The Melbourne Stars’ season is a salvage mission. Even five wins in a row mightn’t be enough to maintain the club’s perfect record of qualifying for the semi-finals, and having not come particularly close to winning one game, the prospect of five on the trot seems fanciful. So what’s gone wrong? Well plenty, both on a macro and micro level.
First to the smaller picture. The two main patterns of their games have been early collapses, and an inability to get wickets.
The Stars’ batting in the powerplay has been a mess. In four of their five games their first four wickets have fallen for 80 runs or less. It doesn’t matter which form of the game a team is playing, you’re not going to win many games like that.
Ben Dunk topped the competition for runs last year when playing for the Adelaide Strikers. His move to the Stars was seen as a coup, but he’s been a flop. Save for 47 against the Melbourne Renegades, he hasn’t reached double figures. Fellow opener Luke Wright has fared little better, with just 71 runs from four knocks. Kevin Pietersen hasn’t set the world alight either. He has 85 runs in four innings, with a wild swing against the Strikers leading to what was about as ugly a dismissal as you’ll see in professional cricket.
Peter Handscomb didn’t expect to be playing in the BBL. In a parallel universe he was still batting in Australia’s middle order, having rescued his Test spot with a big score in Perth. But he lost his spot, and has been travelling between the Stars and Australian camps for a fortnight. For the Stars, he’s made scores of eight and one. The man who only a handful of months ago looked as entrenched as any Australian batsman other than Steve Smith and David Warner now can’t find a score in domestic cricket. By the looks and sounds of it, he doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going.
Three batsmen have at least performed creditably or better: Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell and James Faulkner, although Stoinis won’t feature again this season due to international commitments. Faulkner is yet to be dismissed and has repeatedly found himself coming in with the team on the back foot. While the runs haven’t flowed as fast as perhaps hoped, he’s at least making regular solid contributions.
Remarkably given the struggles of the batsmen, the Stars’ bowlers are arguably performing worse. Only in one game have they impressed as a collective, doing a good job of restricting the Perth Scorchers at the WACA, only for the top order to crumble. The biggest issue is a lack of potency. Who is the Stars’ gun bowler? They really don’t have one.
Stoinis is their leading wicket-taker with five, and the team has taken a paltry seven wickets in their past three games. Scott Boland came into the tournament with high hopes but was beaten up by Brendon McCullum early in the Stars’ opening game, and hasn’t recovered. He’s been dropped twice already and with an economy rate of 11.5 and average of 92 it’s hard to see him getting a quick recall. Adam Zampa has kept things relatively tight but without pace support hasn’t had a commanding showing.
Michael Beer was perhaps the Stars’ best player across their first two games, but dumped after Aaron Finch took the sword to him in the derby. By his own admission, captain John Hastings entered the season underdone and is only starting to fire. Faulkner has done reasonably well but is only bowling two overs a game on average. Jackson Coleman’s couple of games have been promising, but it’s too much to expect a player so inexperienced to lead the attack.
The bigger picture is one of contracts and plans. While there is a salary cap in the Big Bash League, the lack of a draft means AFL-style premiership windows should be able to open and close a bit more freely. Just look at Sydney Thunder, who went from second-bottom to champions, to bottom, in the space of three seasons. Indeed it’s why the Stars should be lauded for their consistency in reaching the semi-finals in all six completed seasons of the BBL, even though their results once they’ve got there have been immensely disappointing, with five defeats in the semis, and their narrow loss in the final against the Thunder two seasons.
The overriding sentiment, both internally and externally, is that they went a year too far with this group. Multi-year contracts had limited their flexibility, and the result of a failing senior core has been a very stale-looking group. The Stars’ plight is typified by the options available outside the XI. Veterans Beer, Rob Quiney and Ben Hilfenhaus were all on the outer this week, but perhaps with the exception of Beer it’s hard to see the Stars rushing back to guys in their mid 30s.
The decision to allow Cameron White to defect to the Renegades three years ago looks like a terrible blunder. White has been as dominant as ever, averaging 142.5 playing the anchor role for the Renegades, enough to earn him a highly improbable international recall.
So where to from here? Pietersen has already announced he will depart at season’s end, and there is an argument that once finals are an impossibility he shouldn’t be playing, but it’ll take a brave selection panel to make that call. Wright missed the Strikers game with a back complaint and while he could be recalled with Stoinis gone, there is next to no chance the Englishman – a serviceable player since the club’s foundation season – will be there next year. The group is likely to have a vastly different look next season, even though coach Stephen Fleming is understood to be contracted for 2018-19. Maxwell has already suggested the club should look to bowlers to fill its overseas player gaps, and given the success of Rashid Khan, Jofra Archer and Shadab Khan, that looks sensible.
The elephant in the room is the difficulty that comes with being in a two-team town. Only once have both the Renegades and the Stars made the finals in the same season, and it has been similarly rare for Sydney’s Sixers and Thunder to be playing well simultaneously. Renegades veteran Brad Hodge implied this point when he queried the Scorchers’ list management practices. The suggestion is that the Scorchers have an advantage by bundling state and BBL contracts. Cricket Australia has found no wrongdoing.
In any case the Stars could desperately do with some fresh young Victorian talent. Will Sutherland has signed for the Renegades, although the Stars do have talented batsman Will Pucovski on their books as a rookie, while Seb Gotch should now get a run of games, and Sam Harper is waiting in the wings. They have also called in young leg-spinner Daniel Fallins who wreaked havoc against England in a tour match in November. Along with Coleman and spinner Liam Bowe, it will be performances from these players that can allow the Stars to find some gold from the wreckage of this season.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.