Last season, Sydney Thunder won three games in the Big Bash League. They finished last, with the worst net run rate as well.
The games they won included one featuring a staggering fifth-wicket partnership of 84 between Pat Cummins and Eoin Morgan, sealed off the last ball. In another, Fawad Ahmed took 4 for 14. Their third win was a good effort from the bowlers, and then James Vince breaking the chase in the Powerplay.
Cummins hasn't played yet this year, Morgan doesn't have a contract, and Vince has been busy with England (and now seems to have caught Joe Root's gastro). Two seasons back they won the whole thing. Mike Hussey and Jacques Kallis played, Andre Russell in his pomp and Usman Khawaja was so good David Warner got demoted from the Australia opening position.
The Thunder were great, and then they were horrible. And then there is this year.
It's hard to work out how this current team wins. Their seam bowling is almost always ordinary, they don't get off to fast starts, they routinely manufacture their No. 6, and you could make a pretty solid case that last season Cummins was their best batsman.
In this game, they played the best team in the competition; but the best team in the competition without the Marshes, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jhye Richardson, Andrew Tye, and Jason Behrendorff.
Coming in, the Thunder had won two games from six.
The problems for the Thunder start right at the top. Kurtis Patterson, their opener, made a hundred on his Shield debut at 18. He's a talented player. But he's not been a good T20 player. In 24 matches, he has made no fifties. He faces 15 balls per game, but strikes at 110, so on average he'll produce 16 runs. It gets worse: Patterson scores a boundary every 6.4 balls in the Powerplay, the average is 5.4. Not only is that 17% worse than the average, with all but two players outside the circle he doesn't even hit a boundary per over.
In 11 out of 17 innings of over 10 balls, he has scored slower than his team, despite coming in during the Powerplay virtually all the time. He's outscored when he is at the crease by his team-mates, and he faces more balls in the Powerplay than the man at the other end. So he doesn't hit boundaries or rotate the strike well, he doesn't make fast runs, or go on for big scores.
"Their overseas signing hasn't been going well, their allrounder captain isn't bowling, and their long-term seamer is a one-dimensional player"
Coming in at No. 4 is Callum Ferguson, who hasn't made a fifty in his last 28 BBL innings. He strikes at 120, and his average is 22.58. But Ferguson can play, he averaged over 40 in ODIs, and he's the sort of batsman when in who ups the rate well. You cannot afford to play both of them, and if you do, Ferguson has to bat higher up the order than he currently does.
Their depth outside the squad is also a problem. Aiden Blizzard is a quality player, but he's getting on. Ryan Gibson has had a shocker of a year (30 runs in five hits). So when Vince is healthy, and with the Thunder hoping Khawaja doesn't get called up as injury cover for the ODI side, they will most probably drop Patterson or Ferguson.
But their batting problems don't end with these two and the depth. At No. 6 they're batting Arjun Nair. Every time he comes out to bat the commentators talk about how he hits the ball to unusual places; well, he has now hit 303 runs in his 25 professional games across all formats. So at the moment, he rarely hits the ball anywhere. The problem was there last year, when Cummins batted six, but Cummins made it work. This year Nair has 49 runs at a strike rate of 119.51, which is handy. But when you have two slower batsmen up the order who don't make big scores, Nair either needs to make more runs, or make his runs really fast. He may get there, but he hasn't shown that yet.
Tonight, none of that mattered. Since 2012, Khawaja is averaging 72 in BBL cricket. He was excellent again, scoring at 9.96 runs an over and making almost half their score. The rest of the Thunder scored at 7.5.
Other than Khawaja, the other thing holding this team together is their spin.
The Thunder spinners are outstanding. Over the last two years they've gone at 6.84 and over, the pacers at 8.75. That isn't because they've been in the soft middle overs: even when the pacers bowl those overs, the spinners are better. They are also way better in the Powerplay, going at 5.9 compared to 8 an over. And with Nair getting more confident since last year, their spinners are even better now.
The problem is that while one batsman like Khawaja can often win the game for you, generally you need most of your bowlers to play well. One-off bowling performances win far less game than one-off batting. So even Fawad, who has nine wickets and at economy of 5.9 this year, can't win many games.
That means the Thunder seamers have to be better - and they have lost Russell and Cummins since last year. Coming into the Scorchers game, Gurinder Sandhu's last five outings had him leaking over ten runs an over.
One thing Sandhu's good at is bowling with the new ball. His econ is 6.8, he strikes every 19 balls, and his average is 21. That's him ranked sixth, fifth and third for those skills in Powerplay. He bowls 38% of his overs in the Powerplay; but he doesn't often bowl more than one over. This was the first time since 2012-13 that he bowled more than two overs in it. In that game, also against the Scorchers, he took 1 for 18. So you have a team whose seam bowlers are struggling in the Powerplay, and a bowler who gets smashed when he bowls outside the Powerplay, who doesn't bowl enough in it.
Tonight was Sandhu at his best; he swung the ball massively; he got the big wicket of Ashton Turner, and when he did come back on to bowl at the death, he did so with confidence. His over should have iced the game. But even Mitch McClenaghan - brought in to shore up their seam bowling - gets in green and becomes like all the other recent Thunder seamers: incredibly expensive. And the one player who could probably help, Shane Watson, has bowled 7.4 overs for the season.
So their overseas signing hasn't been going well, their allrounder captain isn't bowling, and their long-term seamer is a one-dimensional player.
When Fawad finished his overs, the Scorchers needed 74 from 30; they got 70 of them.
It's not like the Thunder fielded brilliantly either, this might've been the worst fielding of a tournament that has already been plagued by drops. In the last over they fumbled, missed a run-out, and that is not even including McClenaghan's full-toss no-ball.
Khawaja covered their flaws against this Scorcher-lite team. But as good as he was, and as much as the weakened Scorchers struggled, it still came down to the last ball. And with a boundary needed to win the game, a full toss was delivered. Luckily for them, it was mishit.
The Thunder have now won three games in this year's BBL. They won, but how.