian allrounder, even if he endured another Indian Premier League campaign that seemed to pass his immense abilities by. He ended last year’s Big Bash just shy of 400 runs, while also chipping in with 10 wickets. The onus will be on him to replicate those numbers.

Ben Dunk: The 33-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman had a miserable Big Bash campaign last time around, but he has since enjoyed a remarkable rebirth in franchise cricket. Although his Caribbean Premier League returns were mediocre on difficult surfaces, he lit up the Pakistan Super League, smashing 300 runs in 10 innings at a strike rate of 167.59, including 23 sixes.

Adam Zampa: Now established as Australia’s white-ball leg-spinner, the 28-year-old is one of the more impressive characters on the T20 circuit. He played three times for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the recently finished IPL and bowled beautifully during Australia’s ODI series victory over England in September.

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What are their strengths?

A batting line-up featuring Marcus Stoinis, Andre Fletcher, Ben Dunk, Nicholas Pooran and Glenn Maxwell as its top five is an outrageous thought, even if they will bemoan the withdrawal of Jonny Bairstow.

Coupled with a bowling attack featuring four bona fide international cricketers – Nathan Coulter-Nile, Billy Stanlake, Zahir Khan and Adam Zampa, Stars look well set to launch another bid for a maiden Big Bash crown.

The signing of Stanlake is especially intriguing. The giant fast bowler has suffered a significant fall from grace in the last 12 months; he took just four wickets in 11 games for Adelaide Strikers last year, but his qualities – pace, bounce and a towering release-point – make him a potentially title-winning investment if he can rediscover the form that saw him make his international debut in 2017.

Where might they have a weakness?

Every team will suffer in this regard, but the absences of their overseas players at varying points will put the pressure on during the spells when they are at full strength to pick up points.

The form of Billy Stanlake and Ben Dunk will also be key; Stanlake is in new surroundings after his dismal 2019, while Dunk has since emerged as an unlikely star of the PSL.

Dilbar Hussain has returned as an overseas player, somewhat surprisingly. His story is something of a whirlwind, having never played a game of hard-ball cricket until 2018, but he struggled in the single game he played for Stars last season. He enjoyed a more fruitful campaign in the Pakistan Super League with Lahore Qalandars, and so returns - Stars will hope - a year wiser.

Chances of reaching playoffs?

Runners-up last year and a line-up that, on paper, looks utterly formidable.

Strongest XI: Marcus Stoinis, Andre Fletcher, Ben Dunk (wk), Nicholas Pooran, Glenn Maxwell (c), Nick Larkin, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Adam Zampa, Zahir Khan, Billy Stanlake, Jackson Coleman

Fixtures: December 11 – Brisbane Heat (Manuka Oval); December 12 – Sydney Thunder (Manuka Oval); December 16 – Perth Scorchers (University of Tasmania Stadium); December 26 – Sydney Sixers (Metricon Stadium); December 29 – Sydney Thunder (Manuka Oval); January 2 – Hobart Hurricanes (Blundstone Arena); January 4 – Hobart Hurricanes (Blundstone Arena); January 7 – Brisbane Heat (Metricon Stadium); January 11 – Adelaide Strikers (Adelaide Oval); January 15 – Adelaide Strikers (MCG); January 17 – Melbourne Renegades (MCG); January 20 – Melbourne Renegades (Marvel Stadium, Docklands); January 23 – Perth Scorchers (MCG); January 26 – Sydney Sixers (MCG)

Big Bash fixtures

Big Bash squads

TEAM-BY-TEAM PREVIEWS

Adelaide Strikers

Brisbane Heat

Hobart Hurricanes

Melbourne Renegades

Melbourne Stars

Perth Scorchers

Sydney Sixers

Sydney Thunder

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