Perth Scorchers quick Jhye Richardson is set to miss the BBL decider next Saturday as he continues to battle a hamstring injury.
Richardson is likely to be the hard luck story for defending champions Scorchers, who locked in a home grand final after beating arch-rival Sydney Sixers by seven wickets at a febrile Optus Stadium.
After sustaining what was deemed a minor hamstring injury against Sydney Thunder on January 4, Richardson had been earmarked to return in time for the finals series but his recovery has taken longer than expected.
"I think Jhye's chances are pretty slim. I'd be surprised if we see him next weekend," conceded Scorchers captain Ashton Turner.
On the fringes of Australia's Test team, Richardson has played three Test matches with his most recent being in the Adelaide Ashes Test in December 2021, where he memorably bowled Australia to victory on the final day with a five-wicket haul.
But the 26-year-old Richardson fell down the pecking order this summer with a nagging heel injury consigning him to the sidelines for an extended period ahead of the BBL season.
A fit and firing Richardson, however, issued a reminder of his talents with explosive bowling nudging 150kph to take 15 wickets in just seven matches to be the BBL's standout quick until his latest setback.
With fresh doubts over Richardson's ability to stay on the field, Scorchers are set to be cautious with an eye on his long-term future.
"Jhye's such an exciting cricketer, but he's still a young guy," Turner said. "He puts his body through a lot. But we also have a bit of perspective. Jhye's got a lot of cricket ahead of him, in orange, playing for WA, playing for Australia, playing for franchises around the world.
"He's too important to put unnecessary risk on his body. I don't think it's worth putting someone's young body under too much stress."
Perth Scorchers weigh up specialist spinner
Richardson's absence will be a blow for Scorchers given his liking for the big stage having taken seven wickets in three previous grand finals, including a player of the match performance against Sixers in the BBL06 decider.
Scorchers will also be without speedster Lance Morris, who played his last BBL match of the season before joining Australia's squad for the Test tour of India.
Morris' replacement is set to be a battle between reliable legspinner Peter Hatzoglou and quick Matt Kelly, who missed the Sixers match due to concussion protocol after suffering a freak injury to his face while fielding against Melbourne Renegades.
Scorchers went into the clash against Sixers without a specialist spinner with part-timers Turner and Cooper Connolly not used.
"We'll have to assess the conditions," Turner said. "Peter Hatzoglou has bowled really nicely for us over a couple of years now. He's someone who should be playing at this level. He's got a proven track record, he's won us games."
Left-arm quick David Payne is likely to hold his spot after a starring role against Sixers with the pivotal dismissals of Steven Smith and Moises Henriques amid a three-wicket haul.
His performance was even more impressive with Payne having been a doubtful starter after feeling unwell and forced into isolation from his teammates.
"We have a lot of confidence in every player in our squad. We trust what they have to say. He's been such a valuable inclusion into our squad," Turner said of Englishman Payne, who replaced compatriot Tymal Mills after he was unavailable for the tournament due to a family emergency.
"It's been a seamless transition for him. He's been great for our dressing room. Thankfully now he's got a couple of days to rest up."
Hope for 50,000 fans at BBL final
After such a commanding victory over Sixers, lapped up by more than 41,000 vocal fans, Scorchers have strengthened their status as the competition's powerhouse franchise on-and-off the field.
As Scorchers attempt a back-to-back triumph and fifth title overall, a 50,000 crowd is expected at Optus Stadium, which will host a BBL grand final for the first time.
Only an Australia-England ODI and a BBL semi-final between Scorchers and Hurricanes have attracted crowds over 50,000 for cricket at the venue and both those matches were held immediately after the Burswood stadium opened in early 2018.
No matter who they play, Scorchers will start firm favourites having won 12 of their last 13 matches at home.
"It is a distinct home ground advantage," Sixers quick Sean Abbott said. "Those guys play their home conditions extremely well."