Stars fail to shine as Strikers cruise home

Adelaide Strikers vs Melbourne Stars
Melbourne Stars 151-6 (Maxwell 60, Stoinis 39) lost to Adelaide Strikers 152-2 (Carey 59*, Head 53) by 8 wickets at Adelaide Oval

Adam Zampa pitched the ball up, and Alex Carey slog swept it hard and flat. The ball just kept travelling, as it flew into the gap on the leg-side. It landed metres outside the boundary, and, just like that, it was over. The Adelaide Strikers had won with little fuss, and left the Melbourne Stars wondering what they can salvage from a campaign that is quickly becoming a smouldering wreck. In this game, they benefitted from Marcus Stoinis’ power and an excellent innings from Glenn Maxwell. They bowled well as a team. None of it mattered.

The Stars have tried everything to halt their slide. They have been berated, told to go about their business differently, and there have been plenty of players dropped. None of it has worked. Not for the first time, an early collapse was at the heart of their defeat. Their problems started before the toss, with Luke Wright absent after a late-night trip to the bathroom went wrong and he did his back. When the PowerPlay was finished with the Stars at 3/34, makeshift opener Stoinis was the last man remaining from a top order which fell down like a house of cards.

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Big hitting: Glenn Maxwell swings hard during his 60.

Ben Dunk was the first to depart, attempting to loft one over Ben Laughlin at mid-off and failing in his efforts. Then Kevin Pietersen, fresh from announcing that this BBL season will be his last, played an innings which was short on substance but not in entertainment value. He flicked Billy Stanlake to the boundary with one leg in the air, and then survived some terrible running between the wickets only to get himself bowled for 5. His attempt to give himself room and waft at a straight ball gave the impression that Pietersen has given up. Peter Handscomb, wearing a shirt upon which his name was misspelled, faced only five balls before skying a pull shot against Ben Laughlin with the last ball of the PowerPlay.

Stoinis had been motoring along nicely at the other end, and when Stanlake returned for the seventh over he played him with ease and brutal power. He had flown to 39 out of his side’s meagre 51. Then he departed too, taking on the consistent Rashid Khan and picking out the man on the boundary perfectly. At this point Maxwell, who had entered with Handscomb’s dismissal, took over. In conjunction with Seb Gotch he played a mature innings, giving the Stars something to defend. He began his innings with an early boundary, a cut shot through backward point for four. For some reason, the Strikers never put anyone on the point boundary, as he continued to score through point and third man with alarming frequency. Michael Neser was cut through a miniscule gap in the in-field and slapped for six over cover. Peter Siddle was run down to third man. Rashid was reverse swept over the two fielders placed on the ring. Stanlake was the victim of a thick outside edge which ran unimpeded to the boundary. Maxwell brought up fifty with three more runs through third man, but didn’t last much longer. With his departure, the innings fizzled out. John Hastings hit a big six off the penultimate ball of the innings, but 6/151 was an underwhelming return.

The Strikers’ pursuit was a steady one, as the hosts never looked threatened by the Stars’ bowling attack. Early progress was slow, but Jake Weatherald and Carey had soon begun to find the boundary, with Carey’s series of drives particularly easy on the eye. Weatherald departed just after the PowerPlay as he sought to sweep Maxwell and fell victim to a sharp stumping from Handscomb. At this point Travis Head came to the crease to join Carey, and the Stars were methodically batted out of the game.

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Balance: Travis Head hits the ball while standing on one leg during his brilliant 53.

Head’s innings was perfectly paced from start to finish, and ended any faint hopes the Stars may have had. He started slowly, and initially the boundaries dried up as Carey also struggled to find the rope. As his innings moved forward, however, he was able to find the fence with greater regularity. He took a liking to Stoinis, hitting a crisp back foot drive against his medium pace and following it up with his first six, which hit Hastings’ rock hard hands at deep mid-wicket and flew over the boundary. As the target came within striking distance, he began to accelerate rapidly. He hit Scott Boland through a tiny gap between cover and mid-off while balancing on one leg and advancing down the wicket, and proceeded to hit another flat pull shot for six over mid-wicket. Stoinis returned, and Head hit a six over long-off and an edged four through third man to bring up 50. He was out next ball, but he had batted the Stars out of the game.

The rest of the chase was completed fairly comfortably, as Carey reached his half-century and Colin Ingram came in and looked to close out the win as quickly as possible. Like Head, he used Stoinis as a punching bag with a massive six and a well-hit four, assuaging any late nerves the Strikers may have had. As the game wound down he was dropped twice, but this was more a postscript which symbolised the Stars’ many issues than a decisive moment in a contest that was reaching an inevitable end. The Strikers found things too easy against a Stars side containing too many passengers, and with this loss all but confirming the Stars’ non-presence in the finals they will have a lot of thinking to do about how they are going to take something out of their catastrophic campaign.

Top 5
1. Travis Head (Adelaide Strikers)
Head’s innings was perfectly paced and set up the chase brilliantly for the Strikers. He led from the front in compiling a half-century, and some of the boundaries he hit towards the end of his innings were ridiculous shots. He showed a maturity which bodes well for the future, and continued to show his well-honed captaincy skills.
2. Glenn Maxwell (Melbourne Stars)
Maxwell played a very nice innings to give the Stars a fighting chance, and bowled well to pick up the big wicket of Weatherald. He was especially prolific through point, and while he showed some of his inventiveness he seems to have mostly shelved his unorthodox style in favour of a more determined approach. Time will tell whether it works, but the early results are promising if not as destructive.
3. Alex Carey (Adelaide Strikers)
Carey batted through the innings and was the perfect counterpoint to Head’s aggression, keeping everything going steadily and batting very maturely as the Strikers ran down the target. His glovework was as steady as ever, and his consistent presence with both bat and gloves has allowed the Strikers to move towards the upper reaches of the table.
4. Rashid Khan (Adelaide Strikers)
Rashid’s quality is highlighted by the fact that he was the best bowler on either side despite putting in his worst performance of the season so far. For the first time this season he failed to take two wickets in the match, but his removal of Stoinis and ability to beat the in-form Maxwell on both sides of the bat meant that he was still as dangerous as ever. He barely bowls a bad ball.
5. Marcus Stoinis (Melbourne Stars)
Stoinis was the only member of the Stars’ top-order who stood up, and along with Maxwell provided the base for their total. He hit the ball well and looked completely at home while others faltered, and although he was dismissed when he looked set for a destructive half-century he can take pride in his performance. He struggled with the ball, but picked up the wicket of Head and should have had Ingram with the last ball of his spell.

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