BBL preview - Sydney Sixers
Reigning champions for the previous two years, Sydney Sixers will be going for the unprecedented achievement of winning three titles in a row, which has never been done in the BBL and I’m not sure it has any t20 tournament.
They’ll be led by veteran head coach - Greg Shippard, with Moises Henriques continuing as captain. A welcome boost for the Sixers’ will be having their skipper available for entirety of the tournament, as it looks like he isn’t in consideration for Australia test squads, like he was last Australian summer, where he was restricted to only four BBL appearances.
Their squad is very similar to last season’s, which has been a theme for the Sixers, clearly have management/coaching staff that value a settled environment and role clarity. Some would argue it’s a risky approach, as they haven’t really improved from last season, luckily for them a lot of other teams haven’t either, in fact, quite a few have gotten worse, due to injuries/Australia squad call ups etc.
They haven’t added any local players to the ones they had last season, they’ve only released some; Justin Avendano, Nicholas Bertus, Gurinder Sandhu & Thomas Rogers, none of these players featured in more than three games last season.
Overseas players: James Vince, Tom Curran and Chris Jordan.
This is where we have seen some changes, with James Vince being the only overseas player that was with them last season. Although Tom Curran has played for the franchise previously in two BBL campaigns and was due to make it a third year, before opting out due to Covid protocols/restrictions. Last season’s replacement for Tom Curran - Carlos Brathwaite was also due to return to the franchise this season but was ruled out due to injury, undergoing shoulder surgery, which means he’s unavailable for the entire tournament. Sixers have managed to upgrade when it comes to his replacement, signing England international - Chris Jordan, although he’s only available for the first five games, so it’ll be interesting to see what they’ve got up their sleeves after that, if anything at all, in terms of a third overseas player.
- Nathan Lyon - Australia test call up, will almost certainly miss the majority of the tournament.
- Sean Abbott - Australia ‘A’ call up, will miss their first 2–3 matches.
- Jackson Bird - Suffering with a long-term injury, likely to return after Christmas so will likely miss their first five matches at minimum.
The line up on the left is what we could see from the Sixers in their initial matches. The bowling has been weakened by an Australia ‘A’ call up for Sean Abbott and an injury for Jackson Bird, its strength could be further impacted due to Ben Dwarhuis currently being an injury doubt. If he’s missing they’ll likely bring in ‘all-rounder’ Hayden Kerr or replacement player Nick Winter, these aren’t bad replacements in comparison to other teams, however, their bowling is certainly looking weaker than they’d like it to be for the first few games.
In the absence of their typical first choice bowlers, Ben Manenti is likely to get the nod as a frontline bowler. A solid bowler and someone that has a decent t20 record for an off spinner. An alternative and perhaps an option with more upside could be Lloyd Pope, though he seems to have fallen down the pecking order when it comes to making this side.
The full strength line up could alter, depending on if/who they managed to bring in as an overseas when Chris Jordan departs. If they don’t get anyone Jackson Bird/Hayden Kerr would likely come into their ‘strongest’ XI.
- Top order batting - There aren’t many sides in this league that possess two players with the quality of James Vince & Josh Philippe in their top order, the pair scored over 1000 runs between them last season, at a strike rate in the mid 140’s and average of 35. Strong starts were fundamental for them and when you add the returning Moises Henriques, it looks like they’ve got a very strong top order, which will give a good platform for death overs hitting from players like Dan Christian.
- Batting depth - Having Chris Jordan carded to come in at 8, who I believe is a better lower order hitter than his numbers suggest (see his more recent record and t10 numbers) is a luxury in the BBL. Even Ben Dwarshuis at 9 has a bit of hitting ability.
- Pace bowling attack - This follows last season’s theme for Sydney Sixers, where they didn’t bowl much spin at all (28%) which was 7% below the tournament average and only Perth Scorchers bowled a significantly lower amount. This would be counter-intuitive to what many think constitutes a successful bowling line up in the BBL, given the struggles of local players against spin, however the Sixers have made it work and that’s testament to the versatility of their pace bowlers. I should add the caveat that their pace bowling will only look strong when they can get four of their top five pace bowlers (Curran, Jordan, Dwarshuis, Bird and Abbott) on the park together. When this happens they’ll have two bowlers capable of hitting high 140+ (Jordan & Dwarshuis), powerplay options (Bird, Abbott & Dwarshuis) & middle/later over bowlers (Jordan & Curran) as well having a left arm option with Dwarshuis. Tom Curran and Chris Jordan have often struggled to step up to higher level tournaments, however they should do well here, if used correctly.
- Good team structure/high floor - Their team covers a few basic tick boxes that I believe are basic requirements when it comes to building a t20 XI; batting ability from at least one of their front line bowlers, a bowling option among their top six and at least one multi-format player at the top of their order. All of this gives them a ‘high floor’, perhaps their potential as a side isn’t as high as other teams but they’re one of the most consistent teams in the tournament, reflected in their two recent title wins, as well as finishing 3rd in the previous season.
- Struggles against spin - They weren’t necessarily poor in this regard last season but on the face of it they don’t look to have many good players of spin, relying on a couple of players. Indeed it was mainly Philippe last season, who struck at incredible 185 vs spin, averaging 37, James Vince is the other player in their squad who has had an above average record against spin over a sustained period of time, though he wasn’t at his best last season against spin, averaging 22 and striking at 126. Outside of Philippe, last season their players averaged 24 and scored at 7.3rpo against spin. As a result I’m not sure it’s the best idea to open with both Philippe and Vince, instead I’d look to split them with Daniel Hughes opening and putting one of Philippe/Vince at 3.
- Lack of a wrist spinner - I mentioned earlier about their squad ticking plenty of basic tick boxes for t20 squad building, one area they don’t have covered is a high quality leg/wrist spinner. Leg spinners are effective in most t20 competitions:
As you can see from the mini table above, leg spin is generally very effective in the BBL, with only the CPL having a lower scoring rate and more frequent dismissals from leg spin bowlers, though I’d suspect the quality of pitches plays a big part on this. It also shows the effectiveness of leg spin in any conditions really, as long as you’re an above average leg spinner you’ll generally take fairly regular wickets without going for too many runs.
- Poor power surge/death overs performance - They were really poor during this area last season and although having Tom Curran and Chris Jordan should help, I’m not sure either of them will be particularly suited to bowling with only two men out. If I recall correctly Dan Christian bowled quite a bit for them in the power surge last season, hopefully that won’t be the case this season from a Sixers point of view.
Team stats sheet:
Josh Philippe - One of the better t20 batting talents in Australia. Very attacking against spin and has struck at nearly 170 against leg spin/left arm orthodox in his BBL career thus far, which is better than any other batter to have faced at least 100 balls against these bowling types since the start of 2018.
Daniel Hughes - Mainly batted at four last season, which doesn’t look to be his best position based on data, although he did have his fastest scoring season from a strike rate perspective (131), that isn’t exactly difficult based on his previous best seasons though. He’s possibly been fortunate to still be a guaranteed starter, considering he has averaged 23 over the past two seasons. I’d prefer him to be opening, instead of batting in the middle order.
James Vince - Classy player that played a huge part in their success last season, particularly because of his performances in knockout round matches. Success seems to follow him around, whether that’s for Sydney Sixers, Southern Brave or Multan Sultans. His boundary percentage has slightly increased over the past couple of years which is also encouraging.
Moises Henriques - Good strike rotator and fairly fast scoring against pace. Another player that has a poor record against spin, especially against left arm orthodox, averaging under 15 and striking at only 100. Could bat at either 4 or 5, more likely four.
Jordan Silk - As I mentioned in my BBL overview piece, Silk had his best BBL campaign by a distance last time out. Partly helped by facing quite a few deliveries in the power surge, however, there’s no doubting there was genuine improvement, with his boundary percentage more than doubling based on previous seasons. I don’t think his improvement was as significant as the numbers suggest, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a slight drop off this season. For what it’s worth, he’s one of the best strike rotators around, with a non-boundary strike rate of over 85.
Dan Christian - The veteran put a couple of disappointing BBL seasons behind him and posted some brilliant numbers last season, scoring his runs at a strike rate of over 180, only bettered by Daniel Sams for batters to face at least 100 deliveries. Along with Ben Cutting he’s one of the standout lower order hitters in the BBL.
Tom Curran - A player that’s often criticised but he’s performed well in his two previous BBL seasons with bat and ball, taking 42 wickets at an economy of 8.3 and strike rate of 14 and over 300 runs at a strike rate of nearly 150. His death overs bowling should be helped by playing on slightly bigger grounds and it’s an area Sixers need to show improvement in, based on their poor showing last season.
Chris Jordan - Overall, with the exception of one over, Jordan had a strong T20 WC for England, unfortunately for him, that one over is what he’ll be remember for, where his execution was really poor. Like Curran, he’ll benefit from playing on slightly bigger grounds in comparison to what he usually does and should be a good addition for the Sixers, even if it’s only a five game stint.
Ben Dwarshuis - Excelled up front with the ball last season, taking six wickets in 15 powerplay overs and only went for 5.6 rpo. Generally bowls the tough overs and is capable of reaching high speeds. In the last 18 months or so, he’s been expensive at the death, going at over 10rpo and had a poor stint with Worcestershire in the t20 blast.
Steve O’Keefe - Mr Reliable for the Sixers in recent seasons, often playing as the only frontline spinner and bowling in various different phases, he has done an excellent job for them. Sixers have also used him very well, he’s bowled less than 20% of his deliveries against LHB’s since the start of 2018, obviously as a SLA bowler, this is ideal. As a result he’s been very good at limiting boundaries, conceding them from 11% of his deliveries, which is impressive for an orthodox spinner.
Sean Abbott - Should get his first full-ish season for a while. I’m not convinced he’s a great t20 bowler but his wicket taking ability in powerplay’s is a valuable asset, is generally quite expensive though and his lack of pace doesn’t help him in other phases.
Jackson Bird - I don’t think he’ll be a guaranteed starter this season, should still get a few games every so often. Bowls a lot during powerplay’s and has done a fairly good job doing so in recent seasons, I don’t think he’ll get into the team ahead of Dwarshuis/Abbott though. Could play more often when Chris Jordan departs, depending on who they replace him with.
Ben Manenti - Likely to get a chance early on in the tournament, has a decent record for an off spin bowler but I’m not a huge fan of playing specialist off spinners, unless they can contribute with the bat.
Jack Edwards - Unlikely to get as many opportunities as he did last season, due to the return of Moises Henriques. Has a poor record in his t20 career so far, including dreadful numbers against spin; dismissed eight times in 63 deliveries.
Lloyd Pope - Has fallen off the radar a bit since his early days, might get subbed in as an X Factor player if pitches are conducive to spin, other than that I’m not sure he’ll play much. Might be better off looking for a different franchise.
It’s unsurprising that the Sixers look to have a relatively solid squad given they’ve won back to back titles and they’ll be helped by having most of their core squad available for the majority of the season.
However, bowling could be weak initially, particularly their powerplay bowling if Dwarshuis isn’t fit, in addition to Jackson Bird’s injury and Sean Abbott playing for Australia ‘A’. It’s also always concerning when a team doesn’t really make any changes to their squad, even more so considering the ages of a lot of their players, a drop off in performance levels feels inevitable at some point.
If pushed for a prediction, I think they’ll finish in the top 3 during the group stages but won’t go on to win the competition.
Thanks for reading!