Captains Ashton Turner and Moises Henriques are both vying for their franchises fourth BBL title. Image: @ScorchersBBL. Twitter

The Perth Scorchers and the Sydney Sixers meet in their fifth BBL final in eleven years. Which will be the first club to taste success for the fourth time?

A friend of mine told me the other day that they didn’t like the Big Bash League.

“It’s predictable”, they said.

“It’s the same every year.  Players fly all over the countryside to play in coloured garb.  All they try to do is hit the ball out of the park for 61 matches, and the result is always the same.  Perth Scorchers and Sydney Sixers play in the final…”

In that, he had a point.  Of the eleven Big Bash League tournaments, this will be the fifth final between Perth and the magenta half of Sydney.  Currently, they sit at two wins each in their head-to-head battle, and each franchise has three tournament wins in total.

So this match is not only to decide the title for this season.  It carries with it sizeable bragging rights as well.

In last year’s final James Vince hit an imperious 95 from 60 balls as the Sixers triumphed by 27 runs over their Western Australian rivals.  Vince will not be there for the final, having returned home to England, and a good few of his teammates from last year’s triumph will be joining him on the sidelines.

Josh Philippe and Jack Edwards, having had tournaments that have wavered between the spectacular and the solid, have been ruled out after testing positive to Covid-19. 

There is grave doubt over the fitness of batsman Jordan Silk, who injured a hamstring in the Challenger match against the Adelaide Strikers.  

Steven O’Keefe, whose calf gave way in Saturday’s Qualifier against the Scorchers and looked like it was troubling him against the Strikers as well, is expected to play but there must be question marks over his level of fitness.

Sixers assistant coach Jay Lenton, a shock inclusion against the Strikers, therefore gets another chance in the final.  So too should Justin Avendano, who holds the rare distinction of playing for two separate sides in the one season after playing for Melbourne Stars against the Scorchers during their Covid crisis.

So deeply has injury and illness cut into the Sydney Sixers’ squad that they have made another request for Steve Smith to be made available to play in the final, having had this request already twice denied.  Whilst a decision has not been released at the time of writing, this would give the magenta men a massive boost as they prepare for battle.

Captain Moises Henriques was unsure whether Smith will be an option.  “I’m clueless”, he remarked at the captain’s media call at Marvel Stadium.

“Obviously we’ve had a couple more injuries from last game, and it depends how deep the Covid pool is that they currently have in place.  We didn’t know for yesterday’s game until about 10.30 in the morning, so we’re preparing to find out pretty late, but we’ll see.”

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The Scorchers have a more straightforward job in selecting their side.  Only Mitchell Marsh, with a minor hamstring strain, is in doubt from the side that won the Qualifier so handsomely, decimating the Sixers betting line-up before a late Ben Dwarshius flurry made the scorecard look somewhat more respectable.

Captain Ashton Turner declared this afternoon that Marsh would definitely play. 

“Mitch can do whatever he wants tonight – he’s definitely playing”, Turner said when asked how arduous Marsh’s preparation would be in the hours leading up to the final.

“Not sure about bowling, but he’s definitely going to play as a batter at least.  We’ve seen what sort of an impact he can have.  Every captain and coach wants to have as many bowling options as possible, but we saw with Mitch not bowling in the final, we were fine with five bowlers”.

The Sixers batting has tended to be their achilles heel over this season’s tournament.  They have struggled to regularly post totals much in excess of 160, and come into the final with only two batters (three if Daniel Hughes is fit to play), striking over 200 runs for the season.

They have got to where they are by taking wickets at regular intervals, hence not only dismissing the batters but also restricting the scoring rate.  

Hayden Kerr has been a revelation with 24 wickets.  Hardy perennials Sean Abbott (19) and Ben Dwarshius (17) have also played their part, whilst O’Keefe has been his usual miserly self in the early and middle overs.

The Scorchers appear to have few obvious weaknesses and are in the fortunate position of not having to rely on too few players to make an impact.  

They have four batters (Marsh, Colin Munro, Kurtis Patterson, and captain Ashton Turner), who have scored over 300 runs for the tournament, whilst English import Laurie Evans has 285.

Their bowlers have shared the spoils just as evenly.  Whilst Andrew Tye leads the tally with 22,  Ashton Agar (17), Jason Behrendorff (15), and popular leg-spinner Peter Hatzoglou (14) aren’t far behind.  They will also have the luxury of bringing Jhye Richardson into the side, as they did in the Qualifier.

The biggest bugbear that the Perth boys have faced in this tournament has been the fact that they have been unable to play their home games in their own city due to Covid protocols.  

They have had to play at venues all over the country instead rather than having a dedicated home base and indeed have had to play the final at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium as their adopted home ground having won the right to chose where to host the Qualifier and Final.

Seven of the ten matches played at Marvel this season have been won by the team batting first.  Given the brittle nature of the Sixers batting and the predilection of the Scorchers for taking first use of the wicket, it would not be a surprise if either captain decided to bat first upon calling correctly when the bat is flipped.

Perth has prevailed in all three of the meetings between these two sides this season.  Sydney will use their illness and injury plight as motivation and will rely on the togetherness that a siege mentality can provide, but it would take a brave person to punt on them preventing Perth from making it four from four, and hoisting the Big Bash Trophy aloft on Friday night.

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