Ashton Turner’s injury, Ashton Agar’s home form: what went wrong for Perth Scorchers

The confidence from the 33,000 Optus Stadium crowd was justified given Scorchers’ knack of pulling out miraculous victories over the years.

But when Hobson fell to a stunning return catch from Strikers captain Matthew Short, Scorchers’ bid for a historic hat-trick of titles was effectively over. Many of the glum fans could not bear to watch any further as they headed for the exit in an unusual sight.

Scorchers had won 17 of their last 18 home matches before failing to defend 197 against Sydney Sixers in a last-ball defeat that cost them second spot and a double chance in the finals.

They again let slip a strong position at the innings break to suffer a shock 50-run defeat against Strikers as they now come to grips with the end of their BBL dominance.

Scorchers/Western Australia had swept through the domestic titles over the past two years amid a golden era. But there have been cracks over the season for Scorchers and here are a few takeaways over why their title defence ended abruptly.

Ashton Turner’s absence

While it’s easy to rue the Sixers defeat, Scorchers’ turning-point was probably in their third match of the season when captain Ashton Turner limped off after bowling his first delivery against Hobart Hurricanes.

He was ruled out for the remainder of the tournament following knee surgery having only faced 17 balls out in the middle. Scorchers were initially able to withstand his absence as stand-in captain Aaron Hardie led from the front with plenty of support from Josh Inglis and Laurie Evans in the middle-order.

But Hardie and Inglis fell away as the season wore on and combined with Evans’ absence, after leaving for the UAE’s ILT20, Scorchers were exposed against Strikers.

Turner’s composed and powerful batting in the backend of innings was clearly missed and so too his leadership. His tactical nous was widely lauded during Scorchers’ title-winning seasons and his players mirror his calm demeanour.

Scorchers this season looked unusually ragged at times, with the ball and in the field, especially at the death against Sixers and Heat. You feel Turner would have been a steadying presence.

It was always going to be tough shoes to fill for Hardie. Preferred over wicketkeeper Inglis, Hardie grew into the role and looms as a future leader – potentially at international level.

Sticking with Scorchers’ well-worn manual, much like Turner, Hardie is understated and doesn’t give much away emotionally. He enjoyed an impressive performance initially against Strikers having had the courage to replace struggling frontline spinner Ashton Agar with little-used Connolly.

Hardie had also started to take charge by bowling himself more and he was rewarded with the key wicket of Jake Weatherald and then James Bazley in the same over. But losing Turner, surely Scorchers’ most important player, ultimately proved too hard to overcome for a team that has shown plenty of resiliency over the years.

Scorchers also lost quick Jhye Richardson to a side strain late in the season, while Mitchell Marsh did not play a match due to his Test commitments.

“We’re happy to keep taking the shots and keep rebounding but I think there’s only a certain level that we’re able to do that,” Hardie said. “I still thought we had the team to win the title.”

Top-order struggles

Scorchers were unable to find an effective opening partnership. The departure of Cameron Bancroft, who had been a stabilising presence in the top three during their back-to-back triumphs, to Sydney Thunder proved significant.

Connolly was trialled as an opener at the start of the season, but it backfired. Scorchers ended up using five different opening combinations, but none could strike a half-century partnership.

England opener Zak Crawley was a modest success in his six-game stint while Sam Whiteman, WA’s Sheffield Shield captain, could not fire in his return to Scorchers.

Stephen Eskinazi had been a find for Scorchers last season, but he was mostly squeezed out until a hit on the knuckles against Sixers ended his season. Marcus Harris and Sam Fanning were late season signings and they ended up being Scorchers’ unexpected openers against Strikers.

Fanning, in his BBL debut, unfurled aggressive strokes to provide an early launch pad that had been rarely seen this season. Scorchers’ batting blueprint had been to build a foundation before their big-hitting middle order launched in the second half of the innings.

But, as Fanning showed with his enterprising knock, Scorchers might have to tinker with their philosophy.

Ashton Agar’s home woes

Left-arm spinner Agar has been a fulcrum for Scorchers for many seasons. He has continually defied the pace-friendly Optus Stadium surface by bowling accurately through the middle overs.

Agar had a delayed start to the season having come back slowly from the calf injury that ended his ODI World Cup dreams. He didn’t miss a beat when he returned with 1 for 15 from 3 overs against Hurricanes, which included eight dot balls.

But while he bowled well on the east coast, including an extraordinary 2 for 6 from 4 overs against Thunder on a very slow Sydney Showground surface, Agar struggled at home and became a target for batters.

Against Strikers, Weatherald used his feet and effectively smashed Agar down the ground in a game-changing counterattack. Agar had become a shell of himself with Hardie eventually losing faith in him after two overs. In his last four home matches, Agar took 1 for 152 from 15 overs.

“Teams are coming to Optus with plans. They’re doing their research,” Hardie said. “People are looking at targeting certain bowlers and playing different lineups to what they normally do over here. “We have to look at ways to adapt and figure out ways to get better.”

The future

Scorchers are unlikely to undergo major changes. It’s an experienced group led by level-headed coach Adam Voges and list boss Kade Harvey.

They will back their talented local core and keep building within, but falling off the rails late in the season at home should be a reality check.

“We had the men to do the job,” Hardie said. “We just didn’t play our best cricket, especially in the past couple of games.”

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth

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