PERTH (AFP): Perth Scorchers head into the 13th edition of Australia’s Twenty20 Big Bash League as overwhelming favourites to win a third title in a row but a confident Brisbane Heat believe they have the depth to go all the way.
Adam Voges’ Scorchers beat Heat in the final last season by five wickets with four balls left in front of a record 53,886 fans in Perth for an unprecedented fifth crown.
They again boast a strong squad, with English batters Zak Crawley, Laurie Evans and Stephen Eskinazi joining a formidable bowling attack including Lance Morris, Jhye Richardson and Ashton Agar.
Voges has also drafted in giant left-arm quick Liam Haskett after he took 13 wickets at 29.15 in four Sheffield Shield appearances, including the scalps of Test stars Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne.
“To finish the way we did (last season), in front of a crowd that loud and passionate, was incredible,” said Eskinazi, who plays English county cricket for Middlesex and with Welsh Fire in the Hundred.
“We’ve got an awesome squad, a great supporter base and we’re hungry, so I’m excited to be on board and keen to get stuck in.”
They open their defence in Geelong against Aaron Finch’s Melbourne Renegades on Sunday.
The eight-team tournament kicks off with Heat hosting Melbourne Stars at the Gabba on Thursday, ahead of a December 14-18 pause for Australia’s opening Test against Pakistan in Perth.
A four-game finals series will lead into the decider on January 24 — a Wednesday, only the second time it will be played mid-week.
Heat wicketkeeper-batter Jimmy Peirson is in confident mood as they chase a first title since 2012-13.
“We’ve been in a final, we’ve played in front of 50,000 people, we know what to expect, and we did it with a group that wasn’t at its strongest either. So we know we can do it,” he said.
They are boosted for their opener by Khawaja and Labuschagne before the duo departs for Test duty. England’s Sam Billings and Paul Walter, along with New Zealander Colin Munro, are their three overseas picks.
The Stars have the huge added bonus of big-hitting allrounder Glenn Maxwell, who missed all of last season with a fractured leg, returning to bolster their batting.
Three-time champions Sydney Sixers meet Hobart Hurricanes first up, with Steve Smith available before he too leaves for the Pakistan series.
The event has however been hit by some top names pulling out, including Afghan leg-spinner Rashid Khan, the world’s number one ranked T20 bowler and a mainstay of the Adelaide Strikers.
Khan has a back injury that requires minor surgery.
England batter Harry Brook also withdrew from the Stars over workload concerns while South Africa’s Quinton de Kock is set to miss the Renegades’ first two games because of commitments in the Abu Dhabi T10 league.