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Scorchers, Heat face crunch depth test in bid for BBL title

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After Scorchers’ top-order was ripped apart, No. 7 Hobson took over with an assault at the death to flay a flagging Heat attack in temperatures hovering around 40 degrees in the daytime fixture.

Hobson finished unbeaten with a career best 48 off 30 balls to turn the match on its head as Scorchers eventually claimed a comfortable 35-run victory.

The result wasn’t particularly important with Heat having already locked up top spot and a home final in the Qualifier on January 19. While the victory did officially secure a top-four berth for Scorchers, their bid for a historic hat-trick of titles might just rest with a second-place decider against Sydney Sixers in Perth on Tuesday.

The winner will meet Heat and earn a second chance, but the loser faces an elimination final.

The Heat and Scorchers match was something of a finals tune-up for both teams fielding notably different line-ups to their clash at the Gabba just three days earlier.

Heat were without Test batters Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne, while Matt Renshaw might have played his last BBL match of the season as he links up with Australia’s squad in Adelaide.

Internationals Colin Munro and Sam Billings carried the drinks – which were downed with relish on the hottest day in Perth for two years – before they flew off to the UAE’s ILT20 with Heat giving valuable game time to those who will be part of their title push.

The slew of changes opened up opportunities with Hobson taking his with both hands. Hobson, who does not hold a state cricket contract and is an accountant in his day job, became something of a cult figure after his heroics alongside Cooper Connolly lifted Scorchers to last season’s title over Heat in an epic final.

In what must have felt like a recurring nightmare for Heat, Hobson reunited with Connolly as they counterattacked and cracked open an attack that ran out of gas.

“Nice memories from last year [playing Heat],” Hobson said with a smile. “Hopefully we’ve got at least another game against them, but we’ll wait and see.”

The belligerent batting, where they scored 83 off 55 balls between them, was an important confidence lift for Hobson and Connolly, who have had limited impact this season.

Hobson played three matches earlier in the tournament, but batted just once and faced only three deliveries, before he was squeezed out with Scorchers opting for an extra bowler as Connolly shifted down the order after an unsuccessful run as an opener.

“I started at seven but when we had Lance Morris and Ash Agar again it changed the balance of the side,” Hobson said. “But we’ve gone back to the extra batter.

“Some of us have been sitting on the bench…like [opener] Steve Eskinazi who started [against Heat] really well for us. We’ve got some depth there and hopefully that’s enough to win another flag.”

Having reinvented himself as a finisher last season, Hobson looms as a key for Scorchers, who have relied on Evans for late hitting with captain Ashton Turner on the sidelines due to a season-ending knee injury.

“The finisher is what I’ve been preparing for and the coaching staff have been clear about where I’m going to be,” Hobson said. “An area I had to work on the last few years was the ability to hit a six and have more power. It’s more high-risk cricket, but you’ve got to be able to clear long boundaries.”

It sets up a fitting showdown between powerhouses Scorchers and Sixers, who will renew their rivalry amid high stakes. They’ve won eight titles combined, including the last four, and met five times in the final.

Scorchers have the wood over Sixers with six wins from the last seven matches, but it is the first time the teams will meet this season amid a condensed BBL format.

“They’re playing really well. They’ve got amazing depth,” Hobson said. “I think Jackson Bird is on the bench and a few others, so if they change the mix and play an extra seamer I wouldn’t be surprised. They’re always strong. There is something about the Sydney-Perth games that have a little extra buzz.”

Watching from afar will be Heat, whose remade batting order started fast against Scorchers through a blazing half-century stand by Josh Brown and Jimmy Peirson in a new opening partnership.

But Heat fell away as acting captain Nathan McSweeney made just 3 in his return, while recalled Max Bryant clubbed 29 late.

“I feel like we have good [batting] depth,” Heat coach Wade Seccombe said. “We have good players sitting on the bench through the course of the summer. We got bogged down. We didn’t rotate well enough. I look at the players we have got and their history, so I’m not worried.”

Heat also will have to contend with playing on the Gold Coast during the finals with their Gabba fortress unavailable due to hosting the second Test between Australia and West Indies.

“The Gold Coast is a different venue, so it will come down to who plays the conditions best,” Seccombe said. “We’ve played a lot of cricket there. It should feel like another home game for us. We’ll wait and see who we come up against.”

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth



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