Stars in trouble after crushing loss

James Faulkner claimed in the lead-up to this match that things hadn’t yet reached “panic stations” for the Melbourne Stars.

How about now?

The Stars have repeatedly bounced back from slow starts to keep their perfect record of making the Big Bash League finals, but their predicament after three matches this season must surely shake the resolve of a club that has a proud record of consistency.

Yes, the BBL season has been extended to 10 games per team, so three losses to start their campaign is not an entirely hopeless position, especially given they qualified for the semis three summers ago after an 0-3 start in an eight-match schedule.

But a crushing loss to Brisbane Heat at the MCG on Tuesday night only reinforced the perception that the Stars look rudderless and stale. They must find something more ahead of Saturday’s MCG derby against the Melbourne Renegades, a side that looks settled and organised, things that cannot be said of the Stars.

Sent in after Brisbane won the toss, the Stars were spun into a web by the Heat’s leggie duo of Mitchell Swepson (3-14 from four overs) and Yasir Shah (1-16 from four), eventually scrapping their way to 7-141.

Brisbane promoted Chris Lynn to open alongside fellow “Bash Brother” Brendon McCullum. It proved an inspired move, with the pair putting on 101 in less than 11 overs, with McCullum leading the way with a blitzkrieg-like knock of 61 from 30 balls. Lynn reached 50 more sedately, but was still impressive en route to an unbeaten 63 from 46 balls, having been dropped by Stars skipper John Hastings on 0 in the first over of the chase. Remarkably it was Lynn’s slowest ever BBL 50.

Questions will be asked of Hastings, in his first summer as captain and back after missing last season through injury. Fellow seamer Scott Boland was dropped for this match, but Hastings’ spot in the team looks similarly hard to justify after he made a duck and continued his poor run with the ball, going for 22 from two overs.

Still, it’s a bit unfair to single the captain out in a side full of struggling players that lost by nine wickets with 32 balls to spare, a result which does their net run rate no favours.

Stars coach Stephen Fleming had made it abundantly clear how disappointed he was with his side’s much-vaunted top order after their Boxing Day loss in Perth. He challenged them to step up. With the exception of Glenn Maxwell, they didn’t. The opening partnership isn’t working. The off-season signature of Ben Dunk was supposed to be a major coup but so far he has been a flop, making five against the Heat to take his season total to just 11 runs. His partner Luke Wright has at least made starts, but is yet to get more than 21, having fallen to Swepson when stumped down the leg side for 19. The Englishman had been lucky to get that far, dropped at third man in the second over by Cameron Gannon.

Kevin Pietersen had escaped the coach’s criticism in Perth on the basis that he wasn’t there, having headed home for Christmas. Back in the team the showman looked threatening early in his innings but was put down by Joe Burns at short cover on 21 before holing out to Swepson for 30. A few overs later Marcus Stoinis walked off fuming after being run out for four, and a sub-120 score loomed when Rob Quiney pushed a simple return catch to Swepson, making the third duck of his last five BBL innings.

Maxwell showed restraint, nudging his way to 30 before casting off the shackles late in the innings. From there he quickly he reached 50, but couldn’t hang around until the end, caught in the deep on an even half-century from 39 balls with two overs left in the innings. Faulkner remained unbeaten for the third straight match but managed just one boundary in a run-a-ball 20.

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