A place in the final awaits the winners of Saturday's Big Bash qualifier and Matt Harris is backing the Scorchers to progress...
"The bowlers gained confidence with Jhye Richardson the pick of the attack and there’s no clear weakness in this current Scorchers line up."
Sydney Sixers v Perth Scorchers
Saturday January 30th, 08:15 AM
Live on BT Sport
Sixers leave it late - again
For the fourth time in this tournament, Sydney Sixers successfully chased down a target in the final over as they eased past the Stars in Tuesday's final group game. Three of those matches went to the penultimate ball while the fourth was settled on the final delivery and that helps to underline why the defending champions finished on top of the regular season table.
The man largely responsible for getting the Sixers over the line is Dan Christian and, with Jordan Silk and Moises Henriques finding form, the middle order is their strength. Opener Josh Philippe has also been impressive while James Vince and Daniel Hughes have been less consistent.
Bowling is less settled as evidenced by the fact that Sixers used an X Factor sub after Jackson Bird's first over against the Stars went for 12. His replacement, Jake Ball, was even more expensive and the main seamer position is a potential weakness.
Scorching a path to the playoffs
Perth Scorchers began their campaign with three defeats and an abandonment from their first four matches. It was tempting to write off Ashton Turner's side at that point but the most successful team in Big Bash history surged to the top with eight wins from their next nine.
The change in fortunes came after Jason Roy and Liam Livingstone came in. The top order was settled, Roy found some overdue form and Colin Munro scored heavily at first drop. The bowlers gained confidence with Jhye Richardson the pick of the attack and there's no clear weakness in this current Scorchers line up.
Showdown at the Manuka Oval
Canberra's Manuka Oval provides the setting for Saturday's qualifier and both teams have played two previous matches here. The Sixers defeated the Scorchers at this ground and Daniel Hughes' team have won both of their games. In contrast, Perth have bad memories of this venue with two straight defeats.
In ten regular season games at the Manuka Oval, the average first innings score was 170. Sydney Thunder boosted that by a fraction as they passed 200 on two occasions but, in general, it's one of the lower scoring surfaces in the tournament. Seven of those games have gone to the side batting second and, with some rain forecast, it's surely a day to chase.
Perth lead the way in the result betting at odds of 1.8810/11 while the Sixers are the outside bet at 2.1211/10. Two players hold the key for me: Josh Philippe of the Sixers and Jhye Richardson for Perth.
Brisbane Heat overcame the Scorchers in the final group game by going hard at Perth's bowling attack in the first four overs. Chris Lynn made 51 from 25 balls, Richardson went at 11 an over and the match wasn't as close as the six-run winning margin suggests.
Perth can keep it tight at the death so Philippe needs to emulate Lynn and explode in the opening Powerplay. Sixers do have that batting depth but I'm backing the Scorchers to take those early wickets and to keep it tight later on. That's the scenario that will take Perth into the final.
The winner of Saturday's match progresses to next week's final while the loser gets a second chance in the Challenger game and that could give us a higher scoring contest with batsmen given something of a 'license'.
Perth responded positively to Brisbane's 181 last time out and, although Mitchell Marsh eventually top scored, it was Liam Livingstone's 32 from 22 balls that threatened to keep the Scorchers in touch with their target. Options in Perth's top batsman market include Jason Roy at 13/5, Colin Munro at 16/5, Josh Inglis at 9/2 and Marsh at 11/2 but I'm expecting Livingstone to build on that innings and convert at 7/2.
Most Australians and other, neutral cricket fans, expected Jhye Richardson to be in the national test squad to face South Africa. His subsequent omission was a surprise although he has the consolation of making it to the T20 group to take on New Zealand.
Having gone at 11 an over against Brisbane last time out, Richardson now has a point to prove for two distinct reasons and anyone looking for a third pick should consider Perth's top bowler market. Admittedly Jhye Richardson is the favourite at 11/4 but that's not a bad price for a man who has enjoyed a stunning tournament.
Matt Harris' BBL P/L