Jokes that get out of hand are something of a tradition in the 51allout maisonette. What starts out as hiding all the tonic water, causing panic amongst the ranks, often escalates into full on warfare. It’s not unheard of for buckets of bleach to be balanced on bedroom doors, the pepper mill to be filled with pool chlorine or giant bear traps to be hidden in the garden, resulting in many a trip to the local hospital and many an awkward conversation with the police.
There are two reasons that we’re telling you this. Firstly, we’re rather proud of the effort we’ve put into some of these japes, especially when we should have been out looking for jobs. Secondly, it’s a nice metaphor for Brad Hogg finding himself in Australia’s T20 squad, just 18 months away from a telegram from the Queen.
Hogg’s recall to the national side is a remarkable return to (near) the top, given that he retired from international cricket in 2008 and had been dossing around in the local leagues prior to the Big Bash. And yet he’s proved almost unplayable since he first pulled on his Perth Scorchers kit.
Last Saturday Hogg’s side welcomed Shane Warne’s Melbourne Stars in the first semi-final, in front of a sold out WACA crowd. Tickets had actually all gone in around 30 minutes – great news for both the Cricket Australia bean counters and for Ticketmaster, who presumably made a fortune on handling fees for tickets that the buyer has to print themselves. As money-making exercises go, it’s a pretty good one, certainly better than any of Toadfish’s efforts during the late 90s.
Ashes hero Marcus North won the toss and chose to bat, which has become de rigueur during this tournament, and set off at a fair old rate with Herschelle Gibbs. Another of the Dad’s Army brigade, Gibbs has had a successful tournament, getting the Scorchers off to a flyer more often than not, and he did exactly that here. His 71 was the mainstay of the home side’s 174/3, aided by North (23), Collingwood (31) and Mitchell Marsh (41* from 22 balls with 4 sixes).
In the field the Stars weren’t brilliant, with a couple of dropped catches and a missed stumping. Regardless, the target of 175 was stiff, but not impossible.
And yet, as seen so many times in this tournament, scoreboard pressure proved the key. The Stars actually got off to a very good start, being 75/1 after 7.5 overs, before losing wickets at regular intervals to eventually finish on 163/8. Pick of the bowlers? Brad Hogg of course, with 2/17 from his four overs.
Having finished top of the group stage, the victory guaranteed the Scorchers a home final, as well as the small matter of a place in the Champions League, where presumably they’ll look the part until Barcelona rip them to pieces in the final.
The next day attention shifted to Bellerive Oval, Hobart where the Hurricanes welcomed the Sydney Sixers. The away side won the toss, batted first and made a reasonable 153/6. It was a stop/start sort of innings, with Nic Maddison (68) being the only batsman to truly get in and only 12 runs coming from the last two overs.
The Hurricanes would have fancied their chances of chasing it down, particularly with Travis Burt and Owais Shah in excellent nick. And yet both of their key men failed – Burt made 11 before being done in the flight by Stuart MacGill, while Shah was out for a duck, bowled by Nathan McCullum. The one man who did get in, Phil Jaques, had made his way to 63 before committing a bootable offence, being bowled by Steve Smith. After that there was no way back, with wickets tumbling regularly. Rana Naved briefly threatened to rescue his side with 30* from 14 balls but it wasn’t enough, with the Sixers winning by just seven runs.
The final, which takes place at the WACA this Saturday, sold out in just 16 minutes, another resounding success. And who wouldn’t want to see Brad Hogg, Stuart MacGill, Steve Smith and Brett Lee duelling it out in 42 degree heat?
While the Big Bash will go down as a definite success for its debut year, the list of names above should be enough to cause concern. With the tournament taking place over the Christmas and New Year period, the very best players simply aren’t going to be available. For how long can former Aussie greats lure the crowd in? Will the next generation of retirees (Ponting/Hussey/Mitchell Johnson) attract the same level of interest? Or will Cricket Australia be brave/foolish enough to schedule Tests around the Big Bash, allowing stars such as Nathan Lyon to strut their stuff? And where has all the tonic water gone?