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Match Preview – Sixers vs Heat, Big Bash League 2023/24, Final

Big picture: Underdogs Heat aiming to snap title drought; Sixers striving to regain crown

A year ago, Brisbane Heat succumbed at the death against Perth Scorchers in a pulsating final at the Optus Stadium to fall agonisingly short of ending their decade-long BBL title drought.

That painful defeat has lit a fuse under Heat and lifted them to great heights this season. But Heat’s bid for redemption and adding to their lone title from BBL 02 goes on the line against Sydney Sixers in Wednesday’s final at the SCG.

Using a similar blueprint to powerhouses Scorchers and Sixers, Heat have built a strong core of local players as they aim to become only the third team in BBL history to win multiple titles.

Heat can also end the Scorchers-Sixers stranglehold, with the two teams having combined to win the last four titles and eight overall. A triumph might well see a power shift, but it won’t be easy with Heat starting as underdogs despite a bounce back against in-form Adelaide Strikers in the Challenger.

For further confidence, Heat also knocked Sixers out of last season’s Challenger with a tense victory at the SCG.

More recently, however, Heat were thumped by 39 runs in the Qualifier on a two-paced Gold Coast surface similar to the SCG, where Sixers’ brilliant bowling attack continually defend modest totals.

Sixers will enter with supreme confidence having peaked at the right time with four straight victories. For much of the season Sixers had appeared to be falling short of an all important top two finish with several of their matches heavily impacted by rain, including both games against Heat earlier in the month.

Mustering their experience and trademark resiliency, Sixers turned it around capped by superb wins over Scorchers in Perth then Heat to reach a seventh BBL final.

On the cusp of a fourth title and first since 2021, Sixers are closing in on regaining their BBL crown.

Form guide

Sydney Sixers WWWWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Brisbane HeatWLLWW

In the spotlight: Josh Brown and Steve O’Keefe

It just has to be opener Josh Brown after his astonishing 140 off 57 balls against Strikers as he produced the third highest score in BBL history. Heat’s revamped batting – following the exit of internationals Colin Munro and Sam Billings – had struggled in losses to Scorchers and Sixers, but Brown stepped up with a remarkable display of power-hitting to smash a record 12 sixes. But he has had to deal with a lot of attention in the aftermath and is also battling a sore hip after pushing his body to the limits.

Brown may also have to contend at some stage with retiring left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe, who has enjoyed an outstanding final season. Only teammate Todd Murphy has a better economy than his 6.25 for those who bowled more than 15 overs this season. O’Keefe is particularly masterful on an SCG surface where he utilises the favourable conditions to his advantage and has proven almost impossible to counterattack. He took 3 for 13 against Sydney Thunder in his last appearance on the ground and if he can produce something similar then O’Keefe will likely end his career with a fairytale finish.

Team news: Sixers unchanged, Swepson set to be recalled

Given their strong form and dominance in the Qualifier, Sixers are set to go in unchanged meaning there won’t be room for veteran seamer Jackson Bird.

But Heat have a selection headache after legspinner Mitchell Swepson was left out against Strikers with opener Charlie Wakim getting the nod for his season debut. Swepson, however, is almost certain to be recalled given the spin-friendly SCG conditions with Wakim set to make way. It will force a reshuffle to the batting order with Jimmy Peirson or Max Bryant likely to be elevated.

Sydney Sixers (probable XI): 1 Jack Edwards, 2 Daniel Hughes, 3 Josh Philippe (wk), 4 Moises Henriques (capt), 5 Jordan Silk, 6 Joel Davies, 7 Hayden Kerr, 8 Sean Abbott, 9 Ben Dwarshuis, 10 Todd Murphy, 11 Steve O’Keefe

Brisbane Heat (probable XI): 1 Jimmy Peirson (wk), 2 Josh Brown, 3 Nathan McSweeney (capt), 4 Matt Renshaw, 5 Max Bryant, 6 Paul Walter, 7 Michael Neser, 8 Xavier Bartlett, 9 Spencer Johnson, 10 Mitchell Swepson, 11 Matthew Kuhnemann

Pitch and conditions

There is always anxiety over Sydney’s weather, but there is no threat of rain on Wednesday. Sunny conditions are forecast during the day and it is expected to still be warm and humid when the match starts at night.

The SCG surface is expected to again be slow and low to bring spinners into the game with scrappy batting often needed on the ground. Totals of around 150-160 have continually been successfully defended by Sixers in a blueprint they will likely want to replicate if they win the bat flip.

Stats and trivia

  • Sixers enjoy a 13-6 overall record against Heat. But Heat have won two of the last three at the SCG with their only defeat being a two-wicket loss in late 2021.
  • O’Keefe is two away from claiming 100 BBL wickets. Only 10 bowlers have reached the milestone.
  • Moises Henriques need 39 runs to overtake Glenn Maxwell and lift into fifth spot in the BBL’s most runs list.

Quotes

“We still haven’t played a great game of cricket by our standards. It will be amazing if we could do that [in the final].”
Sixers captain Moises Henriques

“A lot of the boys played in last year’s final…being so close and losing hurts. It’s in our minds and carried its weight through the year.”
Heat captain Nathan McSweeney

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth

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