Scorchers and Sixers set for final sprint
Twenty20 cricket is analogous to a sprint race.
Unless there is a rare Steven Bradbury moment, it is fatal to miss the start, or suffer a stumble along the way. There is simply not enough time to recover from a setback.
That trait means that even the worst sprinter, or T20 team, can remain in the hunt should the hot favourite take a tumble.
It is counterintuitive, then, to suggest that this season’s Big Bash League finals campaign is a race in two and that three mediocre teams are simply making up the numbers.
Yet top two finishers Perth and Sydney Pink are the only genuine candidates to win the league as they enhance a rivalry that is on a par with anything in Australian sport. The two teams have contested five out of the 11 BBL grand finals, could extend that to six from 12 next week and will have either five titles (Perth) or four (Sydney) if they do.
The gap between the top two and the rest means today’s elimination final between Sydney Green and Brisbane is virtually irrelevant while the game between the winner and Melbourne Red on Sunday is little more than a curiosity.
It also means the BBL’s top five system is busted and the competition would be best served by a return to a top four. If providing content for television rights holders is Cricket Australia’s major driver, no change will be made to the finals system.
But if CA wants to maintain the integrity of its most prominent domestic product, and that remains a substantial if, a revamp is required.
Maintaining competitive balance is the catch cry of all sporting administrators yet BBL12 has fallen far short of that goal.
The ladder is invariably the most accurate measure of team success – and the best means to articulate competitive balance - which makes this season’s ladder so compelling.
It shows that Perth (11-3, 1.205) and Sydney (10-4, 0.846) are the only teams to win more games than they lost.
In the four seasons that a top five has been employed, only 10 teams – half the competitors – match that winning record.
Half the finalists have either lost more than they have won, like Brisbane this summer, or squared the ledger at best. It harks back to the NBL system which enabled the Wildcats to maintain their remarkable 35-year finals streak despite twice coming seventh in an 11-team league.
The Scorchers and Sixers also are the only teams to finish with a positive net run rate this season.
Adding to their clear superiority over the rest of the competition, they have become the first top two in BBL history to finish at least three games clear of the third-placed team.
The gap between second and third has been restricted to just one game or run rate in 10 of the previous seasons.
Even within matches, the gap between teams had been considerable.
Results have been split evenly with the team chasing winning half of the 56 home-and-away matches. But only two of those games have been decided by one or two wickets with 23 successful chases coming with the comfort of at least four wickets left. Twelve wins have come with three or fewer wickets lost.
Defending totals has been almost as stark.
Six of the 27 successful defences (there was one washout) have been by 50 runs or more, and 13 by at least 20 runs.
The BBL sprint has been a cakewalk in at least two-thirds of games this season.
Perth and Sydney might have been tested at various times in the past seven weeks but they have mostly sailed through the rough patches and hit the finish line with plenty of wind left.
Now the season comes down to the final few efforts.
And unless there is a catastrophic stumble in the next few days, Scorchers and Sixers will line up for the final sprint next week.