Seventh time lucky for Sixers as Thunder lose their spark

Sydney Sixers vs Sydney Thunder
Sydney Thunder 156-6 (Green 49, Vince 34, Henriques 25-2) lost to Sydney Sixers 157-2 (Hughes 66*, Denly 43, Maddinson 28) by 8 wickets at the SCG

The Sydney Sixers needed two runs to win off the last ball to claim their first win of the season. It was being bowled by Chris Green, the off-spinner specialising in flat, non-spinning yorkers, to Moises Henriques, returning to the Sixers’ side after a four-game absence. The ball was full, but not quite full enough, as Henriques picked out a gap and ran the requisite two. The finish should have been an exciting one, but somehow both teams conspired to make it look somewhat mundane. Everything about the last ball seemed to be played in slow motion, from Gurinder Sandhu sauntering around the boundary to collect the ball to Daniel Hughes completing the winning runs with all the urgency of a Sunday stroll through the park. For a game which all but ended the Sydney Thunder’s faint finals hopes, the finish was as anticlimactic as it gets.

The Thunder were put in to bat first, and got off to a good start thanks to the efforts of James Vince. Vince, fresh from playing a series of good-looking but ultimately unfulfilling innings during England’s Ashes defeat, came in playing with unconventional footwork and characteristic style. His second ball went for six, as the imposing but not-so-dangerous Carlos Brathwaite was swatted over fine-leg. Then Nathan Lyon, fresh from terrorising Vince and his Ashes counterparts, entered the attack. Maybe it was the bite-sized nature of the T20 format that gave Vince some kind of Dutch courage against Lyon. Whatever the cause, his loft over cover against the off-spinner’s second ball was a nicer shot than any the English played against Lyon in a five-match Ashes series. Vince continued to push his innings along, moving around the crease and picking up a few more fours while he was at it.

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Nice Garry: Nathan Lyon (left) celebrates after removing James Vince.

At the other end, his partners struggled to get going. Usman Khawaja, so fluent against the Perth Scorchers just two nights before, couldn’t start his innings on a tough wicket. It took him nine balls to get off the mark, and he had one run off his first 12 balls before he hit a big six to close out Lyon’s first over. He only added one more run before his painful stay was ended, with Brathwaite trapping him lbw and dabbing to mark the occasion. Shane Watson spent even less time at the crease before he dragged a short ball from Sean Abbott onto his stumps. When Vince looked to take Lyon on again and picked out the man on the boundary, the Thunder were in big trouble, and it only got worse when Callum Ferguson took on Henriques and failed.

Then Green stepped up. After receiving an unexpected promotion to number 5, he had ditched the fluoro-green covered bat he sported earlier in the tournament and found some surprising results as a pinch-hitter. As Arjun Nair kept things steady at the other end, Green swung hard with streaky but effective results. Every skied ball managed to fall safe, and soon Green was finding the fence with greater regularity. He pulled Abbott for six, and Jordan Silk’s attempt to take a great boundary catch failed as he stepped on the rope at the crucial juncture in the process. Nair departed to give Henriques another wicket, but Green hit the next ball for six over mid-wicket. Then, surprisingly, he was run out. After a direct hit failed to run him out, Green made the bizarre decision to steal a second run, with the ball lying a couple of metres from Henriques. He never had a chance, and fell just short of his fifty. The innings ended with some big hits from Jay Lenton and Ben Rohrer, but the target of 157 was not enough.

The Sixers looked a different team with bat in hand. Joe Denly, once England’s great limited-overs hope and now just another player on the County Cricket circuit with no English aspirations, came in after Jason Roy’s expected ascension to the English team and batted with more fluency than any Sixers player had shown all tournament. He had some luck first ball, edging a perfect Sandhu outswinger through the slips for four, and went on to play some beautifully timed shots. A flick off the bowling of Mitchell McClenaghan landed on the boundary rope for six, and when Sandhu dropped short in his second over Denly capitalised with a pair of hard-hit pull shots. Under Denly’s steam the Sixers had brought up their best opening partnership of the season in four overs, and they had flown to 0/54 at the conclusion of the PowerPlay.

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Cool head: Daniel Hughes plays the steadying hand during the Sixers’ first win.

Then the Thunder’s spinners stepped up. Fawad Ahmed and Nair have been the only steady cog in the Thunder’s often creaky wheel this season, and after watching their fast bowlers take a battering at the hands of Denly they entered the attack and delivered instant results. The run rate had slowed steadily in the lead up to Denly’s dismissal, and when the Englishman looked to attack Ahmed and was bowled with his head nowhere near the ball it hardly came as a shock. As Ahmed and Nair continued to press on the Sixers’ early momentum seemed to have evaporated, but both Hughes and Maddinson kept their wickets intact and had soon begun to attack again. Maddinson, with a new, sickly blond haircut, was the initial aggressor, hitting Nair for a crisp slog sweep over mid-wicket, and Hughes took up the attack with a series of boundaries to pass his fifty and whittle down the equation to 30 runs off four overs.

Then Maddinson swung hard and provided a catch for Rohrer, and Henriques didn’t really get going. The boundaries dried up, and the Sixers were forced to deal in singles as they looked to complete the chase. McClenaghan and Green kept things tight at the end, talking with their forearms over their mouths to prevent in-game espionage (if the Sixers batsmen could actually read lips) and executing well at the death. It just wasn’t enough, and the Sixers finished off the chase more comfortably than the last ball finish suggests. The loss all but ends the Thunder’s season, while giving the Sixers the hope that they could glean something from an otherwise disappointing campaign.

Top 5
1. Daniel Hughes (Sydney Sixers)
Hughes anchored the chase with an unbeaten half-century, pacing his innings to perfection and keeping his composure until the end. He seemed slow at the start of the innings, but his steadiness and ability to keep his wicket as the Thunder began to find some momentum allowed the Sixers to get through the spinners largely unscathed and come through with the win.
2. Chris Green (Sydney Thunder)
Green top-scored for the Thunder with a streaky but effective pinch-hitting innings, and he kept things tight with the ball in the PowerPlay and at the death. He hit the ball powerfully on the leg-side, and his flat off-breaks proved difficult to hit. He showed plenty of calmness under pressure, and can take pride in his efforts even if he couldn’t get the Thunder over the line.
3. Joe Denly (Sydney Sixers)
Denly played with excellent timing and power in an aggressive innings, and put the Thunder under pressure from the start of the innings. He punished anything that was remotely short, and gave the Sixers an excellent base in conjunction with Hughes. After Roy’s travails at the top, his success was a breath of fresh air.
4. James Vince (Sydney Thunder)
Vince made batting look easy on a difficult pitch, playing some typically fluent shots and putting the Sixers under some early pressure. His six against Lyon was a top-class shot, and he showed enough to suggest that if he and Khawaja get going the results could be devastating. He didn’t have enough help, but performed well anyway.
5. Moises Henriques (Sydney Sixers)
Henriques returned to the side after a four-game lay-off and showed form with both bat and ball, taking a pair of big wickets in a tidy three over spell and closing the game out calmly without looking at his best. He took over the game as soon as he entered it, and prevented the Thunder from getting on a late run of wickets by keeping his head and playing a neat unbeaten innings.

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