David Hussey aims to bring Kolkata Knight Riders lessons to Melbourne Stars
Stars' batters are going to be given the backing to be as aggressive as they want
Melbourne Stars coach David Hussey believes he learned more from the failure of last season's BBL than the success of the season before and hopes to implement some of the strategies that he and Brendon McCullum used to turn Kolkata Knight Riders around in this year's IPL.
Hussey's first season as Stars coach in 2019-20, having taken the reins from Stephen Fleming, went like a dream until they fell at the last hurdle against Sydney Sixers in a rain-affected final in Sydney.
But his second campaign did not go as smoothly as the side battled to win just five games and lost their last three to miss out on the finals.
"I actually learned more about [the job] last year when we're not playing as well than the first year when everything was going smoothly," Hussey told ESPNcricinfo. "A lot of man management, a lot of strategy meetings, and sometimes your strategy is not always correct."
Hussey appreciates the role of the assistant coach having spent a couple of seasons alongside McCullum at KKR. As a result, he is going to put a lot of trust in new Stars assistants Ben Rohrer and Clint McKay to help run the team. "You should get more and more ideas and a lot of trust in the assistant coaches," he said.
But he also wants to implement some of the things that worked so well at Kolkata this year. When the IPL was postponed due to a Covid-19 outbreak in India, KKR sat seventh on the table with just two wins. On returning in the UAE later in the year they were a completely different side, unshackled, unburdened, and playing an exhilarating brand of cricket. They stormed to the playoffs and made the final only to be beaten by Chennai Super Kings.
Hussey wants to recreate the KKR environment for his Stars players in order to get the best out of them.
"Be firm but fair," Hussey said. "Have the honest constructive conversations with all the batters and the bowlers. A lot of one-on-one time. But also have them believing. Cricket at the moment is so highly pressurised, every ball that's bowled or faced is so important a game of T20 cricket. Try and remove all the pressure from that situation you possibly can. If they're nice and relaxed, they generally play their best."
Like with KKR, Hussey wants his batters to be bold. Stars missed out on a big-name recruit but have added uncapped Englishman Joe Clarke to keep wicket and bat at the top of the order alongside Marcus Stoinis. Joe Burns and Beau Webster add a lot of flexibility in the middle-order alongside captain Glenn Maxwell, Nick Larkin, and Hilton Cartwright.
He may also sometimes utilise Nathan Coulter-Nile's power-hitting earlier in the innings after he conceded Stars "got surge yips last year" trying to work how to best exploit the BBL's Power Surge playing condition with two powerplay overs saved for the second half of the innings.
Hussey admitted his batting philosophy has changed, particularly around six-hitting and strike rotation, and will encourage players in certain situations to turn down singles if they feel a match-up is right for them to try and hit multiple sixes in an over.
"Old school T20 batting is hit a six and a one," Hussey said. "But new school batting is hit a six then another six. Put the bowler under as much pressure as possible. So my thinking has changed. But if you go in with negative thoughts as a batter and pass it on, they start doubting themselves so it's all about giving them as much confidence as they possibly can and if they want to hit six sixes in the over, they've got our blessing."
Stars have recruited Qais Ahmad to work in combination with Adam Zampa after having success with two legspinners at the MCG two years ago. They do have some injury concerns in the pace bowling ranks. Billy Stanlake is unlikely to play a part in the tournament due to a back injury while Liam Hatcher will also miss the early part of the BBL due to his back issue. They lost tearaway quick Lance Morris who has signed with Perth Scorchers.
Victorian youngsters Brody Couch and Sam Elliott, son of former Australia Test opener Matthew Elliott, could well get an opportunity.
"We might have to rejig the strategy there and maybe open the bowling with Sam Elliot and a spin option to try and spread out our best bowlers to bowl in the middle," Hussey said.
Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo