THE NEW LOOK Melbourne Stars had plenty to prove in the biggest match of the Big bash season – and they did it in style, says Chief Writer RON REED:
NOTHING EVER stays the same for long in Big Bash cricket. For the last two or three years it looked like the Melbourne Stars might be the exception to the rule as they backed in much the same set of imports, namely Kevin Pietersen and Luke Wright, as well as local big guns John Hastings, Rob Quiney and James Faulkner, among others.
But when they finished stone motherless last season, it was obvious a revamp was necessary. The upshot went on display in front of their own fans at the MCG for the first time on Tuesday night, with nobody knowing quite what to expect given the unfamiliar personnel and the erratic results so far – two early defeats to the Thunder and the Hurricanes before a desperately-needed win over the Sixers.
So the pressure was on. It always is when the Stars play the other Melbourne team, the Renegades, especially at the G on the New Year holiday, which is the BBL’s equivalent of Test cricket’s Boxing Day. The crowd was a tad disappointing, 46,418 – the Stars were hoping for 60,000 – which will fuel fears that the Big Bash is starting to lose some traction.
The job was made harder when their best batsman, Peter Handscomb, who was the hero of the win in Sydney a few nights earlier, was back there, in Sydney, with the Test squad. He was replaced by a debutant, 20 year old Victorian all-rounder Jonathan Merlo.
Also missing from last year were the five named earlier, all moved on voluntarily or otherwise with the exception of Hastings, who was forced into premature retirement by a medical condition. In turn, that handed the captaincy to the enigmatic Glenn Maxwell.
The signs weren’t good for the green team when another of their discards, Sam Harper, and another one of the emerging bunch of young Victorian batsmen, Mackenzie Harvey, smashed 52 in the first five overs, suggesting 200 as on the cards.
But what followed was not so much the green team as the green machine – and it was very impressive.
Bowling tightly and fielding and catching brilliantly, they conceded fewer than 100 off the remaining 15 overs to leave themselves with an eminently chaseable target of 149.
With Marcus Stoinis and Ben Dunk also getting away to a blinder – Dunk was stumped in the eighth over with the score on 67 – the result was never in doubt. The game then swung violently in the Stars’ favour in the 11th over when Nick Larkin was smarly run out but Stoinis and Maxwell took 18 off the other five deliveries, each hitting a six.
The Stars reached their target in the 18th over with seven wickets and 13 balls to spare, with Stoinus – who also took two wickets and three catches – making a meal of the man of the match award by batting through the innings for 78 not out off 49 balls, completing proceedings with a six. That’s the very definition of all-rounder.
The Stars have always liked to think of themselves as the glamour team of the competition – president Eddie McGuire saw to that early doors – but have never quite lived up to it, and are still waiting for their first title. Might this be the year? Far too early to say but their last two outings have certainly given them something to work with – whoever they are.
RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.