Big Bash 2014 semi-finals: Ben Dunk key as Hurricanes aim to sweep Stars aside
Can the Stars make a first final? Will it be third time lucky for the Scorchers?
By Matt Floyd
Last Updated: 03/02/14 8:35am
Last year there were a number of teams still in with a shout of making the semi-finals heading into the final two rounds of group games which meant that every game had something riding on it.
At this point it's all about which teams can handle the pressure and hit form at the right time, as the Brisbane Heat did so impressively last season to power their way to the title from nowhere. Vote in our Best Big Bash Catch poll here
They won't have the chance to defend their crown this year though and that for me is the biggest surprise of BBL3 so far.
I'll admit that last year I was a bit shocked that James Hopes' side managed to walk off with the silverware - they looked a team short on big names and experience, and when they lost three of their first four games I presumed they had no chance.
It goes without saying they proved a lot of people wrong from that moment on and by the end of the competition looked to be on a completely different level.
Their powerful home-grown batting line-up of Pomersbach, Lynn, Burns and Christian had got everyone talking and their bowling attack was the best by far over the last four or five games. This year add in a fit and in-form Dan Vettori, Craig Kieswetter plus (for the end of the season only) Ryan Harris and they looked a formidable outfit.
Yet for some reason it just didn't click. They went into their final group game as favourites to beat the Hobart Hurricanes and go through but lost comfortably, ironically two huge performances from Queenslanders Ben Dunk and Cameron Boyce contributed heavily to the result.
The Adelaide Strikers also disappointed in the latter half of the season having been touted as potential dark horses. Well, 'disappointed' is probably being kind - they lost their last five when just one win may well have been enough to see them through. Having done something similar last year, you can call them the South Africa of the tournament...
The Hurricanes could potentially be the Brisbane Heat of BBL3 as they are the side that have snuck into the semi-finals through the back door but aren't fancied by many to go all the way.
They also have a batsman in prime form heading into the knockout phase in Ben Dunk (a la Luke Pomersbach last year) and that could be crucial.
Dunk is definitely one to keep an eye on - I haven't seen someone hit the ball that far with such an effortless flair in quite some time; IPL teams need to take note. If he comes off anything can happen in their semi against the Melbourne Stars but it may well be a bridge too far.
The Stars are the first team ever to go through the group stage unbeaten and even though they will probably be missing James Faulkner and Jackson Bird, Lasith Malinga will be available and I just can't see them slipping up.
The second semi-final looks much more of a toss-up.
The Sydney Sixers and Perth Scorchers look evenly matched and have players with bags full of Twenty20 experience. Both will have key figures missing though - Steve Smith, Brad Haddin, Moises Henriques and Nathan Lyon for the Sixers and Shaun Marsh and Yasir Arafat for the Perth side.
Much has been made of the fact that the Scorchers would be favourites if the game was in Perth (and rightly so as they are unbeaten there this year!) but I also think the nature of the SCG pitch could help them. It has ragged square in some games and with Lyon in South Africa with the Australian Test squad and Steven O'Keefe possibly out injured, another turning wicket would play into the hands of the visitors. I'd be surprised if both Brad Hogg and Michael Beer didn't play for the Scorchers.
I'll go for a Melbourne Stars v Perth Scorchers final, then.
If that happens it will be great for the marketing men - the Stars have not made a final yet and for the last two years have been knocked out in the semis by the Western Australia franchise.
The Scorchers are also the nearly men of the competition as the twice-beaten finalists; will it be third time lucky if they get there?
As you know though, in T20 anything can happen; make sure you tune in on Tuesday from 8.30am on Sky Sports 2 for the Stars v the Hurricanes...