Seeking to regain form, Peter Handscomb is set to be spared the added responsibility of wicketkeeping as the Melbourne Stars look to take an aggressive approach to taming Mitchell Johnson and the Perth Scorchers at the WACA Ground on Boxing Day.
Cricket have freed Handscomb, dropped from the Test XI earlier this month, to take on the Scorchers before returning to the national team on day three of the fourth Test against England.
It’s understood off-season recruit Ben Dunk will retain his role as Stars gloveman even though Handscomb has kept wicket in three one-day internationals this year.
The Stars return to the venue where they were eliminated from last summer’s Big Bash League at the semi-final stage after n fast bowling great Johnson produced a vintage spell to finish with the remarkable figures of 3-3 from four overs. The left-armer claimed the wickets of both openers Luke Wright and Rob Quiney for ducks.
However while the Scorchers have long proved difficult to beat on their home ground, the Stars have not been without success at the venue, indeed beating the Scorchers at the WACA in an earlier clash last season.
Wright said the Scorchers – who have entered the season somewhat depleted by injuries, international call-ups and the personal leave – would provide a challenge, but were beatable. The Scorchers began their campaign with a win away to the Sydney Sixers on Saturday, with veteran batsman Michael Klinger returning to the squad for Boxing Day as he continues to deal with wife Cindy’s cancer battle. Spinner James Muirhead misses out to make room for Klinger.
“We have won there before and we’ve played some good cricket there,” Wright said.
“We know they can be beaten but obviously we know how well Perth are always run no matter what team they put out. They’re always organised, they’ve always got a good bowling attack. They’re always hard to beat.
“It’s a tough place to play, and we know we’re going to have to be at our best to beat them, which we certainly can do.”
As for what the Stars had learned from Johnson’s semi-final performance, Wright said there was a risk of playing too timidly against such an intimidating bowler and the rest of Perth’s pace battery. “He bowled one of those spells that Johnson can bowl. I think if anything sometimes you can go into your shell a little bit against that attack,” Wright said.
“I think when we’ve played well there we’ve come out and been quite aggressive, try to get off to that good start.”
After a less than polished display in their loss to Brisbane Heat at the Gabba last week, Wright said the Stars had considerable room for improvement in the field. “Sometimes that first game catches you a little bit off pace if you haven’t been playing loads,” he said.
“I just thought we weren’t quite focused as we should have been.”
There is extra reason for the Stars to hustle in the field, with each member of the XI that lost to the Heat having been fined $1000 for the team’s slow over rate, which also placed captain John Hastings on the brink of a one-match suspension should the team transgress again.
The Stars, including Handscomb, were set to fly to Perth later than usual on Monday to allow players to spend more time with their families on Christmas Day. Joining Handscomb as inclusions are paceman Dan Worrall and Quiney, the latter of whom is understood to have been under an injury cloud with a groin complaint.
The Stars will be without Kevin Pietersen who has gone back to England for Christmas, while spinner Liam Bowe and batsman Seb Gotch have been dropped from the squad.
Meanwhile ???the winless Stars women have named an unchanged squad for their two matches against the Scorchers on Tuesday and Wednesday, the first of which is a curtain-raiser to the men’s match at the WACA.