Big Bash League: Melbourne Stars confident of hefty MCG crowd for Friday’s semi-final

Evan Gulbis of the Stars hits a six against the Brisbane Heat at the MCG last Friday. Photo: Michael DodgeTwo years after attracting a paltry crowd to a home Big Bash League semi-final, Melbourne Stars are confident Friday night’s attendance at the MCG will be notable for the right reasons.

The Stars will host the only other team that has qualified every season for the semi-finals: Perth. That is where their parity ends, with the Stars’ failure to reach the final in four attempts contrasted by the Scorchers having twice been champions and once runners-up.

The only time the Stars have faced someone besides their nemesis in the semi-final came two years, when they were thumped at home by Hobart. Their attendance, 12,506, was the second-lowest for any of their home matches, and meant they was barely any atmosphere inside the 100,000-capacity MCG.

Stars chief executive Clint Cooper predicted the change from a Tuesday night to Friday night this time around, combined with the surge in the BBL’s popularity this season, should deliver an attendance in excess of 50,000-plus expected for the sell-out semi at Adelaide Oval the preceding night.

“I’ll be pushing for 50,000 or 60,000,” Cooper said. “If Big Bash wasn’t on the map before the January 2 derby is certainly is now, and hopefully a staple diet for not only cricket followers but non-cricket followers that are coming in and enjoying the game.”

The Stars have already learned a lesson from their record-breaking derby match against the Renegades on January 2. The giant banner that covered an entire bay of seats in the Ponsford Stand, that had to be hastily removed on the night as the crowd exceeded 80,000, will not be used on Friday.

Given the busy conditions expected in Yarra Park, with the Australian Open tennis and the strict MCG perimeter security barrier, Cooper is hoping spectators arrive with plenty of time to spare, ideally by public transport due to parking restrictions.

A lure for early arrivals will be the Women’s Big Bash League semi-final between Hobart and Sydney Sixers, to begin at 2.40pm.

That BBL03 semi-final against the Hurricanes was the only time in five years the Stars’ line-up has not been depleted by national selection. Their biggest hindrance came in the second season when they played a full-strength Perth team at the WACA Ground without David Hussey, Clint Mckay, Glenn Maxwell and James Pattinson. The latter was unavailable because the Stars had replaced him in their squad on the medical advice of Cricket Australia, only for him to recover well ahead of schedule.

For Friday’s match the Stars will be without  Maxwell, James Faulkner, Scott Boland and John Hastings. The blow to the Scorchers’ loss of the Marsh brothers has been eased by paceman Joel Paris’ release from the one-day squad.

Cooper said the Stars had strategically tailored their recruitment to signing players who could step in when Australian mainstays  depart. While they were not expecting this to be compounded by call-ups for two of their pacemen, Boland and Hastings, Cooper said he had not assumed Australia’s selection policy would be considered for the BBL semi-finalists, even though the result of the one-day series against India is assured.

“I think we all go in with eyes wide open that the Australian players, once they get selected, are ‘quarantined’, for want of a better word, out of the system. Having known that, over the past couple of years we’ve worked towards developing a squad that was capable of fulfilling those roles,” he said.

Understudy all-rounder Evan Gulbis, who did not play until Faulkner’s departure, has been the Stars’ best player in their past two matches. Daniel Worrall also had to wait for his chance, and his swing with the new ball last Saturday night was pivotal to the Stars’ ability to beat the Scorchers so convincingly that they snared hosting rights from them.

“We’d love to have them – but who would you drop out after the performances of ‘Frankie’ [Worrall] and [Ben] Hilfenhaus on the weekend?” Cooper said.

While Cooper insisted he and his coaching staff have “complete confidence” in their understudy players, he said he was hopeful that in future seasons the packed international and BBL schedule could be tweaked to prioritise access for BBL finalists to players in the national squad.

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