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.

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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.

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.

Renegades march home against lacklustre Stars

Melbourne Stars vs Melbourne Renegades
Melbourne Stars 157-4 (Dunk 47, Pietersen 40, Maxwell 33) lost to Melbourne Renegades 159-4 (Nabi 52, Finch 43, White 35*, Hastings 24-2) by 6 wickets at the MCG

Glenn Maxwell collected the ball cleanly at the stumps, as Mohammad Nabi and Cameron White pushed yet another sneaky two into the vast expanses of the MCG. His over had been completed with little fanfare, as the much-hyped derby between the Melbourne Stars and the Melbourne Renegades lulled towards an inevitable conclusion. Maybe Maxwell was frustrated with his recent omission from the Australian ODI squad. Maybe he was just annoyed with the way his side had played with their season on the line. Either way, his decision to drill a throw at the keeper’s end stumps, only occupied by the out of position and unprepared Peter Handscomb, was a stupid one. The ball missed and ran away for four byes, in one moment summing up the malaise which has plagued the Stars’ fruitless campaign.

From the moment the BBL came into fruition, the Stars have always been Melbourne’s glamour team. They got Victoria’s best players, and attracted the rest of them shortly afterwards. They got the colosseum that is the Melbourne Cricket Ground, while the Renegades were forced into the unspectacular Etihad Stadium. They even got the better name (and the better mascot, as the difficulty in pinning down what a Renegade looks like is highlighted by their nondescript effort at depicting one). On this night, however, they were comprehensively outplayed by the team that has always come off second best, and always been left out of the finals while the Stars contended for titles that always threatened but never came. On this night, in front of a massive MCG crowd, that balance of power seemed to have shifted. For the first time the Stars were so monumentally outplayed they no longer felt like the glamour team.

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Despair: The Melbourne Stars trudge off after their humiliating defeat at the hands of their cross-city rivals.

The Stars started slowly as they fell to 1/18 off 3 overs, but recovered through the work of two of their most under-pressure players. Ben Dunk was suffering from a mix of poor form and the expectations attached to his status as the marquee player, and Kevin Pietersen had never quite found his destructive best, if that best was still there in the twilight of his career. They came together after Luke Wright holed out against Dwayne Bravo, and both immediately showed intent and found form. Dunk drove the ball fluently and hit it with confidence, all while putting away anything short with ease and power, and hitting what would be the only six of the innings in the process. Pietersen came out with plenty of aggression, flicking the ball past mid-on for an exquisitely timed four to get off the mark. A pair of fours came from the last two balls of the PowerPlay as Pietersen swung hard, and soon both players looked like bringing up fluent half-centuries.

It was not to be, as the enigma that is Pietersen showed the infuriating side of his batting. He had looked in top form and seemed set for a big score before he holed out, playing a shot which was flawed in conception and execution. Nabi tossed it up, and Pietersen’s toed slog couldn’t have picked out Tom Cooper any better. When Dunk fell victim to a slight edge and a contentious Tim Ludeman catch, the Stars had fallen away a bit and needed someone to provide a spark for a big late innings finish. No one stepped up, and the run rate began to slide as Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis worked hard but could only deal in singles and twos.

Maxwell came into this match as the talk of the town thanks to his controversial omission from Australia’s one-day squad and subsequent questions about his preparation. This was his opportunity to send a message, and his opening efforts felt very deliberate, as if he was determined to shelve the unorthodox batting which made him such a destructive but frustrating presence in the first place. His first boundary was a beautifully placed cut shot off Bravo, but it didn’t get him going. He showed glimpses, but a hard-hit reverse sweep for four from the penultimate ball of the innings was just not enough. Next ball, Kane Richardson bowled him, a suitably unsatisfying end to an unsatisfying innings.

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Out of sorts: Marcus Stoinis (left) watches the ball bounce harmlessly in the air as the Stars struggle to close out the innings.

Meanwhile, Stoinis was working similarly hard but going nowhere. His first ball had been clipped to the rope, as Brad Hogg and Marcus Harris converged upon the ball at the same time with catastrophic results. He didn’t time anything that well for the rest of his innings, and frustration seeped in. With the last ball of the nineteenth over, he drilled one straight to the man at point, before standing out of his crease and tiptoeing on the spot like a prospective base stealer daring the pitcher to throw him out. It didn’t work. The Stars limped to 4/157 off their 20 overs, and it just didn’t look like enough.

Aaron Finch came out as if on a mission to get the runs as quickly as possible. Jackson Coleman concluded the first over with a limp ball on Finch’s hip which was duly tucked away, and when Michael Beer came on for the second over chaos ensued. The Renegades captain drilled the first two through the offside, and when he launched Beer over mid-on for six and followed up with a pair of fours, he had picked up 26 runs off six balls and looked in irresistible touch. When Stoinis entered the attack, Finch immediately scattered the seagulls that had congregated near the mid-wicket boundary with another four. Harris departed to Coleman shortly afterwards as Stars captain John Hastings dived forward, scooped up a good catch and celebrated with plenty of zeal. Finch didn’t care, and in conjunction with Cameron White the Renegades kept pushing. Finch stroked Stoinis through point in the last over of PowerPlay, and when Hastings strayed down leg he was clipped for four. Then the captain was gone, looking to take Adam Zampa on but only succeeding in seeing his leg stump pegged back.

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Pinch hitter: Mohammad Nabi swings hard at a wide one from Jackson Coleman.

It could have been a turning point in the match for the Stars. Instead, the Renegades seized the initiative, promoting Nabi to number four with orders to attack. While White just marched on at the other end, maintaining the veneer of indestructability that has cloaked him every time he has batted this season, Nabi carried out his instructions to the letter. Zampa tossed the ball up to test him out, and the experienced Afghan lofted him over the off-side for two sixes. He never looked back. Shapeless swings against Coleman and Stoinis flew high into the hot Melbourne night, but they didn’t go to hand. With White’s metronomic accumulation and Nabi’s series of streaky slogs, the Renegades were cruising to an easy win.

It was wrapped up fairly painlessly. James Faulkner was only introduced in the thirteenth over, and White advanced down the pitch to crash his first delivery through the covers. Nabi brought up his half-century with a perfect cover drive and a hat-trick of well-run twos, and by the time he departed to Hastings the game was well and truly over. Hastings picked up the wicket of Brad Hodge as the game drew to a close, but the Stars showed a distinct lack of urgency as White and Bravo saw the Renegades home, the latter closing out the game with an imperious six down the ground as the Stars’ dominance of Melbourne was ended in a fittingly emphatic manner. They remain winless after an uninspired start to the year, and look set to miss the finals for the first time. Their dominance of Melbourne is well-and-truly over.

Top 5
1. Mohammad Nabi (Melbourne Renegades)
Nabi was one of the Renegades’ best bowlers, but it was his batting that set him apart. He came in with a licence to swing and made the most of it, and the Stars had no answer as he threw his bat and it came off. His two sixes off the bowling of Zampa were top-quality cricket shots, and he showed excellent awareness in the form of his brilliant running between the wickets.
2. Aaron Finch (Melbourne Renegades)
Nabi and White may have done the bulk of the work with the bat, but Finch completely shattered the Stars’ early plans and gave them no chance to put his side under pressure. His hitting was calculated and powerful, and his six boundaries in his first six balls completely destroyed any hopes the hosts had of a tight PowerPlay. He appears to have tapped into a very rich vein of form.
3. Cameron White (Melbourne Renegades)
White just doesn’t look like he’s going to get out at the moment. He scored at a touch below a run a ball, and never tore the Stars apart like Finch and Nabi, but his steady presence at the crease contributed to the Renegades’ dominance. He played a pair of crushing cover drives, but was otherwise content to knock the ball around and keep everything ticking over with remarkable consistency.
4. Jackson Coleman (Melbourne Stars)
On BBL debut, Coleman was a rare shining light for the Stars. The only member of their eleven who had never played international cricket, he was better than any of his teammates and built plenty of pressure to stall the Renegades’ lightning start. He finished with a well-deserved wicket, and played with the smarts which were so sorely lacking from his team’s performance.
5. Ben Dunk (Melbourne Stars)
Dunk was in top form throughout, and looked a trifle unlucky to be given out after a questionable looking catch from Ludeman. He drove the ball well and put away the bad balls with ease, and finished off the night with a pair of solid-looking catches as the game drew to a close. After a string of low scores, he will be relieved to have delivered.

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.

How to win the unwinnable – Scorchers style

Perth Scorchers vs Melbourne Stars
Perth Scorchers 142-6 (Cartwright 58, Voges 35, Agar 33*, Faulkner 19-2) def Melbourne Stars 129-8 (Faulkner 35*, Quiney 25, Tye 23-5) by 13 runs at the WACA

Through a confluence of bad batting and good bowling, the Perth Scorchers found themselves at 3/10 midway through the fourth over. Will Bosisto had been the first to go, flashing at a wide one from James Faulkner and seeing himself caught at slip. Next Michael Klinger, on return, got bogged down and attempted to hit out, only succeeding in finding a diving Rob Quiney. Faulkner’s two wickets were backed up by Michael Beer, whose non-turning, flat, left-arm orthodox broke through the defences of an advancing Ashton Turner to crash into the stumps. Losing three wickets in the PowerPlay is an almost foolproof way to lose a T20 game. That is, unless you’re talking about the Scorchers, who have crafted a seemingly indestructible juggernaut with their ability to win the unwinnable.

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Happier times: Marcus Stoinis (right) and Peter Handscomb celebrate the wicket of David Willey.

Step one was the initial recovery, which was expertly marshalled by Hilton Cartwright and Adam Voges. Cartwright, the Zimbabwean-born batsman who won a Test debut (amid much consternation) largely due to his gentle medium pace, and Voges, the Scorchers’ omnipresent steady hand at the wheel, began to fight back with some nice boundaries in the fifth over. Voges cut one to the boundary and Cartwright lofted Faulkner for six over mid-off with remarkable ease, considering he was 4 off 14 at the time. The game had soon settled into a comfortable rhythm for both sides. The Stars were keeping the run rate steady, and the Scorchers kept the scoreboard ticking over with cool heads and brilliant running between the wickets.

When Voges fell for 35, cramped for room by John Hastings shortly after Cartwright had passed fifty with a hastily run two, step two of the recovery came into operation. It centred around Ashton Agar, who began to hit out and reap some rewards. Cartwright and David Willey fell at the other end, but Agar held firm with a pair of sixes and capped it off with a four off the last ball of the innings when Scott Boland strayed onto his hip and paid the price. Even still, the Stars would have been confident in their ability to chase the Scorchers’ meagre return of 142.

The next step was to take some wickets, preferably early ones. Mitchell Johnson led off well, beating Ben Dunk four times in a row before he caught the outside edge. As Luke Wright and Peter Handscomb began to mount a recovery, however, the Scorchers’ prospects looked grim. Then Andrew Tye, as he has done so many times before, stepped up. His second ball removed Handscomb, who was unlucky to be on the end of a brilliant piece of boundary fielding from Bosisto as he tried to follow up a boundary the ball before. Bosisto caught the ball leaning back over the rope, and threw it back in to complete a coolly taken catch. He couldn’t repeat the feat when Wright hit one his way moments later, but the Englishman popped up a limp chance off the next ball. The Stars were 3/36, and the Scorchers’ recovery was well underway.

At this point, it was time to tighten the screws as the Stars looked to recover. Jhye Richardson concluded the PowerPlay by removing Glenn Maxwell, who played an innings devoid of awareness and maturity, to leave the Stars 4/40. The tables had turned, and it was time for the Stars to recover their innings as the Scorchers had done so expertly. Unfortunately for Marcus Stoinis and Quiney, the Scorchers bowling unit specialises in suffocating their opposition, and through Agar’s miserly spin and some clever bowling any early momentum that had built up had soon dissipated. When Tye bagged another wicket, with Stoinis falling victim to a brilliant catch as Cartwright dived forward in the outfield, the game looked over.

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The end: Andrew Tye celebrates after closing out the come-from-behind win with the wicket of Adam Zampa.

Step five? Finish it off. With some consistent and controlled death bowling, the Scorchers stayed calm even when Quiney and Faulkner began to build a partnership and allowed the asking rate to climb with every passing over. Voges ran out Quiney just as the pair needed to get going, showing all of his experience under pressure to hit the stumps with a scrambling Quiney caught metres short. Needing to defend 45 off 24, the Scorchers had no more problems, with Faulkner batting to the end but failing to hit the ball well enough to cause too much stress, and Tye defending 18 runs off the last over while claiming the two wickets which brought up a deserved five-wicket haul. The Stars put the Scorchers into a seemingly unwinnable position. The Scorchers, with calmness and plenty of confidence, got on with it and won all the same. It’s just what they do.

Top 5
1. Andrew Tye (Perth Scorchers)
Tye bagged three big wickets early, and closed the innings out with two excellent death overs culminating in a five-wicket haul. With nine wickets in his first two games, he looks to be in great form, and, scarily, still has room for improvement.
2. Hilton Cartwright (Perth Scorchers)
Cartwright played a mature innings with his side in a big hole at 3/10, recovering from a slow start to pick up an excellent fifty and give the Scorchers something to defend. He showed some nice power in attack, and looked very solid. Took an outstanding catch on the boundary to dismiss Stoinis, diving forward to cleanly grab a flat pull shot.
3. James Faulkner (Melbourne Stars)
Faulkner appeared to have won it for the Stars with some great PowerPlay bowling, removing Bosisto and Klinger and building plenty of pressure. He was the Stars’ best with the bat, showing plenty of calmness during the rebuild and providing some power at the end even if he could not get them over the line.
4. Adam Voges (Perth Scorchers)
Voges was happy playing second fiddle to Cartwright, and showed his experience while playing a key role in their 83-run partnership. He showed his class with a composed direct hit to remove Quiney, and marshalled his bowlers very well in the successful defence.
5. Ashton Agar (Perth Scorchers)
Agar delivered with both bat and ball, striking some lusty blows to get the Scorchers past 140 and restricting the Stars with some tight bowling. He capitalised on the early wickets, but bowled no bad balls and didn’t go to the boundary once in his four over spell. He appears to have found the consistency to pin down an end, which bodes well for the Scorchers.