Maxwell does well, Sixers do better

Sydney Sixers vs Melbourne Stars
Melbourne Stars 189-5 (Maxwell 83, Quiney 37, Brathwaite 31-2) lost to Sydney Sixers 190-5 (Denly 72*, Maddinson 61, Gulbis 22-2, Hastings 27-2) by 5 wickets at the SCG

The Melbourne Stars looked to have turned a corner. After their highly-rated squad had slumped into last place with just one win from their first eight games, there was finally some light at the end of the tunnel. It came from the bat of Glenn Maxwell, whose game-breaking abilities saw him rise to international stardom and, counterintuitively, led to his controversial dropping from the Australian side. For the first time this season, Maxwell had come out playing his natural game, and had carted the Sydney Sixers to all corners of the Sydney Cricket Ground. The Stars managed to lose anyway.

Maxwell had come in after the Stars’ top order collapsed – again. Ben Dunk’s innings ended in another failure as he found himself thoroughly beaten by a Ben Dwarshuis off-cutter. Then Peter Handscomb, after starting his innings brightly, was caught out as he advanced against Carlos Brathwaite. The Stars were in trouble, and Maxwell started against this all-too-familiar backdrop. This time, however, he did something about it. The onslaught began from the first ball he faced, as he swivel-pulled a Sean Abbott short ball to the square leg boundary and followed it up with a pair of effortless sixes over the leg-side. He had raced to an ominous 16 off 4 balls, but the way he tempered his aggression in the next over suggested he was in for the long haul.

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Anything you can do… : Glenn Maxwell flicks one to the leg side during his well-played innings of 84.

He continued to push on, unfazed by pre-existing eye issues and a back injury acquired after an ill-fated attempt at a reverse sweep. Soon he had brought up his half-century off just 23 balls, and he kept going. Johan Botha was hit for a pair of boundaries, and when Abbott strayed short and wide he was belted for a pair of carbon copy fours over point. He continued to deal in singles, never allowing the attack to settle and looking set for a century. At the other end, Rob Quiney found some form. The veteran was only playing due to an injury to Kevin Pietersen, and he made the most of his chance by combining with Maxwell to devastating effect. He began slowly, content to give his in-form partner plenty of strike, but started to strike out with a series of graceful boundaries to leave the Sixers on the ropes. When he carted Nathan Lyon over cover for a powerful six, the Stars were cruising at 2/137.

Then Quiney went out, Lyon slipping one past his overzealous slog and Peter Nevill breaking the stumps with relish. Soon, Seb Gotch and Maxwell had followed him, the latter falling for 84 after chipping Brathwaite straight to Abbott on the cover boundary. The blow took the wind out of the Stars’ sails, as James Faulkner collected another ineffective not out at the end of the innings and Evan Gulbis couldn’t repair the damage. Viewed through that lens, their final tally of 189 was slightly disappointing, but their best total of the season should have been more than enough.

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… I can do better: Nic Maddinson overshadowed Maxwell’s contribution with an even more destructive innings of 61.

They didn’t get close. Daniel Hughes was unluckily dismissed after the first over, with Gulbis running around, diving full length and catching the full-blooded pull shot one-handed, but Joe Denly and Nic Maddinson were not concerned. The pair delivered an exhibition in ball striking, and the Stars had no answer to the relentless torrent of boundaries which ensued. When Faulkner came on for the fifth over he was belted for six fours by the red-hot Maddinson, and, despite the huge task ahead of them, the Sixers were ahead in the game. The PowerPlay ended with the Sixers sitting pretty at 1/71, but neither man relented. When Liam Bowe, the Stars’ bespectacled leg-spinner, entered the fray he was mercilessly belted for a trio of powerful sixes, and Maddinson had soon one-upped Maxwell by reaching fifty off 22 deliveries. At the other end, Denly’s fairly quick progress was made to look pedestrian, and soon the game was out of the visitors’ control.

Maddinson was eventually trapped in front, but Moises Henriques attacked with equal vigour and the Stars simply had no answer as the game slipped from their grasp. Denly brought up a well-deserved fifty, and proved an island of calm as Henriques, Botha and Brathwaite all fell, but the Stars couldn’t scramble their way back into the game. The final touch came from the bat of Nevill, who hit his first ball for a clean four through mid-wicket. It was a suitably emphatic close to a dominant chase, and denied the Stars one of their last chances to redeem their already lost season. It’s just not their year.

Top 5
1. Nic Maddinson (Sydney Sixers)
Maddinson came in after the first over of the chase, and put the Sixers in the box seat with some clean striking. He hit Faulkner for six fours in an over, and in conjunction with Denly he put a massive dent in the total. He was out in the tenth over, but his counter-attacking innings completely changed the momentum of the match and allowed his side to get the win.
2. Glenn Maxwell (Melbourne Stars)
Maxwell was in a noticeably aggressive mood from the start of his innings, gaining effortless power from his wrists and putting the Sixers under plenty of pressure from his first ball. His carefree attitude allowed him to bring up his fifty off just 23 balls despite coming in with his side in a rough spot, and he showed that he’s a better player when he bats freely.
3. Joe Denly (Sydney Sixers)
Denly put in a surprisingly solid all-round performance, bowling some handy overs of leg-spin and acting as the anvil to Maddinson’s battering ram as the Sixers ran down the Stars’ big target. He batted through the innings and played a number of very nice shots, and he was a steadying presence as the Stars picked up some late wickets.
4. Rob Quiney (Melbourne Stars)
Quiney was in top form with bat in hand, stroking the ball around calmly to start his innings and finding the boundary regularly as it went on. He played a series of beautiful shots, including some very well-hit lofts over cover, and showed more aggression than he did in his few early-tournament innings. He combined very well with Maxwell, and their partnership was nearly enough for the Stars.
5. Carlos Brathwaite (Sydney Sixers)
Like most of the bowlers in a high-scoring game, Brathwaite was hit around a bit, but he still managed to pick up a pair of valuable wickets. He did well to remove Maxwell just as the Stars were mounting for a late charge, and he managed to keep things tight at the death to stop the target from slipping above 200. He capped it off with some nice shots to wrap up the chase, and finished his time in Australia well.

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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.

Stars fail to shine as Strikers cruise home

Adelaide Strikers vs Melbourne Stars
Melbourne Stars 151-6 (Maxwell 60, Stoinis 39) lost to Adelaide Strikers 152-2 (Carey 59*, Head 53) by 8 wickets at Adelaide Oval

Adam Zampa pitched the ball up, and Alex Carey slog swept it hard and flat. The ball just kept travelling, as it flew into the gap on the leg-side. It landed metres outside the boundary, and, just like that, it was over. The Adelaide Strikers had won with little fuss, and left the Melbourne Stars wondering what they can salvage from a campaign that is quickly becoming a smouldering wreck. In this game, they benefitted from Marcus Stoinis’ power and an excellent innings from Glenn Maxwell. They bowled well as a team. None of it mattered.

The Stars have tried everything to halt their slide. They have been berated, told to go about their business differently, and there have been plenty of players dropped. None of it has worked. Not for the first time, an early collapse was at the heart of their defeat. Their problems started before the toss, with Luke Wright absent after a late-night trip to the bathroom went wrong and he did his back. When the PowerPlay was finished with the Stars at 3/34, makeshift opener Stoinis was the last man remaining from a top order which fell down like a house of cards.

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Big hitting: Glenn Maxwell swings hard during his 60.

Ben Dunk was the first to depart, attempting to loft one over Ben Laughlin at mid-off and failing in his efforts. Then Kevin Pietersen, fresh from announcing that this BBL season will be his last, played an innings which was short on substance but not in entertainment value. He flicked Billy Stanlake to the boundary with one leg in the air, and then survived some terrible running between the wickets only to get himself bowled for 5. His attempt to give himself room and waft at a straight ball gave the impression that Pietersen has given up. Peter Handscomb, wearing a shirt upon which his name was misspelled, faced only five balls before skying a pull shot against Ben Laughlin with the last ball of the PowerPlay.

Stoinis had been motoring along nicely at the other end, and when Stanlake returned for the seventh over he played him with ease and brutal power. He had flown to 39 out of his side’s meagre 51. Then he departed too, taking on the consistent Rashid Khan and picking out the man on the boundary perfectly. At this point Maxwell, who had entered with Handscomb’s dismissal, took over. In conjunction with Seb Gotch he played a mature innings, giving the Stars something to defend. He began his innings with an early boundary, a cut shot through backward point for four. For some reason, the Strikers never put anyone on the point boundary, as he continued to score through point and third man with alarming frequency. Michael Neser was cut through a miniscule gap in the in-field and slapped for six over cover. Peter Siddle was run down to third man. Rashid was reverse swept over the two fielders placed on the ring. Stanlake was the victim of a thick outside edge which ran unimpeded to the boundary. Maxwell brought up fifty with three more runs through third man, but didn’t last much longer. With his departure, the innings fizzled out. John Hastings hit a big six off the penultimate ball of the innings, but 6/151 was an underwhelming return.

The Strikers’ pursuit was a steady one, as the hosts never looked threatened by the Stars’ bowling attack. Early progress was slow, but Jake Weatherald and Carey had soon begun to find the boundary, with Carey’s series of drives particularly easy on the eye. Weatherald departed just after the PowerPlay as he sought to sweep Maxwell and fell victim to a sharp stumping from Handscomb. At this point Travis Head came to the crease to join Carey, and the Stars were methodically batted out of the game.

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Balance: Travis Head hits the ball while standing on one leg during his brilliant 53.

Head’s innings was perfectly paced from start to finish, and ended any faint hopes the Stars may have had. He started slowly, and initially the boundaries dried up as Carey also struggled to find the rope. As his innings moved forward, however, he was able to find the fence with greater regularity. He took a liking to Stoinis, hitting a crisp back foot drive against his medium pace and following it up with his first six, which hit Hastings’ rock hard hands at deep mid-wicket and flew over the boundary. As the target came within striking distance, he began to accelerate rapidly. He hit Scott Boland through a tiny gap between cover and mid-off while balancing on one leg and advancing down the wicket, and proceeded to hit another flat pull shot for six over mid-wicket. Stoinis returned, and Head hit a six over long-off and an edged four through third man to bring up 50. He was out next ball, but he had batted the Stars out of the game.

The rest of the chase was completed fairly comfortably, as Carey reached his half-century and Colin Ingram came in and looked to close out the win as quickly as possible. Like Head, he used Stoinis as a punching bag with a massive six and a well-hit four, assuaging any late nerves the Strikers may have had. As the game wound down he was dropped twice, but this was more a postscript which symbolised the Stars’ many issues than a decisive moment in a contest that was reaching an inevitable end. The Strikers found things too easy against a Stars side containing too many passengers, and with this loss all but confirming the Stars’ non-presence in the finals they will have a lot of thinking to do about how they are going to take something out of their catastrophic campaign.

Top 5
1. Travis Head (Adelaide Strikers)
Head’s innings was perfectly paced and set up the chase brilliantly for the Strikers. He led from the front in compiling a half-century, and some of the boundaries he hit towards the end of his innings were ridiculous shots. He showed a maturity which bodes well for the future, and continued to show his well-honed captaincy skills.
2. Glenn Maxwell (Melbourne Stars)
Maxwell played a very nice innings to give the Stars a fighting chance, and bowled well to pick up the big wicket of Weatherald. He was especially prolific through point, and while he showed some of his inventiveness he seems to have mostly shelved his unorthodox style in favour of a more determined approach. Time will tell whether it works, but the early results are promising if not as destructive.
3. Alex Carey (Adelaide Strikers)
Carey batted through the innings and was the perfect counterpoint to Head’s aggression, keeping everything going steadily and batting very maturely as the Strikers ran down the target. His glovework was as steady as ever, and his consistent presence with both bat and gloves has allowed the Strikers to move towards the upper reaches of the table.
4. Rashid Khan (Adelaide Strikers)
Rashid’s quality is highlighted by the fact that he was the best bowler on either side despite putting in his worst performance of the season so far. For the first time this season he failed to take two wickets in the match, but his removal of Stoinis and ability to beat the in-form Maxwell on both sides of the bat meant that he was still as dangerous as ever. He barely bowls a bad ball.
5. Marcus Stoinis (Melbourne Stars)
Stoinis was the only member of the Stars’ top-order who stood up, and along with Maxwell provided the base for their total. He hit the ball well and looked completely at home while others faltered, and although he was dismissed when he looked set for a destructive half-century he can take pride in his performance. He struggled with the ball, but picked up the wicket of Head and should have had Ingram with the last ball of his spell.

Bash Brothers shine to make short work of Stars

Melbourne Stars vs Brisbane Heat
Melbourne Stars 141-7 (Maxwell 50, Pietersen 30, Swepson 14-3) lost to Brisbane Heat 144-1 (Lynn 63*, McCullum 61) by 9 wickets at MCG

James Faulkner was the bowler. Chris Lynn, promoted to open the innings, was on strike, facing his third ball. He tried to hit the ball hard, possibly too hard. It was a catch for John Hastings, who took a couple of steps to his right at mid-off. He fumbled once, then did it again. It was as if time stood still as the ball bobbled in the hands of the Melbourne Stars captain. Three grabs, four, and he still hadn’t pinned it down. It wasn’t clear how many chances he had to take it, even with all eyes affixed to the juggling act in anticipation or nervousness. And then it fell, rolling on the ground. There was no chance of stealing a single: Lynn and Brendon McCullum, the simultaneously feared and admired Bash Brothers, were frozen where they stood, hearts in mouths. As the game wound to an inevitable conclusion with Lynn pounding the ball to all areas of the MCG, the Stars could only rue the missed chance.

Lynn was out of form to start his innings, and it was McCullum who filled the void. He shimmied down the pitch with rapid footwork against pacemen and spinners alike, and began to make short work of the Stars’ below par 141. The Stars had flooded their line-up with spinners in an attempt to quell the Brisbane Heat’s dynamic openers, but it had no impact as McCullum drilled them for towering sixes and crushing fours. As Lynn battled to stay alive, with Adam Zampa even managing to nick his leg stump without any disturbance to the wicket, his captain thrived, and the game seemed to slip away from the hosts with every ball the pair faced.

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Majestic: Chris Lynn hits the ball to the leg side during his unbeaten 63.

Then Lynn started to get a move on. His first six came at the end of the seventh over, with the ball nowhere near the middle but gaining just enough traction to elude Rob Quiney’s outstretched hand on the rope. His next big hits were much more convincing. Hastings was drilled over square leg and carved through point, and only avoided being hit for a second six by virtue of a brilliant effort from Glenn Maxwell, who caught the ball inbounds before tossing it back over the rope as he hung in the void between the field of play and the crowd. Liam Bowe was introduced into the attack, and McCullum took full toll with a six and a pair of fours to pass fifty, before he was dismissed. He attempted one big shot too many, and Bowe claimed his scalp as Quiney calmly took the catch, but the game had already passed the Stars by.

The rest of the runs were knocked off in no time at all. Joe Burns came out and played with effortless timing, and Lynn passed his fifty with a massive six and an outside edge off the bowling of Marcus Stoinis, perfectly summing up an innings containing an incongruous combination of scratchy edges and beautifully hit sixes. He finished the game with a four over cover, backing away against Michael Beer and smashing it through the vacant off side. The Heat were just too good.

Earlier, the Stars had never found enough fluency with the bat, despite some promising signs. Luke Wright and Kevin Pietersen recovered from the early loss of Ben Dunk with a well-constructed 43-run stand. Both were dropped early and looked set to make the Heat pay for their errant fielding, with Pietersen timing the ball perfectly on both sides of the wicket and Wright especially proficient when cutting. Then the PowerPlay ended, and the troubles began.

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Man in form: Mitchell Swepson celebrates the removal of Kevin Pietersen.

The Stars’ woes were caused by the Heat’s spin twins of Yasir Shah and Mitchell Swepson. Yasir had bagged the first wicket by trapping Dunk in front of middle stump, and returned to the attack in the middle overs to keep the runs down and the pressure on. At the other end, Swepson took over. Wright was trapped in no man’s land after running down the wicket, and Jimmy Peirson whipped off the bails. Pietersen, having compiled a fluent 30, attempted an ill-fated loft and was caught. Soon, the pressure was too much, and when Stoinis was run out and Quiney meekly bunted his second ball back to Swepson to gift him a third wicket the Stars were in all sorts of trouble. It was Maxwell who provided the maturity and the power to give them something to defend.

Maxwell came in when Wright departed and started uncharacteristically slowly. It took 13 balls before he hit his first boundary with an effortless upper cut just wide of the keeper, but it was an anomaly in an anomalously cautious innings rather than the start of a blistering cameo. As wickets tumbled at the other end, he was reduced to knocking singles around. For one fleeting moment, as the innings wrapped up, it looked as if he was going to hit his dominant best. Brendan Doggett was slapped straight and Mark Steketee was hit for a trio of fours, with the third of these bringing up his half-century, and with just two overs to go it looked as if he could get them to a competitive score.

Then he holed out, and the innings never threatened to reach such heights again. James Faulkner couldn’t find his form or his timing, and John Hastings’ effort was as entertaining as it was brief, with the first ball knocking off his helmet and the second providing his downfall. Even on the vast expanses of the MCG, 7/141 seemed well below par. It looked absolutely miniscule by the time Lynn and McCullum had dealt with it. The winless Stars were just no match for the dominance of the Heat at their best, and need some big changes if they are to save their floundering campaign.

Top 5
1. Brendon McCullum (Brisbane Heat)
The Stars came out with a clear plan to stifle McCullum, and he found a way to tear them apart anyway. He hit the ball with plenty of power and his aggressive spirit remained intact throughout as he shepherded a struggling Lynn through the PowerPlay while striking a series of lusty blows. His rapid-fire 61 was too much for the Stars to handle, as he returned to his best form in a big way.
2. Mitchell Swepson (Brisbane Heat)
Swepson was the star of the Heat’s bowling effort, keeping the runs down and driving a wedge through the Stars’ middle order on his way to a crucial 3/14. His dismissals of the well-set Wright and Pietersen proved too much for the Stars to deal with, and he looks to be bowling with plenty of skill and confidence.
3. Chris Lynn (Brisbane Heat)
Lynn was nowhere near his best form, but he made 63 anyway. He should have been out with the third ball of the innings, but he made the most of his reprieve and showed signs of his best ball striking with a wonderful six over square leg. He showed excellent fight, and his ability to score big runs despite poor form should sound a warning to the rest of the competition.
4. Glenn Maxwell (Melbourne Stars)
Maxwell gave the Stars something to defend with a fighting half-century, and showed a maturity which had been sorely lacking in his first two innings of the Big Bash. Once he started finding the middle he looked very tough to stop, and the Stars will be needing all the destructive power he can muster if they are to rectify their slump.
5. Yasir Shah (Brisbane Heat)
Yasir bowled well at the start of the innings and returned to great effect through the middle overs. He picked up the big early wicket of Dunk, and bowled beautifully in conjunction with Swepson to put the Stars under the pump. He has found plenty of control and penetration in his first games in Australia, and looks to be a very good pick-up for the Heat.

New Zealand must play like they have nothing to lose

2015 Cricket World Cup Final preview

After 48 matches, 12 teams knocked out and countless memories we have reached the closing stage of the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup. It is time for the final, and one could not hope for a better two teams to be playing in it. Australia and New Zealand compete in numerous other sports, but historically cricket has been one of the sports in which contests between the two hold less value, mainly due to a lack of quality in the New Zealand team. Now, however, it is different, as some great young talent, aggressive captaincy by McCullum and some confidence-boosting wins early on in their campaign have set up a final with Australia, who they beat in dramatic circumstances at Eden Park earlier in the tournament.

Teams

It is likely that both Australia and New Zealand, barring injury, will enter the match unchanged. There are no real selection queries that need to be answered, especially given the effortless manner with which Matt Henry replaced an injured Adam Milne against South Africa.
Australia (likely): David Warner, Aaron Finch, Steve Smith, Michael Clarke, Glenn Maxwell, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin, James Faulkner, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood.
New Zealand (likely): Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Grant Elliott, Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi, Daniel Vettori, Tim Southee, Matt Henry, Trent Boult.

Strategy

Australia must look to remove Brendon McCullum from the game early. They should look to bat first, as they will struggle to chase much more than 250 against the New Zealand attack. If they can post a 330 total and remove McCullum for less than 20 they will have gone a long way to winning the tournament. When batting they need Finch, Warner, Smith and Clarke to make it to around the 35-over mark to give Maxwell time to do maximum damage.

New Zealand will be helped by the fact that the game-plans of Australia and South Africa, who they played in the semis, are very similar with the bat. If New Zealand can get Maxwell in with over half the innings to go, like they did in Auckland, they will go a very long way to winning this final. When they bat New Zealand must not be worried by the occasion and especially not the opponent. If New Zealand start to put pressure on themselves to win then they will play less aggressively, and this does not help their cause.

Key Players

Solid Batsman: Steve Smith (Australia) and Kane Williamson (New Zealand)
Smith is by no means a defensive player, and neither is Williamson, but both will be relied upon to bat time and make as big a score as possible. After a slow start to the tournament Smith seems to be peaking at the right time, while for Williamson this is a chance to build a reputation as one of the calmest batsmen in world cricket.

Strike Bowler: Mitchell Starc (Australia) and Trent Boult (New Zealand)
These two left-armers are the most prolific bowlers at this World Cup, and it is due in no small part to an ability to strike with precise and dangerous yorkers. While Josh Hazlewood and James Faulkner have just started to fire Starc is still the one Australia rely upon for wickets. Boult bowls mainly at the start of the innings and he will be trying for the early strikes New Zealand desperately need.

Slogger: Glenn Maxwell (Australia) and Brendon McCullum (New Zealand)
Again these two players are very different in their styles. While Maxwell bats to the field McCullum uses his brute strength to muscle the ball to whatever boundary he sees fit. They also bat at different times, with McCullum batting at the start while Maxwell bats at the end of the innings. Each will be relied upon to dramatically boost the run rate throughout their time at the crease and score some decent runs.

Middle-Overs Bowler: Josh Hazlewood (Australia) and Daniel Vettori (New Zealand)
Hazlewood only established his place in the side recently after poor games against England and Afghanistan. He came back for the quarter final and since then his reliable line, length and bounce has returned. Vettori, on the other hand, has been one of the best bowlers in a tournament where unfair restrictions have led to many spinners being smashed. He has been clever and against Australia he was crucial in stopping the quick runs being scored by Warner and Finch.

Prediction

I think that the outcome of this game depends on how New Zealand approach it. If they play like they have nothing to lose their chances of victory will rise, but if they put pressure on themselves the Australians will win easily. I think that against Australia it will be very difficult for New Zealand to play without inhibitions and so I expect Australia to win. As for the margin, it depends on how New Zealand play.