Top-order batting woes stand as a potential roadblock to Sydney Thunder’s KFC Big Bash League title defence, but paceman Pat Cummins is shaping as their X-factor.
With Usman Khawaja to miss most of the 2016-17 campaign on national duties, veterans Jacques Kallis and Mike Hussey stepping down and skipper Shane Watson not expected back from a calf injury until after Christmas, they are facing an uphill slog.
The quartet amassed 1023 last campaign – or about two thirds of 1574 runs scored by Thunder batsmen on their run to a surprise championship triumph.
Just as Khawaja proved the difference last year, Cummins shapes as the ace up the Thunder’s sleeve.
Thunder quick Gurinder Sandhu has watched Cummins terrify batsmen since their junior days, the pair having played junior representative cricket together.
While Sandhu is adamant it's not up to the bowler to carry the can, putting his faith in the likes of young batsmen Kurtis Patterson and Ryan Gibson, he knows Cummins can lend the side some authority.
"We've played together since we were about 15, 16, 17," Sandhu said.
"I think he made his debut for NSW when he was 17 in the old school T20 competition. He was pretty scary early on.
"I've been playing cricket with him for a long time now. He's going to lead the attack with maybe myself or Andre Russell or Clint McKay. It's always great to have him in your change room rather than playing against him."
Cummins, 23, is on the comeback trail from back and leg injuries which have plagued him most of his career and made a successful return to the international arena in this month's one-day series against New Zealand, including an impressive 4-41 in Canberra.
He will be available for the opening of the tournament but is likely to be called back into the national squad for the five-game one-day series against Pakistan in January.
Perennial strugglers in the first four editions of the BBL, the Thunder shocked everyone in last year's tournament and Sandhu insists culture and "knowing what winning feels like" will have more of an impact than any personnel changes.
"I think our batters are very well equipped even though you mentioned some names there that are missing," Sandhu said.
"Huss has been around talking to the younger batsmen. We were pretty blessed to have JK (Kallis). But I think we've got the arsenal to go on with the title defence.
“A couple of the younger boys, Kurtis Patterson, Ryan Gibson, if they get a go, they'll be ready."