Some years ago a former New South Wales cricketing prodigy talked of his decision to forego an invitation to a winter at Australia’s then-famed cricket academy. “Why would I want to go in and out of form ten times before the season starts?” he asked, rhetorically.
As the BBL finally reaches its crescendo – with the final four teams now decided – it’s hard not to view contenders the same way. Hobart Hurricanes aside, each of the Sydney Sixers, Melbourne Renegades and Melbourne Stars have had time to impress, then dip, then rally, then flop, then return all in a seemingly endless summer. As they prepare to match up on Thursday and Friday respectively, it’s entirely conceivable that everything we’ve seen until this point bears little meaning now.
The Hurricanes’ dominance has been such that a mere home final feels scant reward for their regular season supremacy. Moreover, they’ll now face an ever-mercurial Melbourne Stars in a clash that, for all the reasons outlined above, is arguably inverted toward the visitors, at least psychologically. The reward for consistency? A fixture against Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis on a good wicket. The Stars are precisely the last team the Hurricanes would want to play in such circumstances.
Paradoxically, this may be the Stars’ best opportunity to break their title duck. They arrive unheralded and unfancied, but bolstered by multiple big-name internationals capable of destroying the best-laid plans of any franchise the world over. As Adam Zampa explained, they’re relishing the opportunity to take on the Hurricanes and turn a few heads in the process.
“We’re really confident,” he told ESPNcricinfo. “Now that we’ve sneaked into fourth the pressure is off us a little bit.
“The Hurricanes have played great cricket all year, but finishing first comes with a bit of pressure. They’ve known they’re in the finals for half the season so they’ve been waiting a while. They’ll be nervous in front of their home crowd, too.”
While Zampa’s bullishness comes with tongue firmly in cheek, he does understand that the attitude comes with the territory of being a Stars player. Embracing the glam identity of his team, he doesn’t disingenuously play the dignified underdog, and nor do his team-mates.
“Stoinis said it in an interview recently: we do strut around and we own it. But at the end of the day if we do lose it hurts us.
“It’s one of those things – when I didn’t play for the Stars, I didn’t really like them, to be honest with you. I remember playing against them – I was just scared of them. They had big names across the park, they played at the MCG, had guys like Eddie McGuire involved and the super coach Stephen Fleming. It was one of those franchises where you envied them, but now being a part of it is great.”
While not from Melbourne originally, Zampa is happily the franchise’s spirit animal.There’s swagger, confidence, and results on the park. In his own way, his estimation of the Stars tallies with comments from cross-town Renegades rival Kane Richardson, who denounced the glam franchise as a team “that had never won anything, so probably shouldn’t be walking with a head wobble.”
Zampa was keen to exercise right of reply. “I don’t know if Kane knows this but he’s only been in the Renegades side for maybe a year now,” he said.
“I know they stayed at our hotel in my first year at the Stars. I think it might have got a bit too much for them. The big bright lights of South Yarra were a bit much, and I think they were driving Suzuki’s back then too.
“They were trying to get the keys to our Mercedes from reception to drive it around and it ended up just getting a little bit too much, I think. So they had to tone it down, go to Prahran, get their mopeds or whatever they drive around, I’m not sure…
“They don’t even have a team bus.”
Asked who he felt would gain the most support were there to be an all-Melbourne final, Zampa was unequivocal.
“I think we’d probably get majority support in Melbourne. I think the glam suburbs would probably support us. I’m not too sure who’d take the Renegades.
“Those that support them probably feel sorry for them for having to play at Etihad [now Marvel], and the fact they can’t stay in South Yarra any more, I don’t know…
“I put it this way: if you go to New York, and someone says ‘we’re going to a Yankees game’, everyone will say ‘great, that’s a great day.’ But if someone says ‘we’re going to a Mets game’ most people will say ‘I’ll, ah, see if I have something better to do’. That’s pretty much how we see the rivalry.”
While the Stars’ list has always remained true to its name in one way or another, there’s something about its make up that now confounds T20 orthodoxy. While they may see themselves as the strutting team of individual talent, even more vogueish are those franchises built on data-driven metrics, and role-based players.
More than any other fixture in this BBL tournament, their semi-final with the Hurricanes will showcase a clash of philosophy as much as anything else. And despite the Hurricane’s regular season reign, if the Stars can get their strut on, they’ll be tough to stop.