Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Melbourne
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Brisbane Heat are riding a wave of success into the BBL Challenger final against Perth Scorchers having won their last four matches in a row including thrilling victories in the Eliminator and the Knockout. They also beat the Scorchers in the final match of the home and away season to secure their place in the BBL finals. That loss cost the Scorchers a home Qualifier which they subsequently lost to Sydney Sixers in Canberra. Adding salt to the wound was that the Scorchers could not fly home due to a Covid-19 case in Perth and have been forced to host an earned home final at Manuka Oval in Canberra.
The winner will face the Sixers in Saturday night's final at the SCG. Here are the key match-ups that could decide the Challenger.
Ashton Turner vs Chris Lynn at the bat-flip
Rarely has a toss been more important in this tournament for a host of reasons. The Scorchers got burnt in the Qualifier after electing to bowl second when significant dew settled in and made batting look distinctly easily for James Vince and company as the Sixers motored through the chase with relative ease.
Chris Lynn learned from the Scorchers' mistake the following night on the same surface and opted to bat second. The dew wasn't anywhere near as much of a factor but the ball swung early and the Heat could also utilise their trademark X-Factor play of bowling one over of Xavier Bartlett upfront before subbing in Morne Morkel for the second 10 overs of the bowling innings.
Scorchers vs Manuka Oval
The Challenger was supposed to be played at Perth Stadium where the Scorchers were undefeated this season. The Scorchers' record at Manuka Oval this season makes for dim reading having lost all three matches they have played there this season while the Heat are 2-2 including their victory in the Knockout. What is most concerning for the Scorchers at Manuka Oval is their scoring rate, particularly in the second half of their innings. They strike at just 8.30 runs per over in the last 10 overs of their innings at Manuka Oval this season, having struck at better than 9 per over in the last 10 at five of the six other venues they have played at, with the slower more spin-friendly surface at Manuka nullifying their powerful middle order.
Lynn vs Scorchers quicks
The Heat have won their first two finals without contributions from their captain. But the Scorchers know first hand what an impact he can have after he plundered 51 from 25 balls in the final home-and-away game in Adelaide to set up victory for the Heat. Jhye Richardson has been the outstanding bowler of the tournament this season but two batsmen have really troubled him: Lynn and Josh Philippe. Lynn has scored 69 runs off 40 balls in his career against Richardson for one dismissal. Lynn also feasts on Andrew Tye scoring 109 runs from 60 balls for three dismissals. If Lynn gets a good look at both right-armers in the Powerplay like he did in Adelaide he could set the game up for the Heat.
The Scorchers' best match-up for Lynn is two-fold. Jason Behrendorff has never dismissed Lynn but he does curtail him, with Lynn scoring just 43 runs from 39 balls against the left-armer. The Scorchers might also need to be bold and call upon the legspin of either Fawad Ahmed or Liam Livingstone in the Powerplay or as early as possible. Lynn strikes at just 6.54 per over against legspin and has fallen 27 times to it in his career, including once each to Ahmed and Livingstone in this tournament.
Scorchers batsmen vs Heat legspin
The Heat's fortunes in the tournament have clearly turned with the return of the two legspinners Mitchell Swepson and Marnus Labuschagne. They have taken 18 wickets in five games together and the Heat have won four of them. The duo combined for five wickets between them when they beat the Scorchers in Adelaide, while neither played in the two teams the previous meeting at Docklands and the Heat bowled just one over of spin for the innings from left-arm orthodox Matt Kuhnemann as the Scorchers posted a winning total thanks Colin Munro's 82.
The Scorchers' top order has a poor record overall against legspinners with five of the top six averaging under 28 and four of them striking at fewer than 7.65 runs per over. Lynn will want to get his legspinners into the game early against the Scorchers and may even turn to Joe Denly as well as he did in Adelaide. Munro urged his team-mates to take their egos out against Labuschagne and Swepson.
A lot hinges on Livingstone and Josh Inglis. Livingstone scores at 8.63 against legspin and although he is prone to brain fades he has the power to hurt the duo. Meanwhile, Inglis has scored 144 runs from just 91 balls in his career for just three dismissals and has found or cleared the boundary 15 times while facing just 17 dot balls. He is in superb touch at the venue coming off an unbeaten 69 against the Sixers. While there are calls for Mitchell Marsh to bat higher in the Scorchers order the nature of the Heat's attack suggests that would be unwise given Swepson and Labuschagne will be straight into the game following the conclusion of the four-over Powerplay.