Heat’s record-breaking implosion gives the Sixers an easy win

Sydney Sixers vs Brisbane Heat
Brisbane Heat 73 (Abbott 11-4, Lyon 17-2, Brathwaite 20-2) lost to Sydney Sixers 74-1 (Hughes 37) by 9 wickets at the SCG

Carlos Brathwaite, the flamboyant West Indian all-rounder, came in to bowl to Josh Lalor. The Brisbane Heat, with their early season momentum beginning to peter out, had entered their key clash with the already eliminated Sydney Sixers in the middle of a tight battle for a coveted spot in the top four. As Brathwaite prepared to bowl to Lalor, the Heat, batting first, were nine down in the middle of the seventeenth over following a shambolic collapse, and finals were the furthest thing from their minds. Lalor looked to hit Brathwaite down the ground, and couldn’t have picked out Jordan Silk any better. Lalor’s soft dismissal was reminiscent of a handful of others in the Heat’s horrific batting effort, and their total of 73 was never going to give the Sixers too many problems. After all, no matter how easy the Heat made it look, it’s quite hard to get bowled out for less than 74.

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Long walk: Ben Cutting trudges off the field after holing out against the accurate Nathan Lyon.

It’s hard to overstate just how bad the Heat were. Brendon McCullum, the Heat’s talismanic captain and best batsman, looked to attack Johan Botha in his usually brash style, but his lofted drive was a poor shot and was caught by a diving Brathwaite at mid-off. Marnus Labuschagne, replacing the injured Joe Burns at number 3, was no match for Ben Dwarshuis, and struggled through four balls before chipping a catch to Moises Henriques at square leg. When Sam Heazlett decided to have a crack against Nathan Lyon and mishit the ball straight to Silk, a series of soft dismissals and poorly played shots had reduced the Heat to 3/12, and they were in big trouble.

A slight recovery came courtesy of Alex Ross and Jimmy Peirson, who came together midway through the catastrophic PowerPlay and, for a fleeting moment, provided a bit of steel. Peirson took Lyon on with power and timing, and both looked confident. Then Peirson played a nothing shot against the bowling of Sean Abbott, and the Heat’s explosive batting line-up went into self-destruct mode. Ross was gone later in the over, undone by a ball from Abbott which reared up off the uneven SCG pitch and caught a fine edge on its way through to Peter Nevill. Ben Cutting came out and showed no awareness of the game situation, looking to slog sweep Lyon with little consideration for the fielder on the long boundary. Jason Floros, brought in for his first game of the season, couldn’t halt the slide, and had soon joined the collapse by top edging a pull shot to a jubilant Lyon at short mid-wicket. Lalor and Mark Steketee briefly stemmed the flow of wickets, but when Steketee eventually fell to a top-edged hook shot and another stunning Brathwaite catch the Heat provided no further resistance.

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Not even close: Yasir Shah swings hard and is bowled for a golden duck.

The Sixers knocked off the runs with little fuss, as the Heat came out aggressively but couldn’t make inroads against the composed pair of Joe Denly and Daniel Hughes. They were halfway to their target after just five overs, with Hughes finding the boundary with regularity and Denly keeping things steady at the other end. A top edged hook shot from Hughes provided the first six of the match, and when he was trapped in front by Yasir Shah the in-form Nic Maddinson came in and closed out the match with some powerful hitting. He lofted his second ball for six over mid-off, and when he launched Floros’ first ball into the stands the chase was all but done. With ten runs required, Maddinson miscued a slog off Floros high into the air. Three Heat fielders triangulated the ball, but it wasn’t clear who was taking the catch. Floros’ outstretched hand, extended at the last minute, missed the ball completely. It was a perfect representation of a night where the Heat didn’t even get close, and it leaves them out of the finals and in big trouble with just one game to play.

Top 5
1. Sean Abbott (Sydney Sixers)
Abbott drove a wedge through the Heat’s batting by running through Peirson and Ross after their consolidating partnership and finishing with the outstanding figures of 4/11. He bowled at an uncomfortable length, and managed to extract some uneven bounce which produced some unplayable deliveries. He will be satisfied with his best bowling performance of the season.
2. Nathan Lyon (Sydney Sixers)
Lyon used his accuracy to great effect and picked up some big wickets, putting the ball on the spot and letting the Heat’s irrational batting do the rest. He showed all of the confidence which oozed from his recent Test performances, and claimed a catch to cap off an excellent performance. He seems to be enjoying himself on the field, and could be a bolter for Australia’s struggling ODI side.
3. Daniel Hughes (Sydney Sixers)
Hughes ensured there were no nervous moments in the Sixers’ pursuit with an effective innings of 37, getting a series of boundaries away to eliminate the Heat within the first six overs. He batted with confidence, and the Sixers will be ruing the fact that he struck form too late to save their long dead finals hopes.
4. Carlos Brathwaite (Sydney Sixers)
Brathwaite took a pair of brilliant diving catches at either end of the innings, and closed out the Heat’s dismal batting effort with accurate bowling and a series of flamboyant celebrations. He has showcased his skills since arriving in Australia, and another excellent performance highlighted just how much he has brought to the table for the previously struggling Sixers.
5. Johan Botha (Sydney Sixers)
Botha bowled economically throughout, removing McCullum in the second over and sowing the seeds for the Heat’s historically poor total with some shrewd captaincy and crafty off-spin. He never really looked like taking a second wicket, but the Heat couldn’t score off him and he was able to pile on pressure at the other end. He didn’t bowl a bad ball in his four-over spell.

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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.

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.