Are the Stars finally set to shine in the Big Bash League?

They are the team with all the big names in Australian cricket and for those who like the use of puns, they remain a headline writers dream but equally, the Melbourne Stars are the greatest underachievers when it comes to domestic T20 cricket.

A regular fixture in the knockout phase of this competition, Melbourne’s bigger franchise has yet to win the Big Bash in three attempts but is 2014-15 the time when they justify the bookmakers’ faith?

Leading the way

The Stars are hot favourites with Betfair to take the trophy and while there have been no wholesale changes in the club, there are some significant shifts in personnel. The departure of Matthew Wade to city rivals the Renegades has been a major talking point but the loss of Brad Hodge to the Adelaide Strikers could prove to be a bigger blow.

But clearly the biggest news is the arrival of Kevin Pietersen who is free to play in the Big Bash now that his international career is over. With KP moving into a strong top order that includes Cameron White and Glenn Maxwell, perhaps this could finally be the Stars’ season.

The Chasing Pack

2013-14 Champions the Hobart Hurricanes are the most heavily fancied among the chasing pack and the acquisition of Alex Hales should strengthen their case. The Notts Outlaw had a disappointing spell with the Strikers last time out and will be hoping to recreate his form from the season before, when he struck 89 from 52 balls for the Renegades while suffering the effects of jetlag.

Alongside Hales, Ben Dunk will potentially combine to form the most explosive partnership in the Big Bash but 2013-14’s player of the tournament has struggled a little for form since making his debut 12 months ago.

Defending Champions the Scorchers will also be strong but the loss of Craig Simmons to the Strikers could be a big blow. Simmons could be devastating at times, if a little inconsistent and the holders will need to replicate his impetus at the top of the order.

So far, it’s been relatively quiet on the Scorchers’ recruitment front so it may be better to watch for developments before parting with any money.

Targeting a play off place

As we’ve seen in many T20 tournaments around the World – not just the Big Bash – once teams reach the knockout stage then it’s very much about how you perform on the day. Reputations count for very little and odds are frequently upset.

Realistically, four teams will be targeting the final play off slot and they are led by two previous winners, The Sydney Sixers and the Brisbane Heat.

For the Sixers, Michael Lumb and Mitchell Starc followed their 2011-12 success by driving their team to success in the subsequent Champions League. Lumb finished that tournament as leading run scorer while Starc took the most wickets and clearly they remain vital players.

Dwayne Smith, Brett Lee and Doug Bollinger have also signed for 2014-15 and the only thing standing in the way of the Sixers and a play off place could be a wealth of international call ups which will rob them of a strong Aussie contingent.

The big news for the Heat is the signing of Andrew Flintoff who returned to Lancashire’s side in 2014 following an extended break from the game. Freddie’s fans watched nervously as he put his suspect knee through a series of T20 fixtures but he came through and could be an asset to the 2012-13 Champions if he continues to stay fit.

Like the Sixers, Brisbane will suffer from international call ups as Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson are set to be involved in the series with India while the signing of injury prone Dan Vettori must also be a risk.

The Adelaide Strikers fizzled out after a bright start to last year’s tournament but they will be hoping that Craig Simmons can improve on their top order showings this time around. The franchise has made some shrewd purchases in the off-season and the arrival of Simmons and the consistent Brad Hodge should make them a bigger threat.

For Melbourne Renegades, the signing of Jesse Ryder will be seen by many as a huge risk but the Kiwi was outstanding for Essex with both bat and ball during the English summer. With Aaron Finch, the lesser known Melbourne franchise will explode from the first ball while the arrival of Matthew Wade and Callum Ferguson gives the side a stronger middle order.

And finally…

Sydney Thunder may have ended an embarrassing run of defeats with a solitary win over the Renegades last season but Mike Hussey’s men are rank outsiders and rightly so. Jacques Kallis is another player, free from international duty who should, in theory, strengthen the squad but the all rounder struggled in the IPL and there is no guarantee that he and fellow newcomer Pat Cummins can improve their team’s fortunes.

Melbourne Stars are the favourites and Pietersen’s arrival will have strengthened that position. Don’t forget however that the former England man has struggled in T20 cricket for Delhi, Surrey and St Lucia this year so once again, the Big Bash looks as open and as difficult to call as ever.

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