The Melbourne Stars are sort of the Formula 1 equivalent of Ferrari or the footballing version of Barcelona. They’re glamorous, star-studded, do things with style and swagger but before we get too excited about them, it’s worth remembering one important detail: in eight editions of the Big Bash so far, they’re yet to win it.
That means it’s now just them and the Hobart Hurricanes who are yet to taste Big Bash glory. Worse still, for punters at least, is that they started just about every edition as favourites or joint-favourites.
And it’s more of the same again this time round. Despite a heartbreaking batting collapse last year in the final, they’re the 4.5 favourites with Betfair Sportsbook once again.
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What’s happened over the years with the Melbourne Stars?
The Melbourne Stars have boasted some of the biggest names to have graced the Big Bash to date. Local stars have included over the years: Glenn Maxwell, James Faulkner, Cameron White, Adam Zampa, Marcus Stoinis, Shane Warne, David Hussey, Peter Handscomb, Brad Hodge and Ben Hilfenhaus. Overseas stars at the Stars have included Luke Wright, Dwayne Bravo, Lasith Malinga and perhaps most famously of all, Kevin Pietersen.
The result has been two appearances in the final, where they lost to the Sydney Thunder in the 2015-16 season and then to their cross-city rivals the Renegades last time out.
Set just 146 to win, they were absolutely cruising after a fast start from Melbourne Stars openers Ben Dunk and Marcus Stoinis, getting to 93-0 before Stoinis got out. Their much-vaunted middle-order cracked under the pressure with Maxwell, Peter Handscomb and Nic Maddinson all getting out for a combined seven runs.
The lower-middle order couldn’t do much better and they ended up 13 runs short, one of the greatest batting collapses ever seen in T20 cricket.
What’s changed going into this year?
Dwayne Bravo misses out on Big Bash action for the first time in quite a few years, having previously represented the Sydney Sixers and the Renegades; last season he turned out for the Melbourne Stars. But they decided against offering him a new contract, partly because he wasn’t that great for them last season and partly because he suffered a broken hand ahead of this year’s CPL.
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Sandeep Lamichhane, the brilliant Nepalese mystery spinner, keeps his place after a bizarre stint last time out where he played a few games for them, went over to play in the Bangladesh Premier League and then returned for the latter stages of the Big Bash. This time round he’s signed up for the full campaign and that’s a huge boost to them.
Steyn the big marquee signing for the Melbourne Stars
The second overseas spot goes to South African speedster Dale Steyn, at least for the first six matches of the season. He’ll play those while the Proteas are in Test match action and if he’s called up to play white-ball cricket for them, his spell ends there.
But if he’s omitted from the ODI squad, not impossible given it’s anyone’s guess which way the Proteas’ selectors want to go after a disastrous World Cup, Steyn will stick around and play for the Stars as long as they’re still in it. The most likely scenario is they’ll have another player on stand-by with the squad who will come straight in if Steyn is called up for international duty and be there as a back-up for him and Lamichhane anyway.
Especially because Steyn’s body has been known to be quite fragile over the past few years and he could break down at any time.
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Aussie stars all available
The Stars are incredibly fortunate to be able to count on a batting line-up between 3-5 made up of Glenn Maxwell, Peter Handscomb and Marcus Stoinis. Admittedly Handscomb and Stoinis are out of the Australian limited-overs side at the moment after the former seems to have lost his place as wicket-keeper batsman to Alex Carey, while Stoinis had a poor World Cup where he never got going with either bat or ball.
But neither looks out of place in the Australian side while Maxwell continues to be a huge part of both the T20 and ODI sides. With no ODIS scheduled during the Bash, it will be some luxury for the Stars to have all three of those available.
Ben Dunk is a strange sort of cricketer but can be effective on his day as a dashing opener while Nic Maddison can either open or bat at three or four, a player boasting a healthy strike rate of 128, even if his average of 22 is nothing to write home about.
It all makes you wonder why for years the Melbourne Stars felt the need to further boost their batting line-up with overseas players like Wright and Pietersen.
Good balance to the Stars team
At last they’ve seen the light, understanding that it’s in the bowling department that they need to bolster their squad. Steyn is a bit of a gamble for several reasons: he hasn’t played much cricket over the past year or so, he’s pretty injury-prone these days and he hasn’t played that much in Australia in the past. Plus, he’s always been viewed as primarily a Test player, then an ODI one and only then finally as a T20 one. So they’d be advised to have some cover for him, whether he stays for a short spell or a longer one, with another bowler or bowling all-rounder prepared to step in.
Lamichanne is a very different story. Perhaps only Rashid Khan is a more valuable asset than him as a T20 globe-trotting spinner, with the Nepalese having played in the IPL, CPL, PSL and Big Bash last year.
They did good business by having him on board for the whole season this time round and he can form a good partnership with Adam Zampa, two ‘spin twins’ for those middle-overs. Nathan Coulter-Nile, who played for the Perth Scorchers for years and is still a part of Australia’s limited-overs sides is a fine addition as well, especially because he also bats. Hilton Cartwright, also recruited from the Scorchers, adds another option as a handy all-rounder.
It all means the team looks better balanced than last term with those Aussie internationals available and some new faces. This could finally, finally, be their year.