Hurricanes undone by lacklustre Stars

Melbourne Stars vs Hobart Hurricanes
Hobart Hurricanes 185-7 (Christian 56, Bailey 32, Reardon 32, Hastings 41-2) lost to Melbourne Stars 186-7 (Pietersen 46, Dunk 30, Mills 56-2) by 3 wickets at the MCG

For the Hobart Hurricanes, qualification was a formality. They had one game left, and a win would seal their spot in the Big Bash finals for the first time since 2014. Their opponents were the much-hyped but very disappointing Melbourne Stars, who had won just one match out of their previous nine. Sure, this was Kevin Pietersen’s farewell match, but the Stars just weren’t good enough.

Three hours later, the Hurricanes were in shock, and relying on results to go their way to secure that elusive finals berth. As they lost a match which saw plenty of bad cricket (on both sides) and was played with a jaunty lack of intensity throughout, they had to wonder where it all went wrong. Maybe they were unnerved by the Stars’ apparent lack of cricketing prowess. Maybe it was the fact that the Stars didn’t seem to care when their bowlers sprayed the ball around and their batsmen swung hard for inconsistent results. It was as if the Stars didn’t bother trying to play proper cricket, and it caught the Hurricanes off guard.

Sent in to bat, the Hurricanes didn’t start too well. There was a period this season where D’Arcy Short was hitting every ball in the middle and tearing attacks to shreds without presenting a chance. He was dismissed for a golden duck, by former Hurricane Ben Dunk. On the face of it, this doesn’t sound too bad, until you consider Dunk’s status as a wicketkeeper who doesn’t bowl and the fact that his first ball was sprayed a very long way down the leg-side. It was almost as if Short was done for lack of turn, overestimating the quality of his adversary’s darting straight-breaks. It was then that they should have noticed something was amiss.

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Unlikely hero: Ben Dunk celebrates after his ungainly off-spin dismisses the in-form D’Arcy Short.

It was hard to feel threatened, however, when the Stars bowled so badly. Daniel Worrall and Jackson Coleman were as inaccurate as they have been all season, and the latter started his spell with three wides on either side of the wicket. The Stars’ problems were compounded when Dunk managed to get himself a second over, and his lack of quality was promptly exposed by George Bailey’s aggression. Bailey and Matthew Wade steadied the ship against the awful Stars bowling, and the run rate was flying as the many bad balls were put away. The Stars looked strangely detached and didn’t really seem to care.

The next two wickets sneaked up on the Hurricanes. Bailey had played his most fluent innings of the season, but he was dismissed when he hit a short wide ball straight to point. Then John Hastings brought himself on and bagged the wicket of Wade, who top-edged a pull shot straight to deep mid-wicket. The Stars weren’t bowling any better, but they had the Hurricanes three down in the PowerPlay. It’s a position very few teams win from, but this seemed like an exception to the rule. Surely the Stars couldn’t win while pulling off the remarkable achievement of looking worse than they had all season.

Ben McDermott and Dan Christian came in with the Hurricanes needing to rebuild, despite no-one really knowing how the innings had fallen down. They succeeded initially, but the run rate slowed as the pair proceeded with caution. Both were working the ball around easily, and neither looked like getting out against the Stars’ feeble attack. There was an air of caution surrounding their play, but the Hurricanes knew that both men could hit the ball a long way if they chose. It was hardly time to panic.

Then McDermott went out. The wicket-taker was Liam Bowe, the bespectacled, slightly-stooped left-arm leg-spinner who was the Stars’ most consistent bowler. He tossed it up, McDermott missed his sweep, and the umpire took so long to raise his finger that Bowe had already stopped appealing and had started chasing the ball. It was a bizarre moment, but this was far from an ordinary game of cricket. When Simon Milenko creamed a cover drive straight to Hastings, the Hurricanes were once again in trouble, although it wasn’t clear how they had fallen so far.

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Late flurry: Nathan Reardon gave the Hurricanes some late momentum with his rapid 32.

Christian and Nathan Reardon dragged their team out of the hole with some good late hitting. After a slow start, it was the latter who provided the spark. He hadn’t batted in an Australian domestic match since this time last year, but he punished the Stars’ lacklustre bowling anyway. Worrall was smacked for a pair of boundaries, and Hastings was treated with similar contempt. When Christian joined in on the act by raising his fifty with some big hitting against Evan Gulbis, the Hurricanes had built an imposing total. An eventful last over brought two wickets and 16 runs with plenty of action in between, and the Hurricanes seemed to be safe against a Stars batting line-up that had struggled to make an impact.

The Stars didn’t start their chase well, with the Hurricanes bowling tightly and subduing Dunk and Peter Handscomb well. Handscomb was dismissed before he could have an impact, and while Dunk hit a series of boundaries against Clive Rose and Tymal Mills he never went on to greater things. It was Short who dismissed him after a pull shot went wrong, and James Faulkner was soon gone too after picking out the man on the square-leg boundary. The Stars were three down, and still a very long way from their target. Surely the Hurricanes could breath easy. Surely.

At this point Pietersen strode to the wicket to join fellow retiree Rob Quiney. Neither man had anything to lose, and a potentially dangerous period was coming up for the Hurricanes. Both sought to be carefree, but they could only take the odd boundary off the Hurricanes’ spinners, and the Stars were too far behind the eight ball for the occasional big hits to make an impression. Quiney was run out to end his final BBL innings, and the Hurricanes could finally relax. Now, surely, it was done.

Then Hastings decided to promote himself up the order. The required run rate was slipping out of the Stars’ control, and their captain attempted to break the game open. He succeeded. His previous innings in this Big Bash had been brief and eventful, full of big swings and embarrassing misses. Now, just when the Hurricanes needed a quiet few overs to seal the win, he came out and deposited Cameron Boyce over the boundary. Twice. In a sign of what was to come Pietersen slapped Mills for a pair of boundaries, and the Hurricanes were starting to get a little nervous.

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Last bow: Kevin Pietersen acknowledges the ovation after his last innings in the BBL.

Mills eventually removed Hastings for 20 off 6 balls, and the run rate slowed, but the Stars were in with a chance. Pietersen and Seb Gotch batted calmly without making major inroads, until Mills came on for his third over. At this point the English recruit had 1/29 from two overs, but Bailey backed him to make the breakthrough. He did, removing Pietersen with an excellent return catch. Unfortunately, the retiring star had already taken 18 runs from the first four balls of Mills’ over, and the damage was done.

The Stars still needed 29 from 18 balls, with three wickets in hand. Sensing a chance to end it, Bailey threw the ball to Archer. Throughout this season, Archer has made things happen. A stunning catch here. A run out there. A devastating spell of reverse-swinging yorkers thrown in. Now, when his team needed him, he made the wrong things happen. A yorker went horribly wrong, and the full toss was fired at Worrall’s midriff. The fast bowler could only slash at the ball, but it was going so fast the edge flew to the boundary. Then, with 20 needed from 13 balls, Gulbis hit him for six, and the Hurricanes had too many fielders outside the ring. No-ball. Free hit. It was a horrendous gaffe, and the Stars capitalised. They needed 12 off 12.

With the first ball of the last over, Worrall cut Christian through the field and it began to run away to the long boundary. Some Hurricanes chased, and the rest could only watch on with bated breath and an increasing sense of despair. The ball was still rolling as it hit the rope, completing the Hurricanes’ calamitous collapse. In the end, they got their finals place, with the Brisbane Heat never looking like toppling the Melbourne Renegades, but this loss will stick in the memory. It’s hard to say where it went wrong, but the fact that it did should be a major concern for the finals-bound but confidence-shattered Hurricanes.


Sixers lose again as Hurricanes survive Billings scare

Hobart Hurricanes vs Sydney Sixers
Hobart Hurricanes 170-6 (Short 42, Wade 41, Christian 28*, Abbott 27-3) def Sydney Sixers 165-4 (Billings 61*, Silk 45, Hughes 33, Mills 42-2) by 5 runs at Blundstone Arena

Tymal Mills had bowled brilliantly at the death, and the Sydney Sixers were facing the hardest possible equation as a result. Three balls remained. Three sixes were needed. Sam Billings was on strike, sitting deep in his crease to compensate for Mills’ extreme pace. The first ball was short, quick, and hit well, crossing the rope comfortably as Billings passed his fifty with little fanfare. The game was still alive, but not really. Then Mills erred, his slower ball landing perfectly for Billings to slog sweep him for a big six. One ball remained. Six runs were needed. Suddenly, Mills was under the pump, and Billings was 61 not out and in form. The romantic ending would have been for the Sixers to seal the win with another big hit. It didn’t happen, as Mills’ short slower ball managed to evade Billings’ desperate swing to seal a third consecutive win for the Hobart Hurricanes and consign the Sixers to a sixth straight defeat.

The Sixers started well, but D’Arcy Short and Matthew Wade combined for an excellent partnership as the Hurricanes recovered from the early loss of Alex Doolan. Wade provided the early momentum, taking full toll when Jackson Bird returned for a second over, and soon Short had found his form. Having thrown away centuries in his previous two innings he pounced when Johan Botha dropped short, and slapped Daniel Sams for an effortless four and a towering six when he overpitched. Then Wade began to show some aggression. Sean Abbott was hit for a pair of clinical fours, and Botha was hit through the off-side for four. The innings began to gain traction as Short’s brutal cover drive went to the fence, with both batsmen looking in excellent touch and the run rate climbing. Then it was over.

Wade was the first to depart, taking on Bird and picking out the man on the boundary. Then Short, two balls after flicking Abbott for six over the leg side, tried to loft him over mid-off and miscued. Suddenly, the Hurricanes had no set batsmen, and the wickets started to fall. George Bailey never looked settled, playing a reverse sweep but doing little else as he swung hard at Abbott and gave Botha catching practice at mid-off. When Ben McDermott, who had put one on the Blundstone Arena roof the over before, tried to go again and holed out, the Hurricanes were in big trouble.

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Man in form: D’Arcy Short hits another nice shot during his innings of 42.

Then they recovered to finish with a flourish. Simon Milenko was the catalyst, running down the wicket to hit Sams for four over mid-wicket before crunching him through the covers. At the other end, Dan Christian batted with a rare combination of innovation, consistency and power, with a pair of well-played cut shots combining with a ramp shot and a cleverly hit flick as the total began to swell. When an eventful last over ended with Christian blasting Sams for four back over his head just after Milenko’s well-hit six over extra cover, the Hurricanes had recovered from their slight hiccup through the middle to post a solid total of 170.

The chase got off to a topsy-turvy start, with the bowling alternating between expensive and miserly. Milenko began inauspiciously, overstepping with the first ball of the innings and seeing the resultant free hit soar off the bat of the out of sorts Jason Roy and land over the mid-wicket boundary, before the hosts recovered. Clive Rose had an immediate impact, removing Roy as the Englishman attempted to get him away through the covers and picked out a diving Bailey. Then Jofra Archer, the Hurricanes’ half-Barbadian, half-English, fully-entertaining all-rounder who has become something of a local hero, stepped up with yet another suffocating over, and Tymal Mills removed a hard-swinging Nic Maddinson after Rose’s second over was nowhere near as tidy as his first.

Through it all, Daniel Hughes was making his return from injury with quality and maturity, playing particularly fluent shots through the covers as he shepherded the Sixers to 2/45 from their first six. After the PowerPlay, however, Hughes couldn’t find any form as he looked to settle the innings alongside Jordan Silk. While Silk looked completely unfazed by the situation, Hughes showed signs of fatigue. A top-edged sweep and a very badly hit slog fell safe, but he fell playing an airy swish running down the wicket which resembled a surrender rather than a cricket shot. As the dot balls began to pile up, the asking rate climbed, and the Sixers were under serious pressure.

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Nervous moments: Sam Billings hits out during an innings which nearly took the Sixers across the line.

As Sam Billings came to the crease, the Sixers began to mount a bit of a fightback. Archer’s return to the attack was greeted by a perfect pull shot from Silk which flew over the square leg boundary, and Billings hit his first four with a crushing sweep shot against the otherwise economical Cameron Boyce. Christian’s third over was bookended by strokes of precision and power, with Silk hitting a perfectly placed cover drive for four and Billings slog sweeping the ball for six from well outside the off stump. 70 were required from 36 balls. Silk hit a similar six when Mills re-entered in the fifteenth over. 64 runs needed from 35 balls. Billings played a nonchalant ramp shot to the fine-leg boundary when Archer returned at a key juncture in the match. 53 needed off 29.

The Sixers couldn’t keep it going. Archer recovered well to keep the set batsmen tied down, and when Silk looked to blast Mills over long-on but couldn’t beat the fielder they were in trouble with 47 runs still needed from 21 deliveries. Even Billings’ streaky but effective late cut couldn’t put the visitors back in the box seat. He was their only hope, but his boundaries had dried up in the face of the Hurricanes’ slower balls. Then, suddenly, he found a bit of traction as Archer closed out his spell. A slower ball was muscled to the square leg boundary. Archer bounced him in frustration, and saw the miscued hook shot run too fine for a desperate Mills. When a well-executed yorker was squirted past point for a third consecutive four, the Sixers were right back in the game. The Hurricanes pulled things back well, with Christian taking advantage of some unsuccessful swinging from Ben Dwarshuis and putting the Sixers into a hole that Billings could not drag them out of. If the Sixers’ season wasn’t over before this game, it is now, as the Hurricanes’ rise continues with another solid victory.

Top 5
1. Sam Billings (Sydney Sixers)
Billings closed out his stint with the Sixers in a near-perfect manner, hitting the ball well from the off and very nearly shepherding his side to an unlikely victory. His calmness under pressure was top class, and his ability to score against the Hurricanes’ best gave them a few nervous moments towards the end. He ensured he leaves the BBL on a high note.
2. Dan Christian (Hobart Hurricanes)
Christian excelled for the Hurricanes with both bat and ball, closing out both innings with composure and class. He showed his vast experience when bowling at the death, and was very hard to get away with the game on the line. He dragged the Hurricanes to a total which was only just enough with some controlled hitting at the end, and made a great all-round contribution.
3. Sean Abbott (Sydney Sixers)
Abbott was the pick of the bowlers on both sides, claiming three wickets with some excellent bowling under pressure and finishing his spell with the Hurricanes in a bad position. He bowled with good accuracy and variety to collect the wickets of Short, Bailey and McDermott, and recovered well when he was targeted by the batsmen.
4. Matthew Wade (Hobart Hurricanes)
Wade combined well with Short to give the Hurricanes an excellent base, playing aggressively and putting the Sixers under pressure with plenty of boundaries. His brisk 41 was filled with quality shots, and allowed the run rate to climb while he was at the crease, and he kept as solidly as ever, making very few mistakes in the successful defence.
5. Jordan Silk (Sydney Sixers)
Silk was in excellent touch once again, falling just 5 runs short of a 50 and giving the Sixers a chance with his consistent batting through the middle overs. He pulled the ball particularly well, and was as fluent as ever around the ground as he began to make inroads with Billings. His fielding was excellent, and he is clearly one of the Sixers’ best at the moment.