Thunder don’t die wondering, but can’t keep their season alive

Sydney Thunder vs Melbourne Renegades
Melbourne Renegades 189-6 (Harris 64, Short 28, Sandhu 37-2) def Sydney Thunder 180 (Rohrer 48, Nair 45, Richardson 22-4, Pollard 19-2, Tremain 33-2) by 9 runs at Manuka Oval

The Sydney Thunder needed to win to stay in the competition. It was as simple as that. There was no need to worry about the mysterious permutations thrown up by net run rates and the like. There was only the Melbourne Renegades, who probably needed to win to make finals but quite possibly didn’t given the murky nature of top four qualification. Either way, it was a big match, and a chance for the Thunder to steal a finals berth against a weakened Renegades side. They couldn’t manage, delivering an inconsistent effort with the bat and ball, and compounding their woes with some dismal efforts in the field. They were lucky to get as close as they did to pulling off a remarkable heist.

The Thunder were put under pressure early thanks to Marcus Harris. It was Harris’ lucky night, and he capitalised with his best knock of the season. He was lucky to keep his place, only playing the match thanks to Brad Hodge’s late scratching. He was lucky to receive a series of half-volleys and full tosses from the usually accurate Gurinder Sandhu, allowing him to pierce the off-side field twice in the first over. He was lucky when he nicked a swinging length delivery from the same bowler, only for the tough chance to rebound off the outstretched glove of Jay Lenton into the Manuka Oval turf. He was lucky when Chris Green and Shane Watson dropped too short, gave him too much room or did both, and by the end of the PowerPlay the Renegades had plundered 59 runs. He was lucky when, with his score on 61, an apparent edge to Lenton did not result in a raised finger, and he was even luckier when he hit a pull shot straight down Sandhu’s throat – only for Sandhu to drop the easy catch. His luck finally ran out the next ball, with Green slipping past his nondescript swing, but the damage was done. Beneath his good fortune there lay an innings of exceptional quality, filled with a pair of well-struck sixes and some delightful strokes off the middle of the bat. He was in brilliant touch, and he made batting look easy against the Thunder’s feeble efforts.

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Big innings: Marcus Harris pulls during his key innings of 64.

At the other end, Matthew Short also reaped the benefits of the Thunder’s particularly loose opening. He hit Watson for a pair of boundaries, and was reprieved shortly afterwards when Ahmed made a shocking error. Short’s limp paddle around the corner was a very hard catch to drop, but Ahmed managed to put it down anyway. It wouldn’t have counted due to Mitchell McClenaghan’s no-ball, although it did not bode well for the Thunder’s chances. Ahmed eventually removed the opener himself, with Short caught mid-stride, beaten, and easily stumped by Lenton. Tom Cooper was run out after slipping in the middle of the pitch, and Dwayne Bravo never really got going before presenting McClenaghan with a return catch. The innings had fallen into a slump, and when Kieron Pollard and Jack Wildermuth departed in consecutive balls the Thunder seemed to have averted the worst of the damage. Then McClenaghan had a shocker. To describe his last over as very erratic would not be doing it justice, and Beau Webster capitalised by dispatching the innings’ last four balls for 18 runs to put the Renegades firmly in the box seat.

The Thunder shouldn’t have been close. They adopted a boom-or-bust approach in pursuing the massive target, and both James Vince and Kurtis Patterson fell to skied pull shots which were well caught by the Renegades’ nerveless boundary riders. Then Watson came in and clubbed a trio of sixes over mid-wicket, with Lenton adding a pair of well-hit sixes at the other end to provide some hope. It didn’t last. Watson fell to a stunning diving catch from Pollard and Lenton holed out to Webster, and the Thunder’s decision to swing for the fences looked to have set them on the path to a big loss. Then Arjun Nair and Ben Rohrer came together, and the Thunder’s approach started to work.

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Top catch: Kieron Pollard is completely focused as he removes Shane Watson with an excellent diving catch.

It was an unlikely pairing. Nair has bowled very well over the course of this season, but after receiving a 90-day suspension from delivering his mystery off-spinners it was unclear why he was still in the team. Now he was coming in at number five, and looked at least two spots too high in the batting order. At the start of this season, Rohrer was the grizzled veteran set to give the Thunder’s batting a bit of steel and some late-innings power. He had done neither. With their team’s season on the line, however, the pair found some form. Nair provided the spark, hitting very big sixes for fun despite his diminutive frame. It didn’t seem like much of a threat, not least because Nair didn’t look capable of keeping it up. Then Rohrer got in on the act, with one very big over. Wildermuth was the bowler, and his first two balls were wide and slapped to the vacant off-side boundary. The next four balls went to the fence as well, as Wildermuth showed neither the ability nor the foresight to bowl to his field and paid a heavy price. Rohrer took 28 from the over, and the Renegades were under pressure.

With his side in a bit of trouble, Kane Richardson stepped up. He had bowled two tight overs early, and he entered the attack looking to stop the flow of runs. It took him one over to remove Nair and Rohrer, with both joining their teammates in picking out men on the boundary, and he followed up with two more in his next over as Aiden Blizzard and Sandhu failed to make an impact. The Thunder weren’t completely done, and Green continued to fight with a series of lusty blows, but without Nair and Rohrer they couldn’t get the job done. It was sealed when McClenaghan was trapped in front by Pollard, and the fact that the big Kiwi was the only man who didn’t present the Renegades with a high catch spoke volumes about the Thunder’s unsuccessful approach on the night. They simply weren’t good enough.

Top 5
1. Kane Richardson (Melbourne Renegades)
Richardson came on for his second spell with the Renegades under pressure, and delivered in a big way with four crucial wickets. He made two massive breakthroughs in removing Nair and Rohrer, and put the Renegades on the brink of the finals with his accurate, miserly and match-winning efforts.
2. Marcus Harris (Melbourne Renegades)
Harris played a key role at the top of the order, making batting look very easy on a slightly two-paced wicket and putting the Thunder’s lacklustre bowling to the sword. His half-century was a welcome relief for him after he was initially dropped from the squad, and should be enough to seal his place for the remainder of the tournament.
3. Ben Rohrer (Sydney Thunder)
Rohrer started slowly as Nair looked to push the pace from the other end, but he got himself going by plundering 28 from one Wildermuth over. His clean striking gave the Renegades a very nasty scare with just a few overs to go, and he was unlucky to fall just two runs short of a half-century. He can draw some comfort from his best performance of the season.
4. Arjun Nair (Sydney Thunder)
Nair showed some previously hidden batting talents in compiling a surprisingly powerful 45 to put the Renegades under a bit of pressure. Some of his slog sweeps went an extraordinarily long way given his lack of size, and he showed that he can prove a handful even if he is unable to bowl.
5. Matthew Short (Melbourne Renegades)
Short’s contribution could be easily forgotten thanks to Harris’ fluency at the other end, but his efforts in compiling a classy 28 allowed the Renegades to compile the formidable opening partnership which ultimately proved the difference. He looked completely at ease against the Thunder’s bowling, and should be a good prospect for the Renegades.

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Bravo and White star against lacklustre Hurricanes

Hobart Hurricanes vs Melbourne Renegades
Hobart Hurricanes 164-8 (Short 34, McDermott 34, Doolan 26, Bailey 25, Bravo 28-5) lost to Melbourne Renegades 165-3 (White 79*, Harris 50, Archer 17-2) by 7 wickets at Blundstone Arena

In the corresponding fixture last season, the Melbourne Renegades managed to throw away a near-certain victory, failing to defend a mammoth 222. This time around, they were in cruise control, never looking like losing from the moment the Hobart Hurricanes posted a below-par 164, attaining the target with 9 balls to spare and cruising home on the back of Cameron White’s composed 79 and Dwayne Bravo’s brilliant five-wicket haul. For the Hurricanes, it was a day of missed opportunities, as the Renegades were just a cut above.

It was hard to tell which aspect of the Hurricanes’ play was more disappointing. Their innings was one of opportunities squandered, a fast start giving way to a mediocre finish. D’Arcy Short and Alex Doolan came out of the blocks quickly, hitting Tom Cooper with an impunity that few managed last season and playing some lovely shots. Short had soon found his timing, and the ball was flying off the middle of the bat. A short one from Jack Wildermuth was helped over fine-leg, and he was smashed through the covers when he pitched up. Another excellent cover drive, this time off a Kane Richardson full toss, allowed the Hurricanes to keep building. Then Aaron Finch threw Bravo the ball.

Bravo was the undisputed star of the show. He entered the attack with the Hurricanes cruising on 0/48 from 5, and immediately slowed the scoring rate with his probing slower balls. He gained his first wicket when Doolan slashed at a wide one, providing an easy catch for Brad Hogg. When he returned, in the 14th over, Ben McDermott’s innings came to an end, as the build up of pressure proved too much for a player who had smashed Hogg for three consecutive boundaries just overs before. Bravo’s use of slower balls befitted his vast experience on the T20 stage, and when the Hurricanes needed runs desperately, they just couldn’t get him away. Instead, he got them out, removing Jofra Archer, Cameron Boyce and Matthew Wade in the last over.

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Job well done: Dwayne Bravo celebrates after collecting his fifth wicket.

The rest of the bowlers backed him up well. Hogg, the 46-year-old who came out of retirement when the Big Bash began and had too much fun to stop, removed Short, breaking through his defences and leaving him so plumb that Hogg was celebrating with his trademark boyish enthusiasm before the finger was raised. That was as good as it got for Hogg, but some accurate bowling from Wildermuth and Mohammad Nabi stalled the momentum of McDermott and George Bailey, with Nabi leaving the Hurricanes skipper stranded halfway up the pitch as Tim Ludeman completed an easy stumping. Dan Christian and Wade couldn’t pick up the run rate either, and the Hurricanes were limited to a below par score they never really looked like defending.

Whereas the batting was a disappointment given the strong start, the bowling was just bad. Things started well enough, with Renegades captain Finch falling to Clive Rose with the second ball of the innings, Rose tossing the ball up and taking a top edge which soared into the Hobart sky. Matthew Wade took the catch, setting himself in the middle of the pitch, and the Hurricanes appeared to have a chance. Then White and Marcus Harris ran away with it against some questionable bowling. Tymal Mills, billed as one of the quickest bowlers in the world despite a congenital back condition, managed to land the nine balls of his first over all over the pitch, going for 13 runs. As White steadied the ship with brutal efficiency, Harris provided a touch of class, his crisp cover drive off Rose a particularly neat shot.

White and Harris continued to march along purposefully against the inconsistent Hurricanes attack. Mills was erratic, and while he gradually improved he was not at his best. Aaron Summers, drafted in for his raw pace, bowled like Mitchell Johnson or Shaun Tait on a bad day, routinely hitting speeds around 150 kph but failing to show any consistency or control. Rose was expensive after his perfect start, with White using his feet well to hit him around. Boyce was barely given a chance, making it unclear why they had bothered to pick him in the first place. Short was slapped, and Christian couldn’t find a good area either. The Hurricanes showed few positive signs as White and Harris clinically batted them out of the game.

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Big wicket: Jofra Archer celebrates after picking up the wicket of Tom Cooper.

Archer appeared the only Hurricanes bowler capable of having an impact, and raised faint hopes with a double wicket maiden which saw Harris depart for 50. Archer bowled with poise and control, with a graceful and economical action which makes it look like he is only giving 50%. He was the Hurricanes’ best by a long way, but could not save his side as White and Brad Hodge knocked off the last 48 runs without breaking a sweat. White picked up a deserved not out following a composed and powerful innings and Hodge showed some great form in hitting his second delivery for six and finding the middle with ease. As the game meandered to its eventual conclusion, it was hard to escape the thought that this could be a very long season for the Hurricanes.

Top 5
1. Dwayne Bravo (Melbourne Renegades)
Bravo used his slower balls to devastating effect, compensating for his drop in pace by out-thinking the batsmen and building pressure every time he entered the attack. He took the big wickets of Doolan and McDermott, and concluded the innings with a well-delivered last over that closed out a top-quality spell.
2. Cameron White (Melbourne Renegades)
White was in brilliant form, displaying exemplary patience and excellent power. Combined beautifully with Harris in a partnership of 113, and batted through to the end to keep his wicket intact. His composure under pressure bodes well for the season ahead.
3. Marcus Harris (Melbourne Renegades)
Harris looked more fluent than White, and was in top form as he compiled a very nice 50. His driving was particularly strong, and he looks to be in excellent form. If Finch can get going their opening partnerships could be very damaging.
4. Jofra Archer (Hobart Hurricanes)
Archer bowls with remarkable ease, and deservedly picked up a pair of wickets. Had perfect control over his bowling and was able to extract plenty of bounce from the pitch with his upright bowling action. If he keeps this up, both England and the West Indies will be looking ruefully at his progress.
5. D’Arcy Short (Hobart Hurricanes)
The less that is said about Short’s bowling the better, but he found plenty of form with the bat and looked set for a big score before his untimely dismissal. Hit some very powerful shots on both sides of the wicket, and had the ball flying off the bat.