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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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.