Bash Brothers shine to make short work of Stars

Melbourne Stars vs Brisbane Heat
Melbourne Stars 141-7 (Maxwell 50, Pietersen 30, Swepson 14-3) lost to Brisbane Heat 144-1 (Lynn 63*, McCullum 61) by 9 wickets at MCG

James Faulkner was the bowler. Chris Lynn, promoted to open the innings, was on strike, facing his third ball. He tried to hit the ball hard, possibly too hard. It was a catch for John Hastings, who took a couple of steps to his right at mid-off. He fumbled once, then did it again. It was as if time stood still as the ball bobbled in the hands of the Melbourne Stars captain. Three grabs, four, and he still hadn’t pinned it down. It wasn’t clear how many chances he had to take it, even with all eyes affixed to the juggling act in anticipation or nervousness. And then it fell, rolling on the ground. There was no chance of stealing a single: Lynn and Brendon McCullum, the simultaneously feared and admired Bash Brothers, were frozen where they stood, hearts in mouths. As the game wound to an inevitable conclusion with Lynn pounding the ball to all areas of the MCG, the Stars could only rue the missed chance.

Lynn was out of form to start his innings, and it was McCullum who filled the void. He shimmied down the pitch with rapid footwork against pacemen and spinners alike, and began to make short work of the Stars’ below par 141. The Stars had flooded their line-up with spinners in an attempt to quell the Brisbane Heat’s dynamic openers, but it had no impact as McCullum drilled them for towering sixes and crushing fours. As Lynn battled to stay alive, with Adam Zampa even managing to nick his leg stump without any disturbance to the wicket, his captain thrived, and the game seemed to slip away from the hosts with every ball the pair faced.

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Majestic: Chris Lynn hits the ball to the leg side during his unbeaten 63.

Then Lynn started to get a move on. His first six came at the end of the seventh over, with the ball nowhere near the middle but gaining just enough traction to elude Rob Quiney’s outstretched hand on the rope. His next big hits were much more convincing. Hastings was drilled over square leg and carved through point, and only avoided being hit for a second six by virtue of a brilliant effort from Glenn Maxwell, who caught the ball inbounds before tossing it back over the rope as he hung in the void between the field of play and the crowd. Liam Bowe was introduced into the attack, and McCullum took full toll with a six and a pair of fours to pass fifty, before he was dismissed. He attempted one big shot too many, and Bowe claimed his scalp as Quiney calmly took the catch, but the game had already passed the Stars by.

The rest of the runs were knocked off in no time at all. Joe Burns came out and played with effortless timing, and Lynn passed his fifty with a massive six and an outside edge off the bowling of Marcus Stoinis, perfectly summing up an innings containing an incongruous combination of scratchy edges and beautifully hit sixes. He finished the game with a four over cover, backing away against Michael Beer and smashing it through the vacant off side. The Heat were just too good.

Earlier, the Stars had never found enough fluency with the bat, despite some promising signs. Luke Wright and Kevin Pietersen recovered from the early loss of Ben Dunk with a well-constructed 43-run stand. Both were dropped early and looked set to make the Heat pay for their errant fielding, with Pietersen timing the ball perfectly on both sides of the wicket and Wright especially proficient when cutting. Then the PowerPlay ended, and the troubles began.

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Man in form: Mitchell Swepson celebrates the removal of Kevin Pietersen.

The Stars’ woes were caused by the Heat’s spin twins of Yasir Shah and Mitchell Swepson. Yasir had bagged the first wicket by trapping Dunk in front of middle stump, and returned to the attack in the middle overs to keep the runs down and the pressure on. At the other end, Swepson took over. Wright was trapped in no man’s land after running down the wicket, and Jimmy Peirson whipped off the bails. Pietersen, having compiled a fluent 30, attempted an ill-fated loft and was caught. Soon, the pressure was too much, and when Stoinis was run out and Quiney meekly bunted his second ball back to Swepson to gift him a third wicket the Stars were in all sorts of trouble. It was Maxwell who provided the maturity and the power to give them something to defend.

Maxwell came in when Wright departed and started uncharacteristically slowly. It took 13 balls before he hit his first boundary with an effortless upper cut just wide of the keeper, but it was an anomaly in an anomalously cautious innings rather than the start of a blistering cameo. As wickets tumbled at the other end, he was reduced to knocking singles around. For one fleeting moment, as the innings wrapped up, it looked as if he was going to hit his dominant best. Brendan Doggett was slapped straight and Mark Steketee was hit for a trio of fours, with the third of these bringing up his half-century, and with just two overs to go it looked as if he could get them to a competitive score.

Then he holed out, and the innings never threatened to reach such heights again. James Faulkner couldn’t find his form or his timing, and John Hastings’ effort was as entertaining as it was brief, with the first ball knocking off his helmet and the second providing his downfall. Even on the vast expanses of the MCG, 7/141 seemed well below par. It looked absolutely miniscule by the time Lynn and McCullum had dealt with it. The winless Stars were just no match for the dominance of the Heat at their best, and need some big changes if they are to save their floundering campaign.

Top 5
1. Brendon McCullum (Brisbane Heat)
The Stars came out with a clear plan to stifle McCullum, and he found a way to tear them apart anyway. He hit the ball with plenty of power and his aggressive spirit remained intact throughout as he shepherded a struggling Lynn through the PowerPlay while striking a series of lusty blows. His rapid-fire 61 was too much for the Stars to handle, as he returned to his best form in a big way.
2. Mitchell Swepson (Brisbane Heat)
Swepson was the star of the Heat’s bowling effort, keeping the runs down and driving a wedge through the Stars’ middle order on his way to a crucial 3/14. His dismissals of the well-set Wright and Pietersen proved too much for the Stars to deal with, and he looks to be bowling with plenty of skill and confidence.
3. Chris Lynn (Brisbane Heat)
Lynn was nowhere near his best form, but he made 63 anyway. He should have been out with the third ball of the innings, but he made the most of his reprieve and showed signs of his best ball striking with a wonderful six over square leg. He showed excellent fight, and his ability to score big runs despite poor form should sound a warning to the rest of the competition.
4. Glenn Maxwell (Melbourne Stars)
Maxwell gave the Stars something to defend with a fighting half-century, and showed a maturity which had been sorely lacking in his first two innings of the Big Bash. Once he started finding the middle he looked very tough to stop, and the Stars will be needing all the destructive power he can muster if they are to rectify their slump.
5. Yasir Shah (Brisbane Heat)
Yasir bowled well at the start of the innings and returned to great effect through the middle overs. He picked up the big early wicket of Dunk, and bowled beautifully in conjunction with Swepson to put the Stars under the pump. He has found plenty of control and penetration in his first games in Australia, and looks to be a very good pick-up for the Heat.

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