Thunder hold on against Scorchers onslaught

Sydney Thunder vs Perth Scorchers
Sydney Thunder 175-4 (Khawaja 85, Ferguson 25, Bresnan 38-2) def Perth Scorchers 172-4 (Bancroft 75*, Cartwright 65*) by 3 runs at Spotless Stadium

The Perth Scorchers required 5 runs to win off 1 ball, with Hilton Cartwright on strike. The Australian international had already taken 19 runs from Mitchell McClenaghan’s last over. The Sydney Thunder, who had ridden the wave of Usman Khawaja’s brilliant form to dominate from start to finish, were now struggling to close out a victory which should have been sealed long before the last over. There was a delay as Cartwright had his bat fixed, and the tension continued to build. After what seemed like an eternity, McClenaghan bowled. Cartwright could only manage a single. The Thunder had survived, and the Scorchers, the kings of the comeback, had fallen agonisingly short.

The Scorchers had done well to get so close. They had dug themselves out of plenty of garden-variety holes in the past, but in this game they had fallen into an abyss. Their pursuit of the Thunder’s first innings 175 couldn’t have started in a worse fashion. Will Bosisto showed some early aggression, but was sent back when he hit a short leg-side ball straight to Fawad Ahmed. Michael Klinger tried to take on mid-off, but couldn’t get enough power and was caught. Ashton Turner, coming into the game in brilliant form, was trapped in front by a Gurinder Sandhu yorker. Adam Voges was clean bowled when Ahmed entered the attack, leaving the Scorchers 4/35 and in dire straits. At this point, with the game all but over, Cartwright walked out to the wicket to join Cameron Bancroft.

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Fightback: Hilton Cartwright looks to go big during his unbeaten 65.

Bancroft had come in at number 3, and had watched the carnage unfold from the other end in his first BBL game of an up-and-down season. He was the one member of the Australian side who never really performed during the Ashes, and spent the last part of the series subjected to queries about his technique, his temperament and, in general, his batting ability. Now, he had a chance to show his class, and he took it well. He played maturely as he looked to steady the ship, but started to find the fence with more regularity as the innings progressed. That was when he began to give chances, with Khawaja dropping him while running back at cover and Ben Rohrer putting down a very high top edge. He responded to the latter dropping by bringing up fifty with a four and a six, and gave some indication that the miss might be a costly one. He continued to find the fence and play some nice shots in the final overs, but by then Cartwright had taken over.

Cartwright came in with the Scorchers looking gone for all money. Voges had just been bowled by a ripping wrong-un from Ahmed, and it appeared as if they would face a struggle to get to 100, let alone 175. He started slowly, struggling to find much timing and dealing almost exclusively in singles. Jay Lenton missed a chance to stump him when he was on 7, but it didn’t look particularly costly. He showed glimpses of his best, such as a big six to the long boundary, but glimpses were not nearly enough against the tidy spin of Ahmed and Arjun Nair. Then, with 74 runs needed off 30 balls, he started to find the fence. Chris Green was hit for a four and a six, and when Cartwright was dropped later in the over it looked like a very bad error. He brought up fifty with the first ball of the last over, and followed it up by hitting the next ball into the Spotless Stadium roof. He continued to hit twos, and he just needed one more boundary to seal a remarkable comeback. He couldn’t get one away, and the Thunder could finally relax after a far-from-comfortable finish.

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Big jump: Will Bosisto goes aerial to deny Ben Rohrer a six with some great fielding.

Their first innings total was underpinned by Khawaja’s stunning 85. When Khawaja is at his most fluent it feels like the game situation is irrelevant, and the scoreboard just doesn’t matter. He wasn’t quite at that level on his return to the BBL from a fighting 171 against the English, but he raced to his half-century with remarkable ease, playing some beautiful strokes along the way. Early on, the quick bowlers were pulled and flicked, and Voges’ decision to use the part-time off-spin of Bosisto backfired as the Test number 3 caressed him around the ground with contempt. When Shane Watson departed after playing a big shot and getting caught on the boundary, Khawaja responded by launching Tim Bresnan for a pair of sixes and hitting Ashton Agar for a towering six over mid-on. He continued to make batting look ridiculously simple, hitting every ball out of the middle of the bat as he cruised towards what seemed an inevitable century. Then it was over, an uncharacteristic slash at a wide ball from Agar presenting Klinger with a simple catch.

At the other end, his partners were made to look sub-par as they struggled to match his input. Kurtis Patterson hit a few boundaries, but never looked like getting going before edging one to Bancroft off the impressive bowling of debutant Matt Kelly. Watson put away the bad balls well, but his big shot against Bresnan brought about his downfall, and Callum Ferguson never threatened to set the world alight before he drilled a pull shot straight to Cartwright at deep mid-wicket. Rohrer hit a couple of nice shots, but some athletic fielding from Bosisto in saving a six ensured that a big straight hit in the last over was his only boundary. Despite the unsatisfying end, 175 looked like a very good score when the second innings began. In the end, thanks to the Scorchers’ never-say-die attitude, it was only just enough.

Top 5
1. Usman Khawaja (Sydney Thunder)
Khawaja was at his fluent best, not missing a beat in transitioning from Test cricket to the BBL and hitting graceful boundaries all over the ground. He looked a cut above the rest, and his return to the ranks bodes very well for the rest of the Thunder’s season, provided he is not given an ODI call-up.
2. Cameron Bancroft (Perth Scorchers)
Bancroft was not in the best of form throughout the Ashes, but his hard-fought 75 held the Scorchers’ innings together just as it looked like they were going to be rolled. He hit the ball powerfully through mid-on, and showed great fight to nearly get his side over the line. He kept solidly, and benefitted from being given a bit more freedom to play his shots.
3. Gurinder Sandhu (Sydney Thunder)
Sandhu was the pick of the Thunder’s bowlers, swinging the ball in the PowerPlay to put the Scorchers under pressure and showing great composure in conceding just 7 runs off the nineteenth over of the innings. He was hard to get away despite his lack of pace, and bowled with metronomic accuracy and plenty of intelligence.
4. Hilton Cartwright (Perth Scorchers)
Cartwright started slowly, but played with more fight than most of his teammates and found his power at the end of the innings. His composure and controlled hitting nearly got the Scorchers over the line, and he caused some nervous moments for the home crowd in taking 20 from the last over. His straight six against McClenaghan in the final over hit the roof, showing just how hard he can hit the ball.
5. Fawad Ahmed (Sydney Thunder)
Ahmed turned the ball both ways, and his entrance into the attack led to a sharp drop in the run rate. He bowled Voges with a ripping wrong-un, and he was unlucky not to pick up the wicket of Cartwright with a similar delivery. His variety was excellent, and he executed well whenever he was given the ball.

Thunder spinners rumble hapless Hurricanes

Hobart Hurricanes vs Sydney Thunder
Sydney Thunder 166-5 (Buttler 67, Watson 41, Rose 20-2) def Hobart Hurricanes 109 (Doolan 34, Archer 25*, Ahmed 14-2, Nair 17-2, McClenaghan 19-2, Sandhu 29-2, Green 30-2) by 57 runs at University of Tasmania Stadium

As Alex Doolan and D’Arcy Short walked out to open the Hobart Hurricanes’ pursuit of the 167 set by the Sydney Thunder, the hosts could be forgiven for feeling optimistic. Thanks to some effective late overs bowling they had limited the Thunder fairly well in Launceston’s first ever Big Bash game, and they had given themselves a good chance of getting their first win of the season. In the last over of the match, Tymal Mills edged a ball from Gurinder Sandhu onto his thigh pad and watched it rebound onto his stumps, concluding an innings, and a night, the Hurricanes would like to forget.

The chase started well enough. Doolan hit a nice four against Chris Green, and Short took an immediate liking to Sandhu when he came on for the second over, hitting two fours against shortish balls and hitting a full one beautifully for a nice six. It was as good as it got for the Hurricanes. Short was bowled the next over as he looked to take on Mitchell McClenaghan, getting a slight inside edge onto his stumps. Ben McDermott was next to go, advancing down the wicket against Sandhu, swiping across the line, and, unsurprisingly, hitting the ball straight up for Jos Buttler to take a nice catch. The Hurricanes were 2/44 after the PowerPlay, and their momentum had stalled.

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Brain fade: George Bailey plays an ill-fated lofted cover drive during the Hurricanes’ collapse.

Then George Bailey went out. Bailey had a good chance to lead from the front even though he looked in poor form. When Fawad Ahmed flighted a ball up, he had many options available, such as trying to hit through a gap along the ground or bunting it down the ground for a single. He chose to go inside out over cover, and was caught on the fence. Arjun Nair removed Matthew Wade the next over, with the out-of-form keeper surrendering meekly with a hard-handed push straight back to the bowler. Cameron Boyce, promoted as a pinch hitter, was nearly stumped first ball and miscued a slog sweep on his second, gifting Ahmed another wicket.

Doolan had witnessed the carnage from the other end, and then decided to join in by playing yet another ill-fated slog and picking out Green perfectly. Clive Rose entered the action and was lucky to survive when he was beaten by Ahmed, with Buttler somehow failing to complete a simple stumping thanks to an inability to take off the bails. Neither Ahmed nor Nair would add to their tallies of two wickets apiece, but their efforts as both hammer and anvil all but killed off the match. The Hurricanes only reached 100 through the efforts of Rose and Jofra Archer, the former showing better technique than most of the specialist batsmen and the latter hitting the ball with plenty of power despite a series of dodgy bats, but they were never going to get close. The end of Mills’ dismal occupation of the crease heralded the cessation of play, but the game had been over for some time.

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In control: Jos Buttler hits another one out of the middle on his way to 67.

The Thunder had built their total on the back of Buttler and Shane Watson, with Watson playing a mature supporting innings while Buttler blasted his way to fifty with some big hitting. Archer removed Kurtis Patterson early courtesy of Bailey’s one-handed diving catch, but Buttler was unfazed as he played himself in before exploding in the twelfth over. Tom Rogers was the unfortunate victim of Buttler’s brutal assault, with four big sixes testing the outer limits of the University of Tasmania Stadium as he moved from 36 to 62 in the space of six balls. He was out shortly afterwards, bowled by Rose as he looked to give himself room, and the innings never reached such lofty heights again. Watson’s innings ended with a senseless piece of running, with the Thunder captain dawdling up the pitch as an outfield throw came in at his end. It cost him a 50, and the Hurricanes closed the innings out well thanks to some great bowling from Archer, Mills and Rose.

None of it mattered, however, as the Hurricanes lodged one of the worst batting performances of the season to raise concerns as to whether they can beat anyone. The Thunder showed signs of improvement, but it remains to be seen whether they can repeat the feat against the sterner opposition they are sure to face further down the track.

Top 5
1. Jos Buttler (Sydney Thunder)
Buttler almost won the game off his own bat, playing himself in well before exploding with a remarkable burst of timing and power to give his side a timely boost. He hit Rogers for a series of massive sixes, and looked like he could easily score a century before he was dismissed. Kept well and took a nice high catch, but made a horrible gaffe to gift Rose a reprieve.
2. Fawad Ahmed (Sydney Thunder)
Ahmed took 2/14 from his four overs in a remarkably consistent spell which all but ended the Hurricanes’ resistance. Bowled perfectly in conjunction with Nair, and was very unlucky not to finish with three after a brilliant spell of bowling. Left the field late, and the Thunder will hope he is still available.
3. Arjun Nair (Sydney Thunder)
Nair bagged a pair of nice wickets to remove Doolan and Wade, and showed his class and variation by spinning the ball both ways and causing massive problems. He wasn’t hit for any boundaries in a four-over spell, and, at 19 years of age, looks to be an exciting prospect for Australian cricket.
4. Jofra Archer (Hobart Hurricanes)
Archer showed a bit of nonchalant class with both bat and ball, hitting it fairly well for an unbeaten 25 and providing some very economical bowling. He extracted sharp bounce from the Launceston pitch, and the only knock on his performance was the excess of nonchalance in the field which led to a dropped catch over the rope for six.
5. Clive Rose (Hobart Hurricanes)
Rose is not really known for his all-round talents, but he unearthed some hitherto undiscovered cricketing prowess to bag a pair of key wickets and play some neat shots in a determined innings of 13. He was the pick of the Hurricanes’ bowlers and showed excellent calmness under pressure to dismiss a rampaging Buttler.

Vintage Watson guides Thunder home

Sydney Thunder vs Sydney Sixers
Sydney Sixers 149-9 (Billings 32, Maddinson 31, Hughes 29, Ahmed 11-2, McClenaghan 25-2, Nair 29-2) lost to Sydney Thunder 150-5 (Watson 77, Patterson 29, Sams 14-4) by 5 wickets at Spotless Stadium

The latest edition of the Big Bash League was greatly anticipated, and the season opening ‘Sydney Smash’ proved to be a thrilling contest with plenty of drama and a last ball win for the Thunder. In the midst of it all, Shane Watson played an innings reminiscent of his dominant best, treating anything short with contempt and providing his side with a calming presence to drag them past the target.

The Sixers were sent in to bat and started well, recovering from Mitchell McClenaghan’s early removal of Jason Roy to find the boundary with ease. Daniel Hughes looked composed if not spectacular, putting away any bad balls, and Nic Maddinson batted with a fluency he had not shown since his call-up to the Test team last summer. Maddinson’s lofted six over long-off was the main highlight as the Sixers scored 55 from the PowerPlay, setting a perfect base for a big score.

Enter Fawad Ahmed. He came into the attack in the seventh over with the Sixers cruising, and immediately began to turn the ball on a slow Spotless Stadium pitch. He used his variation to remove Maddinson for 31, and proceeded to tie down the Sixers by tossing the ball up and letting it turn. When Arjun Nair came on at the other end the consequences were devastating. Moises Henriques never got going, and after hitting a big six off Nair’s first ball he was dismissed when he tried again. Hughes had batted well, but he didn’t learn his lesson after an ill-advised slog nearly saw him stumped, instead choosing to go again and finding himself caught in the deep. Johan Botha came in and was beaten by the turn, Nair’s big-spinning off-break catching him with his bat nowhere near the ball. The Sixers were 5/80, and in big trouble.

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Jump for joy: Arjun Nair celebrates the wicket of Johan Botha, which left the Sixers 5/79

At this point Sam Billings stepped up. He had entered after Henriques threw his wicket away, and witnessed Hughes’ lack of awareness and Botha’s lack of technique from the other end, all while playing Ahmed and Nair’s excellent bowling with an unconcerned air befitting one of England’s best players of spin. It was a pair of stunning reverse sweeps which showed his class, crushing Nair to the fence with contemptuous ease as Peter Nevill struggled to find form at the other end. Nevill departed shortly afterwards, and Billings was run out for 32 after some excellent death bowling from McClenaghan and Andrew Fekete. At this point, Steve O’Keefe was leading the charge, hitting three boundaries through mid-wicket in a manner which suggested he had few other shots. McClenaghan proved this theory by bowling outside off stump, and four consecutive dots in the last over saw the Sixers limp to 149.

As fragile as the Sixers batting had looked, there remained a sense that the Thunder’s could be more so if they couldn’t get going. Their pursuit of 150 couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start, Jos Buttler succumbing to some excellent bowling from the previously unheard of Daniel Sams and bringing Watson to the wicket at 1/1. Where the Sixers began fluently and aggressively, the Thunder were just slow. Kurtis Patterson found the middle of the bat but could not pick out a gap, and his only boundaries came from inside edges off Sams’ impressive left-arm pace. Watson looked to have some degree of control, with a particularly solid hit over mid-wicket hinting at a proficiency against the short ball the Sixers would have done well to heed.

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Top form: Shane Watson bats during his match-winning 77.

Even still, 1/37 was an inadequate haul, and even though Watson was able to hit the occasional boundary against the spin of Botha and O’Keefe the required run rate was soon beginning to rise and the pressure was starting to build. It was Sams who ended the partnership, claiming another wicket with a brilliant slower ball which decked back to bowl Patterson. When Ben Rohrer chipped a simple catch to Henriques off Botha and Ryan Gibson began to show a remarkable lack of form, the Thunder were in big trouble. Watson brought up his 50 in the 15th over with a big straight six, and followed up with another off Botha the next over, but Gibson was playing so badly that Watson was only facing two balls an over and retirement appeared a viable option.

It was at this point that Sean Abbott returned to the attack. Coming off a season in which he led the BBL in wickets, Abbott had bowled two overs with confidence before he decided to drop short to Watson. When, not unexpectedly, the in-form Thunder captain smashed it over mid-wicket, Abbott’s morale dropped like a lead balloon. The resilience he had possessed in spades last season was long gone, with a full toss followed by a massive wide and a short ball which was slashed over point. Watson had found his touch, and Abbott had completely lost his, as 16 came from the over and the Thunder were left needing 26 off 3 overs.

Soon Watson was gone, along with the horrendously out of sorts Gibson, when Sams returned. Both were caught as the young left-armer turned the match again, and the penultimate over, delivered by Bollinger, was similarly effective. With Nair and Aiden Blizzard at the crease, the latter with a fluorescent green bat in hand, the Thunder needed 15 off the last over. Abbott was bowling, and his self-confidence drained further as Nair hit two fours off bad balls to leave Blizzard with 6 to get off three. It was defendable, but a Thunder victory was the inevitable result as Abbott miscued again. With 1 needed off the last ball, Nair scrambled through for the winning runs to end a thrilling, topsy-turvy match which only heightens excitement levels for the season ahead.

Top 5
1. Shane Watson (Sydney Thunder)
The star of the show, Watson showed incredible composure to carry the Thunder’s innings with out-of-form teammates at the other end. He punished anything short or overpitched, and played a captain’s knock which reminded all watching of his destructive best.
2. Daniel Sams (Sydney Sixers)
Sams was incredible on debut, taking 4-14 and looking the Sixers most dangerous bowler by a long way. He took four of the five wickets, including the massive scalp of Watson, and he appears to be an excellent long-term prospect with his smarts and ability to change it up.
3. Fawad Ahmed (Sydney Thunder)
Ahmed used his variations and flight to devastating effect, beginning with a wicket maiden and going on to deliver a spell which dismantled the Sixers early momentum. He bowled with confidence and excellent control, and his ability to put the brakes on the Sixers middle order bodes well for the tournament ahead.
4. Arjun Nair (Sydney Thunder)
Things weren’t looking great for Nair when his first ball, a full toss, was dispatched to the boundary, but he responded by taking the massive wicket of Henriques and very nearly removing Hughes two balls later. He was tight and ensured that there was no let off when Ahmed was not bowling, and he made a handy contribution with the bat to seal the win.
5. Sam Billings (Sydney Sixers)
Played a mature innings amidst the Sixers spin-induced collapse, looking completely at ease and accelerating well to give his side a chance. His pair of reverse sweeps against Nair were beautiful shots, and he showcased his power with a nice six over mid-wicket when it was time to attack.