It is that time of year again when some of the best T20 action is about to get underway in the Southern Hemisphere. Of course, it is highly likely that you may have thought of the BBL, but we are referring to its Kiwi counterpart, the Burger King Super Smash 2017-18.
It is a tournament that continuously produces some of the best domestic T20 action and is contested closely by some very evenly matched teams. A tendency for natural athleticism, small grounds, and a supremely skilled cricketing population makes the Super Smash a must watch.
We break down the Burger King Super Smash 2017-18 squads, the strengths, weakness, and the changes to the teams that are going to be taking part this season and try to pick the ones that are likely to go the distance this time around.
2016-17 result: 4th on the league table
Players to watch out for: Glenn Phillips, Mark Chapman, Tarun Nethula
The Auckland Aces would have been disappointed to not finish in the top-3 last season and have a chance to play for the title considering that they had an excellent team. They finished with the same number of wins as the two teams above them but lost out narrowly due to a poor net run rate.
This year as well, the Auckland Aces have some of the best T20 players of the country in their squad like Martin Guptill, Colin de Grandhomme, and Colin Munro.
The only problem is that with the New Zealand international season running concurrently, many of those players will be away on national duty and thus not provide any value to the Auckland Aces.
Glenn Phillips had an excellent T20 season last time around scoring 369 runs for the Aces. He is not a certainty in the ODI squad just yet so it is unclear whether the Auckland Aces will be able to depend on his availability or not.
The second highest scorer for Auckland was Jeet Raval, the test opener who is not in the New Zealand scheme of white ball cricket right now. His 251 runs came at a strike rate of 131.41, which is passable for T20 cricket but nor great by any means.
Mark Chapman, the cricketer from Hong Kong, had an excellent series scoring 207 runs as well and he will once again be back to boost the batting efforts of the Aces.
The Aces struggled with their bowling last time around even with the presence of Tymal Mills, Lockie Ferguson, Mitchell McClenaghan in their squad but once again it is unclear for how many matches will the likes of Ferguson and McClenaghan will be available, if at all.
The bowling will depend on Mills, Nathula, and Grobbelaar for the bulk of the wickets with Chapman and other chipping in as needed.
The biggest problem with the Aces is going to be managing their player availability which can lead to a lot of shuffling and changing. We think they will be competitive but fall short again.
2016-17 result: 5th on the league table
Players to watch out for: Dean Brownlie, BJ Watling, Daryl Mitchell
To say that the Knights finished 5th on the league table may actually be a little charitable because they were second from the bottom. They finished last year with four wins from their ten matches, not too bad considering that 2nd, 3rd, and 4th placed teams had five wins to their name.
The Knights also have some excellent T20 players in their midst like Corey Anderson, Ish Sodhi, Trent Boult, and BJ Watling. They will be waiting on the selection news from the national side to be clear about which players will be available to them for the majority of the tournament.
The standout performers for them last year were Dean Brownlie, Corey Anderson, and BJ Watling with the bat and Kuggeleijn, Daryl Mitchell, and Jono Boult with the ball. In fact, Daryl Mitchell also scored 152 runs in the competition with seven sixes to his name to be an all-round force for the Knights.
He will once again play an important role this season.
Some of the other players that are expected to be available for the Knights for most of the season are Ben Laughlin, Nathan Reardon, and Bharat Popli. The Indian-born Kiwi was the domestic cricketer of the year for New Zealand just a couple of years back and is expected to provide some impetus in the middle order this year.
New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson, Tim Southee, and Mitch Santner are also a part of the squad but they may not be seen in the competition at all because of their international commitments.
The Northern Knights are a stringer bowling team than they are a batting unit and that can sometimes be a problem on the smaller New Zealand grounds. They will need some of their batsmen to have an astounding season if they are to really contend for the title this year.
2016-17 result: 1st in group stages, lost in the final.
Players to watch out for: George Worker, Mahela Jayawardene, Seth Rance
Easily the team of the tournament last season, the Central District Stags won seven out of their nine completed games (the last one being a washout) and dominated the competition eventually losing in a tense final.
They owed much of that success to the presence of Mahela Jayawardene who scored 367 runs in the tournament, just two runs behind Glenn Phillips, to be the second highest scorer in the entire tournament.
The former Sri Lankan international legend scored at a stunning strike rate of 175.50 with 18 sixes to his name. His runs included a century and two fifties in nine innings.
Providing his support were Tom Bruce, George Worker, and Will Young all of whom had a productive season with the bat. With Jesse Ryder also expected to be available for the tournament this time around, the Central Stags are going to be one of the strongest batting outfits in the entire tournament.
The Central Stags also have an excellent bowling lineup with a number of options to choose from. Their highest wicket-taker last year was Seth Rance with 15 wickets (joint highest in the tournament) and two others from their squad, Tickner and Worker had 14 and 13 wickets respectively.
With Doug Bracewell, Marty Kain, and Ryan McCone also in the squad, the Central Stags have a deep bowling bench full of quality to choose from.
This is easily one of the strongest teams on paper this season and should look to build on its success from last year. They should also have Ross Taylor available during the time the national team is playing T20 cricket.
2016-17 result: Winner
Players to watch out for: Luke Ronchi, Jeetan Patel, Michael Papps
The Wellington Firebirds won the tournament last year after finishing joint second in the league table with five wins from 10 matches. It is a measure of the closeness of all the teams that the eventual tournament winner also had a 50% success rate in the group stage.
The success of the Wellington Firebirds was built on some solid batting performances from Michael Papps, Hamish Marshall, and Tom Blundell. Papps top-scored with 325 runs to his name but his strike rate was a very average 120.37 for the tournament.
Luke Ronchi only played five matches last time year but he will be coming into this tournament on the back of a successful Bangladesh Premier League where he scored a lot of runs and should be able to score heavily once again.
Michael Pollard provided the impetus to their batting down the order as he scored 176 runs with a team maximum 14 sixes to his name. Grant Elliot has also made a name for himself traveling the world playing t20 cricket and his experience as an all-rounder playing the difficult overs will be invaluable to the Wellington Firebirds.
We worry about a lack of power hitting in their lineup, especially if Luke Ronchi does not have a good tournament.
Their bowling will be led by Brent Arnel who took tournament high 15 wickets last year and supported by Grant Elliot, Hamish Bennett, and Jeetan Patel. There was somewhat of a struggle to find the fifth bowler last year around but hopefully, Woodcock will be able to do the job this time around.
We think the Firebirds had a great year last time around to win but we don’t see them repeating their success this time around. That being said, they are far from the worst team in the tournament and so they could still be in the running for the knockout stages of thongs go their way.
2016-17 result: 3rd in the League table, lost in the preliminary finals
Players to watch out for: Henry Nicholls, Peter Fulton, Ben Hilfenhaus
The Canterbury Kings started the season slow last time around and then found a different gear going into the end stages of the group games. That allowed them to pip the Auckland Aces for a preliminary final spot and have a shot to qualify for the finals.
Their standout player last year was Henry Nicholls who scored 336 runs last time around. He has been in good form this season as well and will be the one player that the Kings look towards for runs every single time.
He will have support from the likes of Todd Astle, Peter Fulton, and Tom Latham when he is not on national duty. The batting for Canterbury looks a little thin when compared to the other teams and we can’t help but think that they are going to find it difficult to chase down big totals more times than not.
They also don’t have the power hitting in their team that can boost totals at the death stages. Not a single batsman hit more than 10 sixes and no batsman struck his runs at a strike rate of over 150.00.
The T20 game is moving at a breakneck speed and the Canterbury Kings may find themselves being left behind if they do not adapt quickly enough.
Their bowling was led by Todd Astle who took 13 wickets and E Nuttall with 11 wickets. Matt Henry is a part of the squad and will make a huge difference but his availability will be very limited because of national duty.
Ben Hilfenhaus is the only bowler that had an economy rate of less than 7.00 last season and the Canterbury Kings will need him to lead the bowling attack more than ever this time around.
Third place was an excellent result for this team last year but there will be big questions about their ability to have another good year this time around. We think the Canterbury Kings are set for a fall towards the bottom of the table this year.
2016-17 result: Finished last
Players to watch out for: Hamish Rutherford, Jimmy Neesham, Neil Wagner
The Otago Volts finished dead last time around with only three wins to their name from ten matches and there really is no place to go from there but up.
We don’t think the Volts will win the tournament this year but are certain that they will have a better time than they had last year. There are a couple of reasons for that. Jimmy Neesham is fully fit and expected to be around for the entire duration of the tournament unless of course he makes a comeback into the national side.
Hamish Rutherford has been having a good time in the Ford trophy and should carry the form into the Super Smash. He scored 306 runs last season to be the highest scorer for the Otago Volts. Neil Broom also only played 6 matches last time around scoring an impressive 206 runs but he will also likely play all the matches for the Volts this time around.
With Michael Bracewell, Anaru Kitchen, and Josh Finnie to provide support the Volts actually look like a decent batting lineup. Rutherford hit 19 sixes last time around to be the most prolific six-hitter of the entire tournament so if he can get going again and a few others can chip in as well then the power-hitting part will also be taken care of.
Neil Wagner also just had an astonishing test match against the West Indies to be in excellent form. His availability remains subject to national selection but if the New Zealand selectors continue to pick him predominantly in test matches then he should be available for the majority of the Super Smash tournament.
A number of good all-rounders, a gun bowler, and a few batsmen of international pedigree make us optimistic about the Otago Volts this year around.
Tournament Winner: Central District Stags
Top-3 teams after the group stages: Central District Stags, Auckland Aces, Wellington Firebirds
Last Placed team after group stages: Canterbury Knights