Stars battered, bruised and bottom after Sixers romp home

Melbourne Stars vs Sydney Sixers
Melbourne Stars 128-7 (Maxwell 28, Faulkner 28, Lyon 18-3, Abbott 35-2) lost to Sydney Sixers 129-2 (Maddinson 62, Hughes 49*) by 8 wickets at the MCG

For six seasons, the Melbourne Stars have been perennial BBL title challengers, never failing to make the finals and recovering from some sticky situations to scrape into the top four. They won’t make finals this time. Of course, this fact had been clear long before their emphatic defeat at the hands of the Sydney Sixers ended all mathematical possibility of a seventh straight finals appearance, but a convincing defeat in the bottom-of-the-table clash was a fitting way to seal a season that never got off the ground. As Nic Maddinson made the Stars’ dismal total look even worse with a remarkable display of power, it was hard not to be pessimistic about the home team’s future prospects.

The Stars’ woes, as ever, started with their batting. Luke Wright, for years the team’s dependable opening batsman, has had a torrid time of things in his seventh BBL campaign. On the pitch, he hasn’t converted a series of half-promising starts, and his season was interrupted after he slipped during a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Here, he was hit on the helmet twice by Ben Dwarshuis before throwing away his wicket with an ungainly slash. Kevin Pietersen is in his last season in the Big Bash, and is well into the twilight of his career. After making an aggressive start, he added to his tally of disappointing contributions as he targeted Nathan Lyon and picked out the man on the mid-wicket boundary. Through all of this, Ben Dunk had been attempting to build an innings at the other end. Dunk’s season has been the most disappointing of the lot. He came to the Stars after finishing last year as the tournament’s leading scorer, and his presence was meant to lift them to an elusive title. Instead, he has provided a run of outs which has left the Stars in a precarious position every time they have played. The run of outs continued, and he nicked one through to Peter Nevill the ball after Pietersen’s departure. Lyon’s two wickets had shattered the Stars’ increasingly fragile top-order, and they were reeling at 3/31 after the PowerPlay.

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Celebration time: Peter Nevill tosses the ball up in the air to mark the removal of Glenn Maxwell.

Then Glenn Maxwell came to the crease, and continued an up-and-down season with an up-and-down innings. Maxwell has been the Stars’ form batsman, and showed his touch with a trio of sixes. If the Stars were going to go on and get some kind of total from this innings, they needed Maxwell to perform. Then, he threw it all away with a typically frustrating shot which rendered his contribution a disappointment. It was as if he was giving Nevill catching practice in running one straight to the keeper off Sean Abbott, and it left the Stars in big trouble. Now, the Stars needed Peter Handscomb. This time last season, Handscomb had made his Test and ODI debuts and seemed to have established himself as a fixture in the Australian middle order in just four Tests. Now, he is out of the Test team, does not look like returning in the immediate future, and can’t find a run at domestic level. He had struggled to get going in partnership with Maxwell, and departed the next over. Lyon tossed it up, and Handscomb chipped his former Test teammate’s regulation off-break straight to Jordan Silk at long-on. It was a meek dismissal, and it left the Stars sitting on a precarious 5/78.

They recovered to 128 off their 20 overs, with Evan Gulbis and James Faulkner scoring some valuable runs as the innings drew to a close, but neither could really score quickly enough to trouble the Sixers. When Carlos Brathwaite dismissed Faulkner and ran out Gulbis with the last two balls of the innings, the Stars had limped to a total that was never going to be enough. Joe Denly was out early, and the Stars bowled well in the PowerPlay, but they just didn’t have enough on the board. Then Maddinson stepped up, and the game was over in no time at all. He had come in after the departure of Denly, and his first ball was worked for a single. His second was to be bowled by the Stars’ captain, John Hastings, who had just brought himself into the attack for the last over of the PowerPlay. Hastings has had a rough season, never finding form with the ball and having no answers when the heat has been on in the field. Against the Brisbane Heat, he dropped Chris Lynn with the third ball of the innings, and watched as Lynn compiled an unbeaten half-century. Now, maybe, he could snag the wicket of Maddinson and give his side some hope.

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The end: The Stars’ run of finals appearances comes to a comical end as Evan Gulbis (front) and Ben Dunk collide and the Sixers complete the winning run.

Hastings’ first ball was not in a bad area, landing on a full length and on a good enough line to give a new batsman like Maddinson some trouble. Instead, Maddinson catapulted it into the MCG stands. The ball sailed off his bat, and flew over the massive mid-wicket boundary. At this point, the Stars were done. The Sixers still needed 85 runs to win, but Maddinson’s six was so emphatic it was a perfect herald of the end of an era for the Stars. Maddinson continued his onslaught as the game went on. He was nearly caught by a colluding Daniel Worrall and Jackson Coleman, but Worrall’s foot was on the ground as he threw it back in for Coleman to complete the dismissal. It was Maddinson’s second six. His third was another remarkable shot, lofting Maxwell inside-out over cover with contemptuous ease. Then, on 30, he gave a chance. It was Handscomb who missed the stumping, as Maddinson advanced, couldn’t connect, and was only saved by the keeper’s fumble standing up to the stumps. Maddinson just kept going. Daniel Fallins, the young leg-spinner brought in as the Stars’ season wasted away, was smoked down the ground, and reverse swept as Maddinson brought up his fifty. Soon, he was gone, trying one big shot too many and allowing Dunk to make a catch. The contest had been gone long before that.

Daniel Hughes, having witnessed Maddinson’s battering of the beleaguered Stars attack from the other end, only had to knock around singles to complete the chase. He finished unbeaten and just one run short of his half-century, and the Stars’ season was officially finished with their future uncertain. It remains to be seen whether they can salvage anything from their last two games, or whether this whole campaign has just been a great big waste of time. This loss, against their only competition for the mantle of the worst team in the BBL, suggests that there is no quick fix for their many issues, and that redemption could be hard to come by.

Top 5
1. Nic Maddinson (Sydney Sixers)
Maddinson broke the chase open with a series of hard-hit boundaries, batting with the freedom of a man with nothing to lose and reaping extraordinary rewards. His slog sweep against Hastings was a top quality shot, and he hit the ball so nicely that no ground could hold him. He showed the kind of form the Sixers would have died for earlier in the season.
2. Nathan Lyon (Sydney Sixers)
Lyon came into the attack at key times and destroyed the Stars’ momentum, removing Pietersen and Dunk as the PowerPlay drew to a close and picking up the wicket of Handscomb to leave the Stars reeling. He was as economical as ever, and his final return of 3/18 off four overs played a big part in the Sixers’ comfortable victory.
3. Daniel Hughes (Sydney Sixers)
Hughes was unlucky to finish just one run short of his half-century, but performed admirably with the bat in shepherding the Sixers home. He stayed calm when the ball was moving about at the start of the innings, and his ability to turn over the strike in the middle overs ensured the Stars had no respite from Maddinson’s onslaught. He has gone up a gear since returning from injury.
4. Glenn Maxwell (Melbourne Stars)
Maxwell was the only Stars player to play well, hitting the ball for a series of clean sixes and taking an excellent catch running back with the flight to remove Denly. His dismissal came at a key time, and was not his best shot, but the Stars’ struggles when he was not at the crease showed just how integral he has become to their success.
5. Sean Abbott (Sydney Sixers)
Abbott was the most expensive of the Sixers’ bowlers, but he made up for it by complementing Lyon’s pressure and accuracy with two wickets of his own. He removed Maxwell at a critical time in the game, and firmly turned momentum in the Sixers’ favour with his breakthroughs. He seems to have found his niche in the middle overs after a rocky start to the season.

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