The Sydney Sixers are second favourites to win the T20 Big Bash tournament and Brad Haddin’s side will be looking for a comfortable opening victory when they take on Sydney Thunder on Saturday (10am GMT).
The odds suggest that the Sixers should take the early points but looking at the two line-ups, it may not be as straightforward as the market suggests.
After lifting the Champions League T20 crown in October, the Sixers are fancied by many to add the Big Bash trophy to their cabinet in the New Year. Many of the side who won the CLT20 in South Africa are here, including England’s Michael Lumb who scored most runs in that competition, together with Mitchell Starc who ended as the tournament’s leading wicket taker.
Both men are likely to be absent due to international call ups as the Big Bash progresses but they should take their place in a strong squad for this opening match. Lumb will be joined at the top of the order by the explosive Brad Haddin while David Warner should slot in when he isn’t required by the national selectors.
Alongside Mitchell Starc, the promising all-rounder Moises Henriques found good form in South Africa and should have a vital role to play with both bat and ball in this match. This is a strong Sixers squad in both batting and bowling and it’s proved impossible to find a weak link that the Thunder can exploit.
As for the Sydney Thunder, their chances of winning have been hampered by the withdrawal of national test captain Michael Clarke. This was to be Clarke’s only appearance in the tournament but it’s been blocked by the Australian Cricket Board and Usman Khawaja is set to take over as captain.
Overall, the Thunder can be a competitive unit. In the batting department they have the explosive Mark Cosgrove alongside top Kiwi T20 opener Martin Guptill. Khawaja will offer some solidity at number three while Azhar Mahmood is one of the most experienced Twenty 20 campaigners and despite his veteran status, continues to score heavily in the middle order.
The Thunder’s bowling is spearheaded by Mahmood and Dirk Nannes while there are some promising young Australians offering support. The Thunder will certainly cause some surprises as the tournament moves forward but they will rely heavily on those star names.
In contrast, the Sixers have greater strength in depth and they proved in the Champions League that if Lumb and Haddin recorded a rare failure, someone else would take responsibility. Thunder just don’t have that depth in their squad and unless Cosgrove, Guptill and Azhar Mahmood all fire, they will lose every time.
There is definite potential for an upset here but you can expect the Sydney Sixers to return to their best Champions League form straight away. Thunder will compete more than these odds suggest but greater all-round quality will get the Sixers over the line.