Big Bash semi-finals have a lot to live up to after a dazzling group stage, says Matt Floyd
By Matt Floyd - @mattkfloyd. Last Updated: 14/01/13 4:01pm
Aaron Finch: Australia's loss is the Renegades' gain, says Matt
So after five weeks and 32 group games we have finally reached the semi-finals of this season's Big Bash League - and what a group stage it was.
Going into the eighth and final round of matches only the Melbourne Renegades were guaranteed to finish in the top four and six teams were still in the hunt for the semi-finals.
That soon became five teams when the Renegades ended the Sydney Sixers' hopes with a big win at the SCG. Or Alex Hales ended their hopes, I should say.
His T20 stock has been steadily rising since he made 99 against the West Indies last summer and his stunning knock of 89 off 52 balls will have turned a few more heads around the world.
MELBOURNE RANGERS v BRISBANE HEAT
7.55am, Tue, Sky Sports 2 HD
What made it all the more impressive was that he only arrived in Australia from the UK on the morning of the game - talk about hitting the ground running!
The Melbourne Stars joined their local rivals in the semis after a brilliant come-from-behind victory over the hapless Sydney Thunder. With their captain and talisman Shane Warne banned (more on that below) they looked to be heading out of the competition with the Thunder 91-2 chasing 146 and Chris Gayle finally showing the Australian public what he can do with a 25-ball half-century.
However Gayle's dismissal seemed to wake the Stars up and they proceeded to force a spectacular Thunder collapse to 132 all out. Their captain may have been reduced to watching the game on a TV in the dressing room but that win had his competitive spirit and never-say-die attitude written all over it.
As for the Thunder, well, only one team could have lost from that position and it was them. They have now lost 13 Big Bash games in a row if you include last year - the squad needs a serious overhaul.
The Perth Scorchers finished just above the Stars in second after demolishing the Strikers by 98 runs, a result that was nothing short of catastrophic for the Adelaide side. A loss would have been bad enough, but not terminal.
As it was the battering they got reduced their net run-rate to such an extent that they couldn't qualify for the semis regardless of the result of the final group game between the Hobart Hurricanes and the Brisbane Heat.
Having won three of their first four games they looked to be well on their way to the last four but in T20 things can turn around very quickly, as Johan Botha's side will be all too aware of right now. That result meant that the game in Hobart was a winner-takes-all encounter - the perfect way to end the group stage.
Appropriately, we were delivered one more shock as the Brisbane Heat upset the fancied Hurricanes to sneak in to the semi-finals via the back door.
"Both players overstepped the line with foul language (clearly heard via Warne's microphone) and physical intimidation. However, I disagree with those who felt a one-match ban and fine wasn't enough."
Now, the big story outside of the push for semi-finals was of course the ugly spat between Warne and Marlon Samuels that led to the former being banned for one match (at the time of writing we are still waiting for Samuels to recover from the nasty facial injuries that he received from being hit by a Lasith Malinga bouncer before having his case heard).
Both players overstepped the line with foul language (clearly heard via Warne's microphone) and physical intimidation. However, I disagree with those who felt a one-match ban and fine wasn't enough.
It was something you rarely see on a cricket field but let's be honest, no-one got hurt and it was more handbags at dawn than pistols. Maybe the fine should have been higher (Warnie can afford it!) but we all want to see top class players playing as much as possible and I for one am glad the legendary leg-spinner isn't going to miss his semi-final.
Samuels will unfortunately, as the injury has brought a premature end to his competition.
PERTH SCORCHERS v MELBOURNE STARS
8.55am, Wed, Sky Sports 1 HD
His side the Renegades take on the Heat on Tuesday and I'm backing the top side to go through to the Final. Captain Aaron Finch is key for them and crucially should be available after he was not named in Australia's ODI squad for the next two games against Sri Lanka.
Then on Wednesday it's the Scorchers against the Stars at the WACA - I'm going to be boring again and pick the higher-placed team. Malinga bowled the Scorchers out for just 69 in the group phase but he could well miss the game as will David Hussey, Matthew Wade, Cling Mckay and Glenn Maxwell who are in the Australian ODI squad.
That is a massive hole for the Melbourne side which I'm not sure they can fill.
Either way the crowds will be big, the cricket will be intense and entertainment value will be high - make sure you join us!