Usman Khawaja produced one of the knocks of BBL12 before rain took away David Warner’s chance to be the hero. But will the Aussie stars continue in the finals?
Australian coach Andrew McDonald will be forced to make a crunch call today on whether he allows Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne to delay their Indian Test preparations even longer.
McDonald has gone above and beyond already in granting several of his stars a leave pass from Australia’s Test camp in Sydney to play in the opening BBL Finals matches.
But after last night’s soggy Duckworth Lewis-aided victory over the Sydney Thunder, the Brisbane Heat will be desperately pleading for the Aussie coach to extend his generosity even further to allow four Test stars to play in Sunday’s Big Bash elimination final in Melbourne.
The club’s hopes of knocking off the Melbourne Renegades could hinge on whether or not Khawaja, Labuschagne, Matt Renshaw and Mitchell Swepson are given the green light by Test selectors.
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Discussions are expected to be held today between Heat and Australian powerbrokers.
But regardless of McDonald’s call, the Australian high performance staff deserve credit for their input in this BBL summer being a raging success.
It has proven beyond doubt that there is no substitute for Australian Test superstars in the Big Bash.
Khawaja’s show stopping 94 off 55 balls joined Steve Smith’s back-to-back hundreds for the Sydney Sixers as one of the competition highlights.
Labuschagne (73 off 48) and Warner (36 not out off 20 before rain stopped play) also saved their best for the knock-out final.
Not to be outdone, recalled Test batsman Renshaw slaughtered 24 off just eight balls, including three sixes, to further push a claim he should be Warner’s heir apparent for Australia in at least the Test format, and possibly white ball cricket as well.
It was surprising how long it took Cricket Australia to come to the party with making the financial investment to get Smith into the Big Bash, but at least now his stunning performances have made it clear what the blueprint for future competitions must be.
Get the superstars playing, at all cost.
Paying Pat Cummins or Mitchell Starc $100,000 a game for two or three cameo appearances is not ridiculous, if that’s what it takes to enhance the star quality of the Big Bash even further.
Unfortunately, the Big Bash is going to have to work hard to maintain the momentum gained in this resurgent season next year when January is dominated by two Test matches against the West Indies.
Test players may struggle to play much if any Big Bash, but at least Glenn Maxwell and Mitchell Marsh will be back on deck after missing this BBL due to injury.
This Big Bash has been nothing short of a raging success, with Fox Sports ratings up 30 per cent and ratings overall up 10 per cent.
But there are still concerns over the quality of some teams. The fact the Sydney Thunder, bowled out for 15 this season, finished fourth highlighted the massive gap between the Perth Scorchers and Sixers at the top – and the rest of the field.
It’s mattered little because there’s been so many close matches, so many talking points, and so many stars … but it’s not job done yet – there’s still plenty of work to go for the Big Bash.
Khawaja becomes public enemy No. 1 in Sydney
– Martin Gabor
He was the hero when the Thunder won their only BBL title, but Usman Khawaja was public enemy number one on Friday night as the Test star returned home to knock out his former side with one of the most electrifying innings of the season.
Sydney’s fickle weather also played its part as David Warner’s hopes of reeling in a record total were washed out by a summer shower that ruined any chance of an epic finish.
Friday’s match may have been known as the Eliminator but Khawaja played the role of Terminator to end the Thunder’s season with a swashbuckling 94 off just 55 deliveries to become the leading run-scorer in BBL finals matches.
The Heat skipper had managed just 96 runs from his first six innings since returning from Test duty but nearly matched it as he slashed the Thunder bowlers to all parts of Sydney Showground Stadium.
Khawaja and the Heat limped to 1/64 off the first 10 overs on a deck that looked to be a little two-paced but he and Marnus Labuschagne (73 off 48) exploded after that to lift Brisbane to 5/203 – the highest ever BBL score at the venue.
“It was good fun,” Khawaja said.
“It felt like at the start the wicket was tough work so I took my medicine at the start.”
Khawaja feasted on rookie Ross Pawson who only found out on Thursday night that he’d be making his debut, but it was a tough initiation as he went for 32 from his two overs.
The Heat opener played all the shots in the book and even invented a few of his own as the Thunder ran out of answers for where to bowl to him until good mate Ben Cutting finally removed him six runs shy of his century.
Labuschagne was the perfect foil for his Test teammate as he raced to his maiden BBL 50 before Matt Renshaw came in and smashed 24 off eight balls to book a date with the Renegades on Sunday night.
Sydney couldn’t have produced a nicer day, but as has been the case for the past few summers, rain came from nowhere to ruin a good game of cricket.
And Thunder fans will be fuming because it finally looked like Warner was about to produce something special to get them over the line.
The superstar had raced to 36 off 20 deliveries and had hit five boundaries in his highest score of the season before the umpires whisked the players off as the rain got heavier.
The Thunder were 1/52 at that stage and only eight runs behind the DLS par score after 6.5 overs, and after a 45-minute delay, it looked like they’d go back on requiring a further 38 runs off 13 deliveries without a power surge over.
But the rain returned three minutes before they were meant to go back on with players and fans furious that they weren’t given the chance to play when it seemed safe to continue.
IT’S EASY BEING GREEN
There weren’t many positives for the Thunder in the first innings but skipper Chris Green showed yet again why he is considered one of the most exciting cricketers in the country.
Green bowled two overs in the power play and finished with 2/29 off his four overs, giving Renshaw a bit of a send-off when he knocked him over which resulted in a bit of banter between the pair.
“He said something after I got him out so I was just asking him what he said. He put his head down and carried on walking off,” Green explained.
“It’s all part of the game. You can tell it’s knockout cricket and no one wants to give an inch.”
Green then produced two moments of magic on the boundary in the final over, first leaping high to deny Labuschagne a certain six with an incredible bit of gymnastics before he raced 30 metres to his left to hang onto a screamer to dismiss the Test star.
Petty fines silencing Big Bash stars Warner and Henriques
– Ben Horne
Broadcasters Fox Sports and Channel 7 have complained to Cricket Australia about their pedantic punishment of stars like David Warner and Moises Henriques for on-air gaffes in the Big Bash.
Warner was slapped with a $5000 fine for making a joke about the umpires while mic’d up on air in last Saturday night’s Sydney derby blockbuster watched by a record TV audience on Fox Cricket.
Earlier in the season, Sixers captain Henriques was fined $5000 and docked a demerit point for accidentally swearing under his breath while mic’d up on air in the heat of battle.
As a result, Henriques has been effectively silenced.
The Sixers simply can’t afford for him to be mic’d up again for the rest of the season, because another slip-up and their captain would be suspended – with the bottom line being fans are now robbed of hearing Henriques’ unique insights in the Finals.
Sources say star players are now increasingly reluctant to wear the mic’s because they feel the goodwill they’re showing by agreeing to bring fans into the game is being kicked back at them by over officious law-makers.
Players are angry at being jumped all over when they’re making a sacrifice to wear the uncomfortable microphone equipment for the good of the game.
“One hundred per cent, and to be fair I’ve been one of those guys that’s been stung,” Sydney Thunder and former Australian star Ben Cutting told News Corp.
“There’s a lot of frustration from that and a few other things as well.
“One hundred per cent (players are less reluctant to wear the mic’s because of the crackdown).
“I’d like to see a no holds barred approach from (CA) rather than going the other way.
“You see sports like V8 supercars where they encourage guys to speak their minds, show their passion, but it’s very much the other way in cricket.”
Players mic’d up for tonight’s sudden death final between the Thunder and Brisbane Heat will have to be on their best behaviour or risk being rubbed out for a final.
News Corp understands the players’ representatives the Australian Cricketers Association will push hard for CA to change its code-of-conduct in the off-season.
Players and clubs don’t blame umpires and match referees, who are just doing their job by punishing audible obscenities, but argue the rules need to be adjusted to show some leeway for the inherent risks that come with providing fans such unprecedented access to stars on the battlefield.
Fox Cricket ratings are up 30 per cent and Big Bash ratings up 10 per cent overall this season and one of the lures has been the stunning access and insight provided by sharp minds likes Henriques, Warner and Aaron Finch on the mic’s during play – which simply don’t happen in other sports.
The silencing of Henriques for the rest of the season is a self-defeating blow for a competition that has otherwise made such positive strides back to its glory days this summer.
Australian women’s star Ash Gardner felt the wrath of the cricket cops last summer when she accidentally swore after being unexpectedly struck by a ball while on the mic.
The ICC and CA code of conducts dictate a mandatory punishment for audible obscenities that go through stump or player microphones.
It’s a fine balance because Cricket Australia understandably don’t want inappropriate language being beamed out to kids at home in a competition aimed deliberately at families.
However, Cricket Australia are aware of the angst from players, clubs and broadcasters and acknowledge the issue needs to be looked at in the off-season.
An ugly on-field bust-up between Matthew Wade and Chris Green this BBL season was arguably a worse look for the game than an accidental swear word being let slip, yet went unpunished because the bad language was not picked up by microphones.
Warner’s incident against the Sixers was different to the cases of accidental swearing.
An attempted joke he made at the expense of the umpires about Sixers coach Greg Shipperd coming onto the field and influencing them over a ball change decision, was deemed as disrespecting the umpire.
Had Warner copped a demerit point he would have been suspended for one of the four games Cricket Australia had signed him for.
Under the code of conduct, match officials had no choice but to fine Warner, but the rules don’t take into account the context of the player potentially trying to play up to the audience of commentators he’s wired up to on the mic.
Clubs would like broadcasters to try and improve the microphone technology so it’s less uncomfortable for players to wear while batting and bowling – or at least send kits out to training so players can practice wearing them in the nets before being asked to in a match.
Originally published as Big Bash League finals: Usman Khawaja leads Brisbane Heat to victory over Sydney Thunder in washout