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Feature

The early BBL report card: Scorchers fly high, Stars seek consistency

A look at the highlights from the first 10 days of BBL 2021-22

Tymal Mills is pumped after picking up a wicket, Hobart Hurricanes vs Perth Scorchers, BBL 2021-22, Hobart, December 14, 2021

Perth Scorchers are unbeaten this season  •  Getty Images

After 13 matches across the opening 10 days, the BBL is having an early season breather as the Ashes pink-ball Test in Adelaide takes centre stage. So, it's time for a temperature gauge ahead of the Christmas period when the competition usually heats up.
Despite being nomads, Scorchers look hard to beat Perth Scorchers remain the only unbeaten team in the competition after winning their first three matches. Impressively, Scorchers have overcome upheaval thanks to Western Australia's strict border controls amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Their season-opener against Brisbane Heat will be their only match at Optus Stadium with Scorchers now locked out of Western Australia due to a tightening of the state's hard border.
But being nomads might not even matter greatly because Scorchers are absolutely loaded. With Mitchell Marsh and Josh Inglis returning against Hurricanes, Scorchers' batting is brimming with firepower - a far cry from concerns over whether they could replace departed imports Jason Roy and Liam Livingstone. Cameron Bancroft, who had a century opening stand with Colin Munro against Adelaide Strikers, had to be squeezed out of the line-up against Hurricanes.
Their pace bowling is so potent - even without Jhye Richardson - that Matt Kelly, who starred against Heat, and quick Lance Morris are on the sidelines. Recruit Peter Hatzoglou has combined with Ashton Agar in a formidable spin tandem to round out Scorchers' attack.
Being on the road for the rest of the BBL will surely test them, but Scorchers can take heed in last season's runners-up finish, where they only played four matches in Perth. Early days, but Scorchers are title favourites.
Philippe sends a message to selectors Josh Philippe played 10 T20Is this year but missed out on Australia's T20 World Cup squad. As Australia's ageing top order regenerates, he is making a compelling case as he eyes next year's home T20 World Cup.
The powerful Sixers opener continued where he left off last season when he claimed Player-of-the-Tournament honours. Philippe is the leading scorer in the BBL so far with 259 runs at 86 and a strike rate of 157. He has scored three half-centuries, including an unbeaten 99 when he masterfully led Sixers' calm chase against Stars at the MCG.
Philippe's batting is marked by composure and he's in total command of his game. While he's making it look effortlessly, Philippe keeps the scoreboard ticking over with constant boundaries. Right now, it would be a surprise if Philippe isn't in Australia's line-up at the next T20 World Cup.
Zahir Khan, the standout spinner Spinners have made a big impact so far. Adam Zampa bowled probably the best over in the competition when he defied Sydney Thunder in the last over of the match at the MCG, while Thunder youngster Tanveer Sangha is turning heads with his eye-catching performances. And Rashid Khan keeps doing Rashid Khan things.
But the pick of them has been Melbourne Renegades recruit Zahir Khan, who is the joint leading wicket-taker with seven scalps in three games at an average of 12 and economy rate of just 7. The left-arm wrist spinner has been on the money and impressed with his variations, making him hard to get hold of.
Zahir, who crossed over from crosstown rival Stars, has quickly become the talisman in Renegades attack and given them hope of a playoff run after finishing with the wooden spoon last season. And he's making a statement back home after missing out on Afghanistan's squad for the T20 World Cup.
Stars remain a mystery New season, same old Melbourne Stars. The high-profile franchise has long boasted - pardon the pun - stars but remain without a title. After missing out on the playoffs last season, Stars again entered a new campaign much-hyped, but are currently 2-2 and have been totally inconsistent. They've experienced two bad defeats against the Sixers, but sandwiched between them are a pair of solid wins against the Thunder.
They have had an unsettled line-up but should be more stable on resumption, and boast an array of match-winners aided by the late addition of Andre Russell. The pressure will be on them to find consistency.
Late overseas signings inject pizzaz It's no secret that the BBL this season is short of major international drawcards. Amid the pandemic and competing with rival tournaments, there has been a drain of star power exacerbated in the early stages by a slew of English players being unavailable due to England Lions commitments.
But the late signings of Russell and England's Tymal Mills, who starred at the T20 World Cup in UAE, have provided some much-needed pizazz for a tournament that felt like it was going through the motions a little with so much else going on. Mills, who bowls devastating yorkers, is certainly one to watch out for after career-best BBL figures on his Scorchers debut against former team Hurricanes.
Low crowds, but TV ratings remain strong The BBL started on December 5, which is probably two weeks earlier than its optimal launch date, and the season seemed to creep up on a public consumed with continual Ashes drama.
It means the BBL has been in the backdrop and, undeniably, matches have looked rather jarring with empty grandstands and sparse crowds. The highest crowd so far this season is 16,108 for Scorchers' lone match at Optus Stadium while just 11,037 attended the Stars-Sixers blockbuster at the MCG.
There are a number of potential reasons for the apparent apathy, including hesitancy amid the pandemic while it's tough to reel in families when the school term is still on. And it doesn't help when matches occasionally blow past three and a half hours to only finish past 10.30 pm.
However, television ratings remain strong and maybe that's all that matters. Still, Cricket Australia will be hoping for an uptick in crowd numbers when the season resumes in time for the school holidays.

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth and writes on sports for the Guardian and mailerreport