Khawaja can fire Thunder to Big Bash glory

Sam Eaton picks out some value bets for Sunday's Big Bash Final between Stars and Thunder.

Sam Eaton
Fri, 22 Jan, 4:17 PM

Just like the second semi-final, this game throws up the age-old problem with betting on T20 cricket - do you back a fully-rounded team or pure individual talent? Melbourne Stars take on the Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash Final and although the Stars were expected to get to this stage, Thunder have been a surprise package. Both teams came through their semi-finals with ease. A more surprising fact is that both teams have suffered defeats to Brisbane Heat, a team who really shouldn’t be beating anyone. These losses shows that each of these teams can choke on their day.

Melbourne Stars blew out the flames of a very talented Perth Scorchers team in the second semi-final at the MCG. Melbourne are missing some huge players, especially in the bowling department, but it’s their bowlers who have stood up in the last few games. Aside the Brisbane Heat shocker, they’ve managed to keep Perth to under 140 twice and dismissed the Hurricanes for 124. Their batting is heavily reliant on the two Englishmen - we said it last game and will say it again, if they don’t get runs they won’t win. They’re the only two in their squad who’ve scored over 170 runs, compared to Thunder who have four players who have achieved this feat.

Sydney Thunder demolished the Adelaide Strikers in the first semi-final, a game that will be remembered for Usman Khawaja’s brilliant century. The Thunder could have a massive boost, as South African legend Jacques Kallis may return to the starting XI to replace Nicholls. Sydney are a lot more of a well-rounded team compared to the Stars. Their batting order alone consists of Khawaja, Blizzard, Watson, Hussey, Kallis and Russell. However they severely lack bowlers - they’ve got two of the three leading wicket takers in the competition, but then their next-best bowler is Watson, which says a lot. If Wright and Pietersen can survive the early threat of Russell and Mckay, they could be in trouble.

As mentioned, this is a difficult game to predict, which should be the case for any final. Both teams have very strong batting line-ups but weak links in their bowling. Our pre-tournament bet was on the Stars but as they’ve lost more player to international duty, cracks have started to appear. The Thunder have gone strength to strength and are the sensible team to back here. Khawaja is on fire at the minute and won’t struggle against the Stars bowlers, and then they’ve got attacking batsman to play the big shots around him, that said Khawaja is striking at 160. I’m shocked to see the Thunder are outsiders, they’re very good value at $2.05.

I can’t not pick Usman Khawaja to top score for the Sydney Thunder, the Australian international has hit 275 runs in the competition from just three innings. The ease he played the Adelaide Strikers’ bowlers will give the Melbourne Stars’ bowlers pre-game concerns. I don’t know how they’re going to get him out - he’s yet to score under 50 in the competition. Even though he’s $3 to top score for Sydney we’re on him. If you’re looking at a bit more value, Hussey at $5.5 is your bet but this will mean that Khawaja will have to fail.

Just like the semi-final, we can’t look past backing one of the Poms in the final to top score for the Melbourne Stars. Even though Stoinis got a few runs in the semi, I’m still not convinced he’s got the quality to bat at the top of the order for such a big team. Pietersen’s innings was full of class in the semi-final as he settled nerves and guided Melbourne to victory. He top scored in this fixture earlier on in the competition but this was mainly due to some shocking bowling from Sandhu. We’re going to bet against him in the final, Sydney will get Ahmed on as quickly as possible when KP gets to the crease to try and expose his weakness when the ball is turning away from the bat. Luke Wright hasn’t been that impressive in the last few fixtures but he’s the sort of player who just pulls an innings out the hat from nowhere just like his century a few weeks back. We’re on him to top score at $4.33.

Andre Russell will have a massive role to play at both the start and end of the innings in the final. He’s taken 15 wickets to date and is still within a chance of finishing up as top bowler. Russell has got the ability to outwit the less experienced players such as Stoinis and Handscomb, then he has the change of paces to knock over the long tail. Andre Russell is our pick to be top bowler for the Thunder at $4.33. With the power he possesses with the bat he’s also worth a punt to be Man of the Match at $8.

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