The Perth Scorchers were just about the most successful team in franchise T20 cricket. In the first two editions of the BBL they were beaten finalists before not only making the next two finals, but actually winning them. There was no final the next year- 2015-16 but back they came in 2016/17, easily beating the Sydney Sixers to win for the third time in just six editions of the Big Bash. There were an additional two semi-final places, meaning that in eight years they made the semis in seven of them, the final twice as runners-up and won it three times.
Then the bubble burst. Here’s how it all happened.
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The story of the Perth Scorchers over eight seasons
Bundles of local talent, odd-ball Moneyball-style overseas players
Ever since the beginning, the Perth Scorchers have always been able to rely on plenty of local talent; perhaps more so than any other Big Bash franchise. Here are the Australian internationals they’ve had over the years: Simon Katich, Marcus North, Mitch Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Brad Hogg, Michael Beer, Jason Behrendoff, Jye Richardson, Adam Voges, Marcus Stoinis, Mike Hussey, Pat Cummins, Andrew Tye, Michael Klinger, Ashton Turner, Mitchell Johnson, Ashton Agar. Not bad.
When it came to their recruitment of overseas players, the strategy was one of signing something of ‘Moneyball’ players. From the ageing Herschelle Gibbs all those years ago to the odd-ball choice that was Michael Carberry, the all-round skills of Yasir Arafat, the out-of-the-blue capture of Ian Bell (hardlly known for his T20 prowess), the reliable but somewhat uninspiring Tim Bresnan and in David Willey a player who often promises a lot but rarely delivers what one would expect.
It somehow worked but more than their ability to keep securing so many valuable local stars, there was a far bigger secret to their success. Their home record.
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Loving it at the WACA, not so much at the Optus
It’s the first rule of any successful cricket team to do one of the following. Either pick your squad at the start of the season and make the wicket suitable for your resources to exploit. Or pick your squad based on how the wicket tends to play at home.
In the Perth Scorchers’ case it was a case of acknowledging what just about anyone in world cricket knew- the WACA is the fastest wicket in the world. Or at least was up to a couple of years ago. The likes of Jason Behrendoff, Andrew Tye, Jye Richardson and to a lesser extent Mitchell Johnson all had the time of their lives on a wicket where opposition batsmen just couldn’t handle the heat, often too ‘scorching’ even for the better players.
If they posted 150, they defended it. If they were set 150, their reliable top order including Klinger, Shaun Marsh and Katich more often than not chased it, never panicking and making use of their knowledge of the conditions.
Their tried and trusted strategy however needed to be re-thought at the back end of the 2017/18 campaign when for commercial reasons- a far bigger ground in the form of the brand-new Optus Stadium with a capacity of up to 65,000- replaced it as the Scorchers’ home ground.
The troubles started as early as the semi-finals of the 2017/18 campaign: the Hobart Hurricanes set them 201 and the Perth Scorchers were rolled over for just 139.
Disastrous 2018/19 campaign for the Scorchers
It resulted in a need for a change in strategy ahead of the 2018/19 campaign…that never came. Their army of pacemen who had served them so well couldn’t all be replaced overnight. Michael Klinger, the Big Bash’s top scorer in history no less, at aged 38, had lost it.
Shaun Marsh was tied up with the Australian Test team and hardly played. Cameron Bancroft was suspended until just after Christmas for his part in Sandpapergate. Tye was strangely out of sorts, Usman Qadir a gamble gone wrong after going for 20 runs in two overs in his first match; he was hardly seen at all for the rest of the tournament. Englishman Willey, a bowling all-rounder at best, batted up at number three on occasions but never got going; he wasn’t much better with the ball. Bar a few brave knocks from Ashton Turner either side of Christmas, the season was a disaster. They ended rock bottom.
In the meanwhile, the wise head of coach Justin Langer had moved onto replace Darren Lehmann as Australian coach after ‘Boof’ found the aftermath of Sandpapergate too much to handle. In came former skipper Adam Voges to replace Langer but whatever was going on behind the scenes, wasn’t working.
Big changes ahead of the 2019/20 season
Again, one doesn’t know what happened behind the scenes in the off-season but the departure of Shaun Marsh ahead of the 2019/20 campaign was a slightly odd one. After years of hoping he didn’t get called up by Australia, they somehow let him leave for the Melbourne Renegades when he was finally out of the picture for his country.
Hilton Cartwright (gone to the Stars) was less of a loss and as hinted above, Michael Klinger just couldn’t replicate his form of yesteryear despite playing ok in the English T20 Blast. His time at the Scorchers came to an inevitable end, the man himself calling it a day rather than waiting for Perth’s management to pull the plug.
Nathan Coulter-Nile, the bowling all-rounder who featured for Australia at the World Cup has moved to the Mebourne Stars .
Andrew Tye hasn’t left but he has been ruled out for a major chunk of the campaign, which is a massive blow; he’s arguably the best Australian bowler in the Bash. Worse still is the case of Jason Behrendoff. Stress fractures mean he won’t feature at all.
At least they made an excellent move in signing Fawad Ahmed. Ever since Brad Hogg went in search of a last big payday for the Renegades, they’ve lacked a classy spinner and Ahmed’s experience will be crucial.
Kurtis Patterson joins the Scorchers from the Thunder as a specialist batsman.
We know that Willey is unlikely to be asked back as an overseas player but another Englishman will be making his Bash debut: Liam Livingstone. The Lancashire man is an extremely effective opener who also bowls leg spin and has bundles of expetience of T20 cricket in English conditions.
As for the second overseas spot, we know it won’t be AB de Villiers, who signed for the Brisbane Heat, but it might be Faf du Plessis who would be a natural replacement for Shaun Marsh and might fancy a new challenge in a league where he’s never played before. Alternatively , an all-rounder would be the obvious pick with Cartwright and Willey gone.
Mitchell Marsh broke his hand punching a dressing room wall in mid-October after getting out for Western Australia but is out for ‘just’ six weeks meaning that if Australia coach and former Perth Scorchers coach Langer decides to forgive him- he’s since called him ‘an idiot’ over the incident- Marsh may yet be in the Test side. Hardly the ideal scenario to lose your skipper and best all-rounder before the season starts. Just one of many headaches for the Scorchers to solve.
The Scorchers are joint-fifth favourites at 7.0 (out of eight) towin the Big Bash this year with Betway.
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