Ingram blitz proves too much for Renegades

Melbourne Renegades vs Adelaide Strikers
Adelaide Strikers 173-5 (Ingram 68, Head 58, Carey 32, Bravo 30-2) def Melbourne Renegades 147-7 (Hodge 30*, Harris 25, Laughlin 18-2, Stanlake 22-2, Rashid 26-2) by 26 runs at Etihad Stadium

Ben Laughlin had few options available to him as he caught Dwayne Bravo’s ungainly lofted cover drive. He was in mid-air, at the top of a big jump, and the boundary line was getting very close, very quickly. All his momentum was carrying him towards the rope, and he was travelling too fast to throw the ball to himself and catch it back in-bounds. It was unfortunate, but he would just have to settle for saving the six. As expected, he flung the ball back into the field of play as he flew, full-length, over the rope. It seemed like an unnecessarily long throw, but he had saved six runs anyway. Then Jake Weatherald took the catch, and realisation at what Laughlin had just pulled off morphed into disbelief. It was hard to estimate how far he had thrown the pass, but his accuracy was perfect. The Melbourne Renegades were already on the ropes in their critical clash with the Adelaide Strikers. Laughlin’s miraculous effort all but snuffed out the chance of an unlikely comeback.

The Strikers started their innings slowly, with Weatherald’s poor season continuing as he chopped Chris Tremain onto his stumps and Travis Head never really getting going against the Renegades’ disciplined bowling attack. Alex Carey provided a momentary break in the Renegades’ control with a pair of perfectly-timed straight drives off the bowling of Kane Richardson, but by the end of the PowerPlay the hosts were well on top. Then, as they have done so often this season, Carey and Head did something about it. Head provided the spark, greeting Tremain’s return to the attack with a clean six over mid-wicket and a crisply hit cut shot for four. Soon Carey began to join in, hitting a pair of slog sweeps which picked the gap on the leg-side boundary and showing plenty of intent. Suddenly he was gone. All too soon, his entertaining innings was over, cut short by a lofted cover drive which didn’t quite go the distance and found the safe hands of Marcus Harris on the boundary. The Strikers still hadn’t put their opposition under enough pressure, and their chances of posting an imposing total looked slim even as Head moved to a steady half-century.

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Powerful: Colin Ingram is in full flight during his important 68.

Then Colin Ingram stepped up. His season has been marked by a series of false starts and innings which never got off the ground, but this game was different as he showcased his immense ball-striking ability to devastating effect. He showed some early glimpses, hitting Brad Hogg for a pair of powerful boundaries and flicking Dwayne Bravo to the fine-leg fence with contemptuous ease, but he really picked up the pace when Richardson came on for the eighteenth over. The newly-selected member of Australia’s T20 team was deposited into the stands with a pair of effortless bottom-hand swats which threatened to land in the second tier of Etihad Stadium. Kieron Pollard came on and dismissed Head, but before he could quell the Strikers’ momentum Ingram had belted his last two balls for another two sixes. He fell with the second-last ball of the innings, but not before a Bravo full toss had joined the steady procession of balls flying into the stands and the game had been placed firmly in the Strikers’ control. Ingram’s cameo set up the game, and his teammates went out and won it.

The Renegades never found enough momentum against the Strikers’ diverse attack. Harris and Tim Ludeman were able to find some runs against the pace of Michael Neser and Billy Stanlake, but the innings was derailed when Peter Siddle made the breakthrough. Ludeman departed, picking up a fine edge and allowing Carey to take a comfortable catch. The dismissal of their former teammate allowed the visitors to tighten the screws, with Ben Laughlin, Siddle and Rashid Khan keeping things tight and allowing the batsmen no breathing room. Harris and Cameron White, the latter very fresh from international duty, couldn’t score at more than a run a ball, and the game was beginning to slip away.

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Miracle worker: Ben Laughlin prepares to make his extraordinary backhand pass to Jake Weatherald.

As the Renegades felt the pressure, the Strikers began to pick them off. If the roof was on, Harris’ skied slog off the bowling of Stanlake may well have hit it. As it happened, all it found was the exposed Melbourne night sky, and the gloves of Carey as the keeper took a remarkably composed catch given the difficulty of the chance. Eventually White looked to break his pattern of slow-scoring by slog sweeping Rashid Khan. He missed, and was clean-bowled by the Afghan’s devastating googly. Tom Cooper had a crack, and hit some nice shots, but a top-edge off Stanlake allowed Carey to take another very high catch.

By now, the Renegades were hanging their hopes on the explosiveness of Kieron Pollard and Bravo. It was a long shot. Both men were early members of the cult of the freelance cricketer, but their single-handed match-winning ability has since diminished, replaced by experience and smarter, less powerful cricket. Then Laughlin, or, rather, Weatherald, took that catch, and their faint hopes were all but gone. Pollard, in his first BBL outing, had walked to the crease wearing a cap and a gold watch. It was a brash entrance, and the innings never quite lived up to it. He departed against the bowling of Laughlin, holing out in the deep, and the last remnants of life were sucked from the game by the ruthless Strikers attack. They needed 44 from the last over, and a series of boundaries from Brad Hodge in the dying embers of the game could only lessen the inevitable damage to the Renegades’ net run rate. They still have a good shot of making the finals, but their performance against a top side leaves plenty to be desired.

Top 5
1. Colin Ingram (Adelaide Strikers)
Ingram finally hit his stride with a series of crushing sixes as the innings came to a close, and his bulldozing 68 allowed the Strikers to post a total that was always too good for the Renegades. He made a mockery of the Renegades’ death bowling with his ridiculous power, and he seems to have found form at the right time.
2. Ben Laughlin (Adelaide Strikers)
Laughlin played an excellent game, keeping things tight with the ball and pulling off one of the all-time great catches to remove Bravo and seal the win for the Strikers. His variation and unerring accuracy proved too much for the Renegades, and he picked up a couple of big wickets along the way to seal the win for his side.
3. Travis Head (Adelaide Strikers)
Head was in solid touch on return from Australian duty, and he played a mature innings on a tough pitch to get the Strikers to a winning score. His steady half-century included some very nice shots, but it was combination with Ingram which laid the foundation for the Strikers’ key victory. As ever, his shrewd captaincy allowed the bowling attack to thrive.
4. Billy Stanlake (Adelaide Strikers)
Stanlake bowled with plenty of pace, routinely hitting the high-140s and early-150s and making the Renegades uncomfortable as a result. He used his combination of speed and accuracy to great effect, and bagged a pair of key wickets along the way. He has been one of the Strikers’ biggest weapons, and showed all of his skills.
5. Brad Hodge (Melbourne Renegades)
Most of Hodge’s runs came in the last four balls of the innings when the match was already decided, but he deserves credit for a powerful innings which may well prove crucial if the last finals spot comes down to net run rate. He struck the ball very cleanly, and hit one six which landed in the top tier of Etihad Stadium. He is one of the few Renegades who can hold their head high.

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Strikers win big as Heat go cold

Adelaide Strikers vs Brisbane Heat
Adelaide Strikers 147-7 (Neser 40*, Lalor 40-3, Yasir 18-2) def Brisbane Heat 91 (Laughlin 11-3, Neser 7-2, Rashid 19-2) by 56 runs at Adelaide Oval

Chris Lynn wasn’t out. The Brisbane Heat’s bald-headed, big hitting destroyer of attacks played and missed at his third ball, a well-flighted leg break from Rashid Khan, the Afghan teenage sensation tasked with removing him. There was a noise as it passed through into the gloves of Alex Carey. It could have been the bat clipping the ground. It could have been something else. At this point, all that mattered was the fact that it wasn’t the bat and the cruel injustice of the umpire’s raised finger, heralding the end of an all-too-brief stay at the crease. If it was a Test match, Lynn would have been reprieved by the mercy of the DRS. Instead, he could only shake his head with indignation writ large upon his usually impassive face as he made his way back to the pavilion. The Heat never recovered, as the Adelaide Strikers cut swathes through their star-studded line up on their way to a crushing victory.

The Strikers had done well to reach a below-par 147. Josh Lalor had seized the early initiative, bowling Carey and Jake Weatherald with a pair of near identical balls which swung past their inside edges as they looked to play big slogs and clipped the top of leg stump. Travis Head survived the loss of the openers, but was tied down by Yasir Shah and was bowled when he looked to go for the big hit. When Jonathan Wells bunted a catch to short cover and Colin Ingram showed poor match awareness to pick out the man in the deep with the last ball of Yasir’s spell, the Strikers appeared set for a big defeat.

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Recovery: Michael Neser hits to the leg side during his 40 not out.

Then Jake Lehmann and Michael Neser stepped up to mount an unlikely recovery, abetted by the Heat’s poor fielding. Lehmann was dropped first ball by Mark Steketee and on two by Lalor, and a misfield from Cameron Gannon gifted him his first boundary. There were edges just past the keeper and mishits all over the ground, but he dug in and just kept going. It was Neser who provided the fireworks. He too was dropped, Lalor missing a tough chance at mid-on, and went on to hit the ball with plenty of power. A short ball from Lalor was smashed for six, and the next one was drilled through the field for four. Lehmann was finally caught the next over, but when Rashid came in and hit his first ball over point for six, the Strikers had salvaged something from the wreck of their destroyed top order. Still, 147 was nowhere near enough against the biggest hitting batting line-up in the league.

In isolation, the Heat may have been able to withstand Lynn’s departure, even coming just after James Peirson had holed out against Head. When it came with a complementary batting collapse, however, they were never going to escape. Joe Burns was undone by Billy Stanlake’s sharp pace and bounce, and popped up a catch for a sliding Rashid. Then Neser, with his first ball, joined the action by ripping through the defences of the red hot Alex Ross with a ball that swung and seamed through the gate. Ben Cutting played some nice shots against Rashid, but fell playing a shot that can best by described as a limp cut shot bunt into the waiting hands of Ingram. Brendon McCullum had opened the batting, and could only witness the chaos from the other end.

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Smiling assassin: Rashid Khan (right) celebrates after his controversial dismissal of Chris Lynn.

Gannon joined him after Cutting departed, and began to play some nice shots, but it was hard to see any means by which the Heat could be saved from themselves. Eventually McCullum, completely starved of strike and frustrated by the effort of stifling his usual belligerence at the crease, looked to take on Neser and gave away his wicket. It was over. All the Strikers had to do was go through the motions, as some bizarre running from Gannon cost Lalor his wicket. It was Peter Siddle who completed it off his own bowling, picking the ball up at Lalor’s feet and calmly throwing down the bowler’s end stumps. On a New Year’s Eve night, the only thing resembling fireworks was the lighting up of the specially coloured stumps, as Ben Laughlin disposed of Steketee with an unplayable in-swinging yorker and Rashid finally broke through Gannon’s stoic resistance. When Mitchell Swepson holed out to give Laughlin a third wicket, it concluded a game which had been going through the motions for some time. The Heat showed no resilience or determination, and paid a heavy price.

Top 5
1. Michael Neser (Adelaide Strikers)
Neser was the sole reason the Strikers had a total to defend, hitting some excellent shots in the closing overs of the innings on his way to a valuable 40 not out. He took two key wickets in the second innings and was very hard to get away, finishing with 2/7 and the scalps of Ross and McCullum to complete a perfect game.
2. Ben Laughlin (Adelaide Strikers)
Laughlin was once again in the wickets, finishing with 3/11, and bowled as well as he has all season. He removed Steketee with a perfectly delivered yorker, and his skills were on full display as he backed up his teammates’ devastating PowerPlay with some accurate and very clever bowling to dismiss Cutting.
3. Rashid Khan (Adelaide Strikers)
Rashid was again in top form with the ball, getting hit around by Cutting but otherwise delivering with the massive wicket of Lynn and the removal of top scorer Gannon. He turned the ball both ways with ease, grabbed a catch and hit a six with his first ball faced in the Big Bash to complete an entertaining all-round game.
4. Yasir Shah (Brisbane Heat)
Yasir showed the class that made him one of the best bowlers in world cricket, removing Head and Ingram to drive a wedge through the Strikers middle order on his way to excellent figures of 2/18. He mixed things up well and barely bowled a bad ball, and looks like an good choice to replace Shadab Khan as the Heat’s overseas player.
5. Josh Lalor (Brisbane Heat)
Lalor was very good with ball in hand, removing both Strikers openers and creating plenty of issues with his ability to swing the ball back in to the left-handers. He was expensive towards the end of his spell, but dismissed Rashid immediately after being hit for six to finish with a well-deserved three wickets.

Thunder wilt against dominant Strikers

Adelaide Strikers vs Sydney Thunder
Adelaide Strikers 163-6 (Carey 44, Head 36, Nair 36-3, McClenaghan 37-2) def Sydney Thunder 110 (Patterson 48, Laughlin 26-4, Siddle 6-2, Rashid 22-2) by 53 runs at Adelaide Oval

It was one of the best balls of the Big Bash’s early stages that kick-started the collapse. Rashid Khan had already removed Ryan Gibson with the first ball of his third over, catching the outside edge with an excellent leg-break and allowing Alex Carey to take a good catch. The Sydney Thunder were 3/69, and still had a chance of running down the Adelaide Strikers’ below par total of 163. Then Rashid stepped up again. His third ball was one of his googlies, and slid past Ben Rohrer’s helpless outside edge to clip the top of off stump. At 93 kph, it was too much for Rohrer, who didn’t pick it as the Afghan prodigy decisively swung momentum the way of the Strikers. The Thunder never recovered.

The Strikers had started well against the Thunder’s quick bowlers, with Carey and new captain Travis Head playing some excellent shots after Jake Weatherald was dismissed early. Carey was in particularly fluent form, driving with perfect timing and taking the lead as the Strikers finished the PowerPlay with a commanding 1/54. The boundaries kept flowing as the spinners came on, with Carey hitting Arjun Nair for a six over mid-wicket and lofting Ahmed over cover in the next over. When Head followed with another slog sweep for six off Nair, the Strikers looked set for a big total. It was not to be.

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Not happy: Mitchell McClenaghan’s emotions boiled over after colliding with Jonathan Wells and dropping a catch.

Neither man would hit another boundary, as Nair bagged Head three balls later. The Strikers captain was ready for a sweep shot, and was caught out by the short, wide off-break that followed, getting a bottom edge which was well taken by Jos Buttler. Carey was undone by the pressure a few overs later, attempting a reverse sweep off Nair and never looking in control of the shot. Colin Ingram never got going and departed the ball after hitting Nair over mid-wicket for his first boundary, and the new pair of Jonathan Wells and Jake Lehmann couldn’t find any momentum, or the fence. Mitchell McClenaghan’s bowling at the end was erratic and frustrated, with one particularly memorable ball landing wide of the cut strip and being called a no-ball for a waist high full toss. He also caused a long delay as Wells was investigated for obstructing the field, and looked flustered and off his game. The Strikers could not capitalise, and their total of 6/163 looked well below par on a good pitch.

It looked even worse when Jos Buttler hit the first two balls of the innings to the boundary, although the Strikers had steadied somewhat when Peter Siddle entered the attack in the third over. Siddle used the nagging accuracy which made him such an effective Test bowler to great effect, tying down Kurtis Patterson and collecting the big wicket of Buttler as Billy Stanlake took a catch backpedalling at fine-leg. Some effective bowling limited the Thunder to 1/35 by the end of the PowerPlay, even with Ben Laughlin giving away some free boundaries when introduced into the attack. Rashid entered directly afterwards, and saw two of his first three balls cut to the boundary. He didn’t concede another.

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Breakthrough: Peter Siddle takes a nice catch to remove Kurtis Patterson for 48.

The big wicket fell when Shane Watson, the hero of the Thunder’s first up win, holed out, attempting to hit Head out of the attack. The theory of taking on the part-timer was sound, but in practice it backfired as the Strikers captain dismissed his opposite number with his first ball. Patterson managed to hit some nice shots against Head and moved into the forties while playing with more fluency than he had done in the season opener. Then Rashid took his two wickets in three balls, and the collapse had begun. Patterson was still at large, but when he fell brashly advancing down the wicket against Stanlake the Thunder’s bandwagon, which had been starting to slip, fell off a cliff. Aiden Blizzard used his fluoro green bat to hit his second ball in the air. Chris Green, with a similarly coloured blade, couldn’t even hit the one ball he faced, Ben Laughlin picking up a second wicket in three balls as Green was out leg before. McClenaghan got a wide one first up, and somehow bunted it into the air for Head to take his second catch of the over. The hat-trick ball was negotiated by Nair, who had observed the carnage from the other end, but the game was over.

Neither Fawad Ahmed nor Andrew Fekete could do more than look shaky and eventually get out as the game meandered to its inevitable conclusion. Nair continued to fight, hitting a nice six and displaying excellent temperament and technique against the excellent and diverse bowling attack, but the Thunder were way too far gone for his battling 23 not out to matter. The Strikers exposed the fragility of the Thunder’s batting line-up with ruthless efficiency, picking up a big first-up win and looking like a force to be reckoned with.

Top 5
1. Rashid Khan (Adelaide Strikers)
The 19-year-old from Afghanistan did not disappoint on his BBL debut, getting better the longer he bowled and turning the game on its head with the wickets of Gibson and Rohrer in the space of three balls. He was turning the ball both ways by the end of the innings, and suggested that he still has some room for improvement.
2. Peter Siddle (Adelaide Strikers)
Siddle’s bowling was almost perfect, bowling no bad balls in three overs and removing Buttler before he could do too much damage. He has managed to turn his remarkable accuracy into a major strength, and appears to have improved his T20 bowling.
3. Arjun Nair (Sydney Thunder)
Nair looked more composed than his more experienced teammates with bat in hand, and took three big wickets as the Strikers looked to push on with their fast start. He showed excellent skills and turned the ball both ways, and looks to be an exciting young prospect.
4. Ben Laughlin (Adelaide Strikers)
Laughlin was poor early, but a big second over ensured the Thunder could not get back in the game. He finished with four wickets as the batsmen looked to take him on, often falling in the attempt. His slower balls were as effective as ever, but there was definitely room for improvement.
5. Alex Carey (Adelaide Strikers)
Carey showed why he was a contender to take the gloves for Australia with a top-class wicketkeeping display to back up a great innings. He fell just 6 short of a half-century, but found the middle of the bat well and played a lofted cover drive off Ahmed which was particularly impressive. He took a pair of nice catches and was almost flawless behind the stumps.