Big-hitting Englishman Ross Whiteley has made a timely recovery from a thumb injury as the Brisbane Heat seeks to successfully plug the gaps left by its departed Test quartet in an attempt to reach the BBL final.
The Heat is one win away from featuring in Saturday’s decider against the Scorchers in Perth, but must get there by beating the Sixers at the SCG on Thursday night.
It’s a task easier said than done, particularly amid the absence of star batting trio Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne and Matt Renshaw, as well as leg-spinner Mitch Swepson, who won’t play again in this season’s tournament due to being required for Test duty in India.
Their departures have led to the Heat naming an extended squad of 15 for the do-or-die clash with the Sixers.
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All-rounder Nathan McSweeney – who played three matches for Brisbane earlier in the tournament, including a win over the Sixers in which he top-scored with 84 – has been re-activated as a “local replacement player” for Labuschagne.
Brisbane’s squad also includes batsman Sam Heazlett, paceman Will Prestwidge and all-rounder Jack Wildermuth, who are all yet to play this season, as well as forgotten bowler Mark Steketee and Whiteley.
More was expected of Whiteley this season. Before his injury Whiteley – who’d hit six sixes in an over for Worcestershire in an English T20 match in 2017 – had scored just 74 runs in nine matches for the Heat at a strike rate of 102.78.
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Whiteley wasn’t the only Brisbane player to start the tournament slowly – prior to the Heat making a late charge to the finals after being near the bottom of the table for much of the campaign.
Bowling star Michael Neser, who was named in the BBL’s team of the tournament, said the Heat was “peaking at the right time”.
“We started off really slow in this tournament and we’ve come home hot, as the Heat normally do,” Neser said.
“We’ve all had to put our hand up at one stage and get the job done.”
Neser was also named domestic player of the year on Monday night at the Australian Cricket Awards.
“It’s a bit of a sign that I’m doing the right things and performing. It’s definitely a great honour. Hopefully I can continue on with my form,” he said.
In the absence of “spiritual leader” Khawaja, Neser said the onus was him to settle the Heat’s bowling attack.
“Uzzy was in our ears and thinks he is the spiritual leader of our bowling attack … but not having Uzzy there is a big loss,” he said.
“I will probably have to step up and help our bowling attack because Uzzy gave us that calming influence on the field.
“As a bowling unit we have all got to step up and do our job.”
Brisbane Heat squad: Jimmy Peirson (c), Xavier Bartlett, James Bazley, Josh Brown, Max Bryant, Sam Hain, Sam Heazlety, Spencer Johnson, Matt Kuhnemann, Nathan McSweeney, Michael Neser, Will Prestwidge, Mark Steketee, Ross Whiteley, Jack Wildermuth
(three to be omitted, 12th man to be named).