Our prediction is Sydney Thunder to win.
Game three of the Big Bash League will be one of only two to be played at Canberra’s Manuka Oval this season, where Sydney Thunder are hosting Melbourne Stars. These two sides met once last season, when Thunder ran out seven wicket winners at the MCG.
Two of Australia’s leading all-rounders line up as captains of these sides which presents just one of several potentially fascinating battles. The Stars are led by Glenn Maxwell and Shane Watson takes the reins for Thunder – he was man of the match when they met last season.
Elsewhere, Nepal’s Sandeep Lamichhane will be one to watch as Melbourne’s overseas player alongside Dwayne Bravo. They will be up against England pair Joe Root and Jos Buttler.
Thunder have had one Big Bash League season to remember – when they won the tournament in 2015-16. Otherwise, they have never finished higher than sixth and have finished at the bottom of the league standings four times. If they do not get off to a strong start, then they may once again struggle to make much impact.
Another reason why they must start well is that Root and Buttler are only available for part of the tournament, so they need to get the most out of them before they depart, to be replaced by Anton Devcich and Chris Jordan.
Thunder have won just 18 BBL matches, comfortably the worst record of all eight teams and they were also the first team against whom a hat-trick was taken, when Xavier Doherty achieved it for Hobart Hurricanes in 2012-13. Usman Khawaja and Patrick Cummins are on international duty, so their squad is lacking some star quality to start with.
Ryan Gibson, Kurtis Patterson, Joe Root, Shane Watson (c), Jos Buttler (wk), Callum Ferguson, Arjun Nair, Chris Green, Gurinder Sandhu, Daniel Sams, Fawad Ahmed.
Melbourne Stars have been incredibly consistent since the start of the BBL but they are still chasing a first title. They lost in the semi-finals in all four of the first seasons, then finished as runners-up, then last year they also lost in the semi-finals. They have never finished lower than fourth in the league standings.
As a result, they have a win-loss record of 33-30 and a win percentage of 52.34 bettered only by Adelaide Strikers, Perth Scorchers and Sydney Sixers. Expect, therefore, for them to be there or thereabouts come the end of the tournament.
They have a strong squad and are only missing Peter Handscomb who is on international duty. However, given his own recent struggles for form, there was no guarantee he would have been picked. Although Lamichhane is a fascinating prospect, he will only be with the side for part of the tournament. Once he leaves to play in Bangladesh, Liam Plunkett takes over.
Nic Maddinson, Ben Dunk, Evan Gulbis, Glenn Maxwell (c), Dwayne Bravo, Marcus Stoinis, Seb Gotch (wk), Daniel Worrall, Jackson Coleman, Sandeep Lamichhane, Adam Zampa.
Thunderstorms in Canberra should clear as the week goes on but there is an increasing chance that rain could arrive around the time the match is scheduled on Friday evening. Moisture around could make things interesting and give the bowlers something to work with if it slows the pitch down.
The Manuka Oval enjoys its rare BBL visits and like other BBL venues, is also used for other sports. It will finally become a Test venue early next year. It is a picturesque ground but is still one of the largest playing areas in the country. It has still only hosted a handful of Twenty20 matches so teams may not know exactly what to expect.
In Twenty20s at the venue, there is a 50-50 split between sides winning batting first and second. In ODIs, teams batting first have excelled. The opening match of the tournament saw the side winning the toss and choosing to bowl first, so it may be that teams want to follow the example of the Adelaide Strikers.
It will be fascinating to see whether these sides live up to what is expected of them. Sydney Thunder – apart from one brilliant season – have been poor. Melbourne Stars have been consistently excellent. However, Thunder have put together a strong squad and are arguably stronger this season for the additions of Root and Buttler. You can make a case for saying that the same is not true for Melbourne Stars. Although they usually get it right in the end, we feel Thunder will make a strong start this year and give them the edge for this opening match.
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