Hurricanes undone by lacklustre Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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