They've never finished last, nor ever finished first. But after ten games and eight wins, Hobart Hurricanes have proved themselves the standout franchise in BBL08, and are virtually assured a finals berth with four games remaining in the regular season. What underpins their rise?
Their evolution to BBL heavyweights has come about through part geographic disadvantage, part design, with no real Moneyball to be seen. On the contrary, whereas T20 franchises can often seem to be a cold, data-driven aggregation of players with good numbers, the central tenet of the Hurricanes' philosophy is a 'one program' approach.
With the exception of just two out-of-towners in D'Arcy Short and Jofra Archer, from the executives to the coaches to the kit handler to the strength and conditioning coach, the same people that work for Tasmania work on the Hurricanes. According to those familiar with the program, the notion of a team where staff and players alike simply 'swap shirts' for six weeks creates continuity, that in-turn breeds a welcome familiarity and camaraderie among the group. Sound familiar? The Hurricanes know this path has been well-trodden by their counterparts in the West, and don't mind the moniker of 'Scorchers 2.0'.
Not that Short - who for all intents and purposes treated as an overseas player at the franchise - or Archer, aren't important. The latter is especially so. While sections of the Australian public remain intriguingly unaware of his stardom - and his potential to be part England's World Cup bid - the Hurricanes are happy in the knowledge they boast one of the best quicks in the format. His arrival in Hobart was spurred by a county fixture involving Archer and George Bailey, who was playing for Hampshire. Bailey faced Archer for the first time, and following the game called Hurricanes management to inform them that he absolutely had to be signed. Four weeks later, he was.
But while Archer has performed excellently, not all overseas or out-of-town players find the Tasmanian Isle an appealing prospect. There's the story of one player spurning an offer to join the Hurricanes because Hobart was too far from other states to travel to, while others have openly declared their preference to Hurricanes management for the glitzy cosmopolitan wares of Sydney and Melbourne, as opposed to the altogether more peaceable surrounds of the Salamanca Market and MONA.
"Rather than plump for the outright best individual players in the competition, they recruit on a role-basis, aiming to fill specific game needs, rather than retrofitting stars into a team set-up"
Not that playing for a Sydney franchise always guarantees a holistic commitment to the team cause either. While at the Sydney's Western Suburbs-based Thunder, Chris Gayle rejected the team's accommodation at Rooty Hill RSL, opting instead to pay for his own accommodation nearer the CBD.
The parable of Gayle is instructive in the Hurricanes' thinking, too. They're of the view that the very best individual players don't necessarily correlate to team success, as Gayle's winning record might suggest. Instead, rather than plump for the outright best individual players in the competition, they recruit on a role-basis, aiming to fill specific game needs, rather than retrofitting stars into a team set-up. To that end, they were thrilled to regain the services of James Faulkner from Melbourne Stars, which they saw as having the double-effect of burnishing their playing stocks with a highly skilled finisher, and shearing a rival of a key role player in the process.
The Hurricanes have never had a problem registering 180, but they've previously had trouble defending it. Faulkner's return, alongside Riley Meredith's stellar entrance, has balanced an attack which prefers to err on the side of pace, given Blundstone Arena's unforgiving relationship to spin. While their recent capitulation at the hands of Sydney Sixers and Josh Philippe suggests they're not fully rid of that phenomenon, more often than not they're finding ways to restrict the opposition in the wake of their own batting flurries, which adheres to a simple goal to lose no more than two wickets in the first ten overs, and - if achieved - will likely lead to another 100 from the last ten.
Further underpinning their holistic approach to short format cricket, they've recently commenced their own academy program. The brainchild of CEO Nick Cummins and Mike Hussey when both were at the Thunder, the apparatus bridges the gap between Premier Cricket and the BBL, where for many the step from suburban outposts to catches in front of 40,000 under lights can be dizzying.
Under the program, players play against others on the periphery, and head to tournaments against other Academy outfits, like a recent one in Abu Dhabi, where they were able to play against teams like the Auckland, Yorkshire and Lahore Qalandars able to provide exposure to mystery spin, and players who could work the ball into strange areas.
Earlier this week, Cummins replied to feverish praise of the Hurricanes on Twitter, claiming the importance of 'keeping the lid on'. But as the Scorchers 2.0 project rounds the bend into finals, their powerful batting, role players, balanced bowling and a cohesive operational structure means he'll be fighting an uphill battle. There can be little doubt the Hurricanes have given themselves every opportunity to claim their first title in franchise history. The lid is almost off.