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View From Down Under: Finals pressure on as Scorchers tipped to defend BBL title

With the Perth Scorchers’ place in the Big Bash League finals all but assured, most of the pressure in the final week of regular fixtures will be on the Brisbane Heat and Melbourne Renegades.

The defending champion Scorchers lead the tournament on 12 points after eight games and need some striking fortune from the other top teams, coupled with some extremely bad luck, to miss the final four.

A win over the third-place Hobart Hurricanes on Saturday should be enough to guarantee a finals spot for Perth, especially if the Tasmanian side goes down to the second-place Adelaide Strikers on Wednesday night.

William Hill is paying $1.76 (-132) for the Strikers to draw level with the Scorchers on points with a home win over the Hurricanes, with Hobart on $2.10 (+110).

The Scorchers are the $1.73 (-137) favorites to make it two losses in a row for the Hurricanes, with Hobart on $2.10 (+110) to take the crucial two points.

The fifth-place Heat must beat the seventh-place Sydney Sixers on Thursday to realistically keep their finals hopes alive.

The Heat, who lost by just three runs to the Hurricanes last week, are on equal betting with the Sixers at $1.91 (-110).

The fourth-place Renegades have a one-game cushion over Brisbane, but face an anxious wait on other results before their final regular matches against the Sydney Thunder on January 24 and Melbourne rivals, the Stars, on January 27.

Rank outsiders for a finals spot, the Thunder cannot be discounted ahead of their encounter with the Stars on Saturday.

The sixth-place Thunder are on $1.80 (-125) to win in Melbourne, with $2 (+100) for the wooden spoon-bound Stars.

Looking ahead to the February 4 final, the Scorchers are predictable $3.74 (+274) favorites to claim a second straight BBL title, with the Strikers on $4 (+300), the Hurricanes at $4.25 (+325), the Renegades on $5 (+400) and the Heat paying a tempting $7.50 (+650).

In the international game, Australia is tipped to level the limited-overs series at 1-1 after the second one-dayer at the Gabba on Friday.

England bounced back from a dismal test series loss to win the first game by five runs in Melbourne on Sunday, as David Warner and Steve Smith failed at the crease.

The Aussie pace attack is expected to sizzle again on the bouncy Brisbane wicket, with the hosts on $1.62 (-161) to win against $2.25 (+125) for a loss.

The A-League returns this week from its festive season hiatus with Sydney holding a two-match lead over the Newcastle Jets after 16 rounds.

That top two is expected to remain unchanged after this week, with Newcastle paying $1.66 (-152) to down the last-place Wellington Phoenix at home on Saturday, against $4.75 (+375) for a loss and $4 (+300) for a draw.

Also Saturday, Sydney is tipped to make short work of the eighth-place Central Coast Mariners at home, with just $1.35 (-286) for a win, $8 (+700) for an unlikely loss and $5 (+400) for a draw.

The coming two weeks of sporting fixtures will be played against the backdrop of the Australian Open, with Nick Kyrgios and Ash Barty carrying the Aussie hopes of winning a home Grand Slam.

Kyrgios powered past Brazil’s Rogerio Dutra Silva and is on just $1.05 (-2000) to beat Viktor Troicki on Wednesday night.

Barty beat Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus in three sets and is the $1.65 (-154) favorite to reach the third round with a win over Italy’s Camila Giorgi on Thursday.