Another disappointing campaign from the much-fancied Stars should kick-start a desperately needed overhaul of the Melbourne franchise's approach.
Some things happen just like clockwork.
Every summer, the Big Bash League starts gliding into the free space between Test matches, filling dozens of evenings with non-stop cricket and Channel 10 bash their viewers over the head with adverts for the latest batch of z-grade celebrities they’ve shipped off to the middle of nowhere with a handful of cameras and a distinct lack of dignity.
Just before all that comes the inevitable pre-tournament hype around the Melbourne Stars franchise. They’ve kept together a great core of strong, experienced Twenty20 performers, many of whom have international experience and have scored bundles of runs or taken bucket loads of wickets over the history of the Big Bash League.
Then, just as the entertainment starts kicking into gear, the most inevitable thing of all, the slide of the Stars from pre-season favourites to also-rans gets off the ground as well.
More of the same for the Melbourne Stars
2017/18 appears to be no different to every other iteration of the Big Bash League with the Stars under-performing to such an extent that questions about the management of Eddie Maguire and the makeup of the roster are beginning to surface.
At the time of writing, the Stars have played four games and lost four games. They share the cellar of the BBL ladder with the Sydney Sixers who have lost all six of their games, only edging out the Sixers for last place on net run rate.
The new season, another which started with mountains of hope, has been a dismal disappointment for the franchise built purposely to reflect the more affluent suburbs of Melbourne.
The team was originally conceived as a contrast to the working-class Melbourne Renegades but, as the tournament reaches its meatier stages, the battling Renegades sit third and well in contention for a finals berth while the Stars are left chasing their first victory of the summer after four clashes.
The tournament started with a disappointing 15-run loss to the Brisbane Heat at the Gabba. Despite the loss, Marcus Stoinis scored 99 runs, James Faulkner an unbeaten 47 and Michael Beer looked dangerous in his spell of 2/21. The signs were there that key players would stand up and get the job done for the Stars moving forward.
A second-start loss to the Perth Scorchers at the WACA will have disappointed everyone involved, but with two games on the road to start the season, at least the thought of getting back onto a home track in Melbourne might spark a turnaround in fortunes.
Hosting the Heat at the MCG, revenge was the target. Unfortunately, the Heat came and they conquered, leaving Melbourne with a nine-wicket win as they humiliated the star-studded franchise.
This was followed by a six-wicket loss in the Melbourne Derby against the Renegades, consigning the Stars to a run of four straight losses and the bottom place on the BBL ladder.
A flawed approach to building a team
Quite simply, the Stars initial approach in signing a handful of superstar Twenty20 specialists and strong international performers and keeping the bulk of the squad together season to season has not worked.
A good model on paper, in practice, the Stars have been bloated, top-heavy and not up for the fight when it counted.
Now, as another season unravels in front of them, the international imports on which they’d hoped to build success look to be on the way out.
Kevin Pietersen, the 37-year-old English Test veteran had already announced he would not be back in Stars colours for the 2018/19 season when fellow Englishman Luke Wright looks to be a likely victim of another disappointing season.
Wright, who has been with the Stars during the entire BBL concept and played more than 50 games for the franchise, has been disappointing this summer and looks to be a high-profile casualty of a roster overhaul.
The club’s 2016/17 player of the year, Wright has had a torrid time with the bat this season, returning just 71 runs in his four innings so far, topping out with 21 against the Scorchers in Perth.
A dramatic change in approach could be on the cards for the Stars and Wright appears to be at least one casualty in a bid to free up salary cap space and target fresher international players in the marketplace.
Back to the player market
Rumours have surfaced that the Stars may be interested in bringing in Chris Gayle have not been properly dismissed by the club or the man himself, but it’s easy to see Gayle filling the same sort of role as the outgoing international players.
A reliance on veteran international talent, possibly past their prime has certainly contributed to the Stars’ current woes.
As things stand, the Stars look set to end their run of always qualifying for the BBL finals this summer and that may not be the worst thing to happen to the franchise. A chance to start fresh, cull some over-paid, under-performing talent and target some fresh faces could be exactly what is required to jumpstart the team and bring home a maiden BBl title.
Originally published on RealSport on 13/12/2016.
Australia head in to the first test against Pakistan on Thursday at the Gabba on the back of a mini-revival, but they are increasingly reliant on individual performances to lift and inspire.
On the back of strong leadership from Steve Smith, both on and off the field, Australia have headed in to a period of review and assessment in better shape than could have been expected following five consecutive test losses away in Sri Lanka and at home against the imposing South Africans, with the captain, in particular, showing a willingness to fight, preserve his wicket and score tough runs.
Aussies in formIt sounds odd to suggest that the skipper is ‘in form’ following the first test series in more than two years where he has failed to score a century, but his fine slaying of the Kiwis, including a stunning and record setting 164 at his home ground in Sydney, bely the fact that he faced some very bad luck during the first three tests of the Australian summer and also found himself often fighting a lone stand as wickets fell around him in quick succession. Throw in scores of 117 and 42 for New South Wales in the pink ball day-nighter against the Bulls and you get the sense that Smith is far from out of touch, and that’s not even mentioning his spectacular feats in the field of late.
Alongside the captain, his right-hand man David Warner bounced back from a disappointing test series to record consecutive hundreds against the battered New Zealanders, breaking Ricky Ponting’s record for most one-day centuries in a calendar year in the process. Warner also notched a fine hundred facing the pink ball for New South Wales, suggesting a more settled Warner may hold the key to Aussie success at the top of the order.
More touted for his chirpiness behind the stumps than his glovework or form with the blade so far this summer, Matthew Wade faces the prospect of already having to fight to maintain his role in the Australian test side moving forward. The vibrant Victorian has been solid behind the stumps since his recall to the test arena, but has produced nothing more than short cameos with the bat in hand. Wade, the Victorian skipper at Shield Level, does provide a steady and positive influence in the field and is clearly someone that crop of younger guys can look up to and work with, but he will need to produce more at the crease and ensure that there are no more missed opportunities behind it either.
Mitchell Starc was the man who seemingly set the tone for a magnificent summer’s worth of performances for the Australian side from day one of the first test against the Proteas, when he snapped up four wickets, but despite notching wickets in each of his last six bowling performances across all formats, the devastating left arm quick will need to find a new level of consistency to continue to be the spearhead that his side desperately needs. While he’s under no threat of losing his place in the side, the return to cricket of guys like Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and a raft of up and coming quicks in the mould of Chadd Sayers may well put some further pressure on his broad shoulders in the future.
Few people have faced the speculation and criticism of enigmatic off-spinner Nathan Lyon during his test career, and that certainly continued apace this summer. He appeared bereft of confidence and ideas while bowling to the South African batting line-up, and downright impotent in the face of onslaught from keeper batsman Quinton de Kock, who went after the man affectionately known as “Goat” with aplomb.
Australia’s most successful off-spinner is no stranger to the swings and roundabouts of the test match arena and will need to build on some late promise that he showed in the throes of the Adelaide contest, where he found the turn and bounce crucial to his success at this level to put Australia in position to secure a win in the dead rubber. Five wickets on the same surface wearing the baggy blue in a narrow loss to the Redbacks sees him continue to return to form ahead of a Brisbane return, a venue where he’s notched 24 wickets in just five tests.
In addition to the more experienced players noted, young guns Matt Renshaw, Peter Handscomb, Nic Maddinson and the aforementioned Sayers, if selected, will have crucial roles to play in ensuring Australia return to winning ways in what should be a gripping and exciting three test series against a reformed and deadly Pakistan outfit.