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BBL stock-taking: how the teams are grappling with Covid-19, departure of key players

Cricket Australia is keen to press on despite the situation unlikely to improve in the near future

Mohammad Hasnain celebrates with team-mates, Sydney, January 2, 2022

Mohammad Hasnain's debut performance has been a boost for Thunder, who have been one of the most-affected teams  •  Getty Images

The BBL is teetering on the edge of chaos with a slew of players testing positive for Covid-19 as the Omicron variant sweeps through Australia's increasingly open borders.
It started on December 30 when the Melbourne Stars vs Perth Scorchers fixture had to be postponed following a number of positive cases within Stars' squad and staff. Other teams have since been affected but Cricket Australia is keen to press on despite the Covid-19 situation unlikely to improve in the near future.
There is the prospect of the tournament needing to be salvaged through a hub-style arrangement but, right now, things remain the same albeit with several depleted teams fielding unusual line-ups.
Adding to the talent drain, the ECB has asked for six members of England's T20I squad to be withdrawn from their respective BBL sides by January 7 to allow them time in the UK before flying out for the tour of the West Indies.
Here's a rundown of each team as the BBL enters the second half of its season.
Adelaide Strikers
Strikers have had a disappointing season with just one win from eight games but have thus far not been impacted by Covid-19. They still suffered consecutive defeats to a weakened Sydney Thunder in recent days. Left-arm seamer George Garton will return to the UK as part of England's T20I squad, but he was, in any case, left out for the loss to Thunder on Sunday after a run of poor form.
Brisbane Heat
True to tradition, Heat have had an inconsistent season even though they appear to be rounding into form amid some stability, with no player testing positive to Covid-19. They did, however, lose English import Tom Abell to a knee injury sustained while fielding in his second BBL game of the season. To shore up their batting, Heat have signed Pakistan batter Fakhar Zaman as they eye qualification for the playoffs.
Hobart Hurricanes
One of the fancied teams ahead of the season, Hurricanes have only shown glimpses of their potential in a patchy performance so far. They at least don't have any Covid-19 drama to deal with and their side is stable in what could be an opportunity for them to finally strike consistency.
Melbourne Renegades
Renegades have escaped the Covid-19 upheaval engulfing crosstown rival Stars, though they are waiting on a test result for James Pattinson ahead of tonight's Melbourne derby at the MCG - which is traditionally the highest-attended BBL game annually.
The bottom-placed Renegades have received a much-needed boost with Shaun Marsh set to make his season debut against Stars after recovering from a calf injury. Skipper Nic Maddinson will also return after having briefly been part of Australia's Ashes squad as cover for Travis Head, who tested positive for Covid-19. But they will soon lose Reece Topley, who is part of England's T20I squad, although he had claimed just two wickets in his last four games.
Melbourne Stars
Stars have been clearly the most-affected team, with openers Joe Clarke and Tom Rogers the latest players to test positive for Covid-19. They now have 12 players, who have returned positive tests, while eight staff members remain in isolation. Victoria coach Chris Rogers has had to take the reins alongside Stars WBBL coach Jarrod Loughman and former wicketkeeper Adam Crosthwaite.
In their loss to Scorchers on Sunday, Stars played without T20 World Cup heroes Adam Zampa and Marcus Stoinis, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Joe Burns and Beau Webster. They have also lost star import Andre Russell, whose five-game stint ended against Heat on December 27.
It led to the unusual situation of a desperate Stars needing to rush in a host of reinforcements plucked from local cricket in a bid to field a team against Scorchers as their sidelined players undergo a seven-day stint in isolation as per government rules.
They gladly welcomed the season debut of Haris Rauf, who claimed 2 for 40 having been a late signing. Former Victoria Sheffield Shield-winning skipper Travis Dean and Pakistan quick Ahmed Daniyal have been named in Stars' squad of 13 for the derby.
Perth Scorchers
Having been forced to stay permanently on the road because of Western Australia's strict border controls, Scorchers appeared the team set to be most compromised this season. The recent league-wide developments have changed that, although Scorchers have not been unaffected, with batter Nick Hobson testing positive and quick Matt Kelly omitted as a close contact.
It threatens to unsettle the three-time champions, who stormed to the top of the ladder with seven wins from eight games despite just one fixture at their Optus Stadium fortress. And their depth will be further tested with star quick Tymal Mills, who has claimed nine wickets from five games, part of England's T20I squad, while Mitchell Marsh and Josh Inglis have been called into Australia's Ashes squad.
Sydney Sixers
Sixers have not been hit like the other Sydney team, Thunder, with none of their players currently sidelined. But the two-time defending champions, currently second on the ladder, will bid farewell to James Vince, who is part of England's tour of the Caribbean. However, he has had a lean season with just 144 runs from seven innings and a top score of 44 achieved in the season opener against Stars. Jackson Bird is available again after injury.
Sydney Thunder
Thunder have been the second-most-affected team with key players Alex Hales, Alex Ross, Tanveer Sangha and Sam Whiteman testing positive. It forced them to bolster their squad with the additions of former Thunder player Arjun Nair and NSW Sheffield Shield batter Lachlan Hearne. Thunder have also been further shorthanded by Sam Billings and quick Saqib Mahmood heading home to the UK.
They did receive a boost with Pakistan import Mohammad Hasnain starring in his BBL debut with a triple-wicket maiden in his opening over in the win over Strikers on Sunday. Despite the adversity, as they proved in consecutive wins over Strikers, Thunder loom as the team best placed to challenge league leaders Scorchers and Sixers.

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth