Widely regarded as one of world cricket’s premier T20 competitions, the Big Bash League (BBL) kicks off tomorrow.
Defending champions Adelaide Strikers travel to face Brisbane Heat in the opening game of an expanded tournament that will see 56 group games — up from 40 last year — with the top four teams battling it out in the semi-finals.
Here’s a look at how the eight teams are shaping up.
The defending champions have a settled squad for this year’s tournament.
Jake Weatherald made 115 in the final last year and was one of the emerging talents of last year’s tournament, but key man Travis Head is now part of the Australian test squad and will be missing for parts of the tournament.
Rashid Khan and Colin Ingram are once again overseas players with Khan the top wicket in last year’s tournament, boasting an impressive economy rate of 6.05. The Strikers are likely to be contenders again
The Heat were a disappointing seventh last year and could have similar problems in 2018/19.
Their batting has always been explosive with Chris Lynn taking over as captain, and he has the third best strike rate in the competition’s history.
However, their bowling once again looks light, but they have signed 17-year old spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman. The Afghan is the youngest player to be signed by a Big Bash franchise after impressing in both the IPL and the T20 Blast.
If the Heat can sort their bowling issues then they can certainly count themselves in the frame for the playoffs.
The Hurricanes had their best ever season in 2017/18, getting all the way to the final. One of the reasons for that success was the form of Jofra Archer, who may now qualify for England sooner than expected.
Archer helped his county Sussex reach the final of the T20 Blast and took 17 wickets in the Big Bash last year, including a best of 3-4.
Having said that, Archer will be hoping to improve on his economy rate in big matches, having recorded figures of 1-46 in last year’s final.
The Hurricanes’ batting was centred around D’Arcy Short, but with Dan Christian gone the batting line-up could halt another Hobart charge.
With Aaron Finch at the top of the batting line up, anything is possible for the Renegades, who made the playoffs last year.
Dan Christian has signed from the Hurricanes to bolster the middle order, but Dwayne Bravo has left which leaves a big hole in the Renegades bowling attack.
The Renegades are hoping Will Sutherland, 18, returns from injury in time for the tournament and he looks a promising bowling all-rounder, but the they may just be a bowler short of competing for the title. Harry Gurney of Notts will be representing them.
Last year’s Wooden Spoon winners stunned the Big Bash by capturing Dwayne Bravo from their city rivals, the Renegades.
Glenn Maxwell takes over captaincy and will once again be important for the Stars with the bat, but with the ball it has been all change.
John Hastings had to retire with Jackson Coleman likely to take centre stage. Liam Plunkett will arrive in January, but the Stars will do well to make the semi-finals.
The three-time champions were stunned by the Hurricanes in the semi-finals last year, but have seen coach Justin Langer depart to take over the Australian national side.
Star man David Willey is back though, a player who has become a firm favourite in Perth for his excellent bowling in the powerplay.
Cameron Bancroft’s ban is coming to an end and will be available for the Scorchers at some point in the group phase and they once again look a formidable prospect.
There will be plenty of English interest in the Sixers, who narrowly missed the semi-finals last year.
Joe Denly once again returns after a brilliant year for him — which saw him return to international cricket — and Tom Curran will be looking to build on an impressive IPL campaign.
The Sixers have lost Nic Maddinson to the Stars — who scored at a strike rate of nearly 150 last season — and they are relying on youth in the batting department.
That is a formula that has worked for other Big Bash teams and the Sixers look set to challenge again.
There are high expectations across Sydney at the Thunder after a disappointing sixth last year.
Joe Buttler returns for them while Joe Root gets his first opportunity to play in an overseas T20 competition. The England test captain has a point to prove having gone undrafted in the IPL auction.
Shane Watson is once again captain of the side, and he had a superb IPL playing a massive role in the Chennai Super Kings’ title win.
The Thunder look light on the bowling side though and with Buttler and Root only available until mid-January, they could struggle to make the semi-finals.
Featured photograph/Cricket Australia