Sixers lose again as Hurricanes survive Billings scare

Hobart Hurricanes vs Sydney Sixers
Hobart Hurricanes 170-6 (Short 42, Wade 41, Christian 28*, Abbott 27-3) def Sydney Sixers 165-4 (Billings 61*, Silk 45, Hughes 33, Mills 42-2) by 5 runs at Blundstone Arena

Tymal Mills had bowled brilliantly at the death, and the Sydney Sixers were facing the hardest possible equation as a result. Three balls remained. Three sixes were needed. Sam Billings was on strike, sitting deep in his crease to compensate for Mills’ extreme pace. The first ball was short, quick, and hit well, crossing the rope comfortably as Billings passed his fifty with little fanfare. The game was still alive, but not really. Then Mills erred, his slower ball landing perfectly for Billings to slog sweep him for a big six. One ball remained. Six runs were needed. Suddenly, Mills was under the pump, and Billings was 61 not out and in form. The romantic ending would have been for the Sixers to seal the win with another big hit. It didn’t happen, as Mills’ short slower ball managed to evade Billings’ desperate swing to seal a third consecutive win for the Hobart Hurricanes and consign the Sixers to a sixth straight defeat.

The Sixers started well, but D’Arcy Short and Matthew Wade combined for an excellent partnership as the Hurricanes recovered from the early loss of Alex Doolan. Wade provided the early momentum, taking full toll when Jackson Bird returned for a second over, and soon Short had found his form. Having thrown away centuries in his previous two innings he pounced when Johan Botha dropped short, and slapped Daniel Sams for an effortless four and a towering six when he overpitched. Then Wade began to show some aggression. Sean Abbott was hit for a pair of clinical fours, and Botha was hit through the off-side for four. The innings began to gain traction as Short’s brutal cover drive went to the fence, with both batsmen looking in excellent touch and the run rate climbing. Then it was over.

Wade was the first to depart, taking on Bird and picking out the man on the boundary. Then Short, two balls after flicking Abbott for six over the leg side, tried to loft him over mid-off and miscued. Suddenly, the Hurricanes had no set batsmen, and the wickets started to fall. George Bailey never looked settled, playing a reverse sweep but doing little else as he swung hard at Abbott and gave Botha catching practice at mid-off. When Ben McDermott, who had put one on the Blundstone Arena roof the over before, tried to go again and holed out, the Hurricanes were in big trouble.

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Man in form: D’Arcy Short hits another nice shot during his innings of 42.

Then they recovered to finish with a flourish. Simon Milenko was the catalyst, running down the wicket to hit Sams for four over mid-wicket before crunching him through the covers. At the other end, Dan Christian batted with a rare combination of innovation, consistency and power, with a pair of well-played cut shots combining with a ramp shot and a cleverly hit flick as the total began to swell. When an eventful last over ended with Christian blasting Sams for four back over his head just after Milenko’s well-hit six over extra cover, the Hurricanes had recovered from their slight hiccup through the middle to post a solid total of 170.

The chase got off to a topsy-turvy start, with the bowling alternating between expensive and miserly. Milenko began inauspiciously, overstepping with the first ball of the innings and seeing the resultant free hit soar off the bat of the out of sorts Jason Roy and land over the mid-wicket boundary, before the hosts recovered. Clive Rose had an immediate impact, removing Roy as the Englishman attempted to get him away through the covers and picked out a diving Bailey. Then Jofra Archer, the Hurricanes’ half-Barbadian, half-English, fully-entertaining all-rounder who has become something of a local hero, stepped up with yet another suffocating over, and Tymal Mills removed a hard-swinging Nic Maddinson after Rose’s second over was nowhere near as tidy as his first.

Through it all, Daniel Hughes was making his return from injury with quality and maturity, playing particularly fluent shots through the covers as he shepherded the Sixers to 2/45 from their first six. After the PowerPlay, however, Hughes couldn’t find any form as he looked to settle the innings alongside Jordan Silk. While Silk looked completely unfazed by the situation, Hughes showed signs of fatigue. A top-edged sweep and a very badly hit slog fell safe, but he fell playing an airy swish running down the wicket which resembled a surrender rather than a cricket shot. As the dot balls began to pile up, the asking rate climbed, and the Sixers were under serious pressure.

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Nervous moments: Sam Billings hits out during an innings which nearly took the Sixers across the line.

As Sam Billings came to the crease, the Sixers began to mount a bit of a fightback. Archer’s return to the attack was greeted by a perfect pull shot from Silk which flew over the square leg boundary, and Billings hit his first four with a crushing sweep shot against the otherwise economical Cameron Boyce. Christian’s third over was bookended by strokes of precision and power, with Silk hitting a perfectly placed cover drive for four and Billings slog sweeping the ball for six from well outside the off stump. 70 were required from 36 balls. Silk hit a similar six when Mills re-entered in the fifteenth over. 64 runs needed from 35 balls. Billings played a nonchalant ramp shot to the fine-leg boundary when Archer returned at a key juncture in the match. 53 needed off 29.

The Sixers couldn’t keep it going. Archer recovered well to keep the set batsmen tied down, and when Silk looked to blast Mills over long-on but couldn’t beat the fielder they were in trouble with 47 runs still needed from 21 deliveries. Even Billings’ streaky but effective late cut couldn’t put the visitors back in the box seat. He was their only hope, but his boundaries had dried up in the face of the Hurricanes’ slower balls. Then, suddenly, he found a bit of traction as Archer closed out his spell. A slower ball was muscled to the square leg boundary. Archer bounced him in frustration, and saw the miscued hook shot run too fine for a desperate Mills. When a well-executed yorker was squirted past point for a third consecutive four, the Sixers were right back in the game. The Hurricanes pulled things back well, with Christian taking advantage of some unsuccessful swinging from Ben Dwarshuis and putting the Sixers into a hole that Billings could not drag them out of. If the Sixers’ season wasn’t over before this game, it is now, as the Hurricanes’ rise continues with another solid victory.

Top 5
1. Sam Billings (Sydney Sixers)
Billings closed out his stint with the Sixers in a near-perfect manner, hitting the ball well from the off and very nearly shepherding his side to an unlikely victory. His calmness under pressure was top class, and his ability to score against the Hurricanes’ best gave them a few nervous moments towards the end. He ensured he leaves the BBL on a high note.
2. Dan Christian (Hobart Hurricanes)
Christian excelled for the Hurricanes with both bat and ball, closing out both innings with composure and class. He showed his vast experience when bowling at the death, and was very hard to get away with the game on the line. He dragged the Hurricanes to a total which was only just enough with some controlled hitting at the end, and made a great all-round contribution.
3. Sean Abbott (Sydney Sixers)
Abbott was the pick of the bowlers on both sides, claiming three wickets with some excellent bowling under pressure and finishing his spell with the Hurricanes in a bad position. He bowled with good accuracy and variety to collect the wickets of Short, Bailey and McDermott, and recovered well when he was targeted by the batsmen.
4. Matthew Wade (Hobart Hurricanes)
Wade combined well with Short to give the Hurricanes an excellent base, playing aggressively and putting the Sixers under pressure with plenty of boundaries. His brisk 41 was filled with quality shots, and allowed the run rate to climb while he was at the crease, and he kept as solidly as ever, making very few mistakes in the successful defence.
5. Jordan Silk (Sydney Sixers)
Silk was in excellent touch once again, falling just 5 runs short of a 50 and giving the Sixers a chance with his consistent batting through the middle overs. He pulled the ball particularly well, and was as fluent as ever around the ground as he began to make inroads with Billings. His fielding was excellent, and he is clearly one of the Sixers’ best at the moment.

Vintage Watson guides Thunder home

Sydney Thunder vs Sydney Sixers
Sydney Sixers 149-9 (Billings 32, Maddinson 31, Hughes 29, Ahmed 11-2, McClenaghan 25-2, Nair 29-2) lost to Sydney Thunder 150-5 (Watson 77, Patterson 29, Sams 14-4) by 5 wickets at Spotless Stadium

The latest edition of the Big Bash League was greatly anticipated, and the season opening ‘Sydney Smash’ proved to be a thrilling contest with plenty of drama and a last ball win for the Thunder. In the midst of it all, Shane Watson played an innings reminiscent of his dominant best, treating anything short with contempt and providing his side with a calming presence to drag them past the target.

The Sixers were sent in to bat and started well, recovering from Mitchell McClenaghan’s early removal of Jason Roy to find the boundary with ease. Daniel Hughes looked composed if not spectacular, putting away any bad balls, and Nic Maddinson batted with a fluency he had not shown since his call-up to the Test team last summer. Maddinson’s lofted six over long-off was the main highlight as the Sixers scored 55 from the PowerPlay, setting a perfect base for a big score.

Enter Fawad Ahmed. He came into the attack in the seventh over with the Sixers cruising, and immediately began to turn the ball on a slow Spotless Stadium pitch. He used his variation to remove Maddinson for 31, and proceeded to tie down the Sixers by tossing the ball up and letting it turn. When Arjun Nair came on at the other end the consequences were devastating. Moises Henriques never got going, and after hitting a big six off Nair’s first ball he was dismissed when he tried again. Hughes had batted well, but he didn’t learn his lesson after an ill-advised slog nearly saw him stumped, instead choosing to go again and finding himself caught in the deep. Johan Botha came in and was beaten by the turn, Nair’s big-spinning off-break catching him with his bat nowhere near the ball. The Sixers were 5/80, and in big trouble.

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Jump for joy: Arjun Nair celebrates the wicket of Johan Botha, which left the Sixers 5/79

At this point Sam Billings stepped up. He had entered after Henriques threw his wicket away, and witnessed Hughes’ lack of awareness and Botha’s lack of technique from the other end, all while playing Ahmed and Nair’s excellent bowling with an unconcerned air befitting one of England’s best players of spin. It was a pair of stunning reverse sweeps which showed his class, crushing Nair to the fence with contemptuous ease as Peter Nevill struggled to find form at the other end. Nevill departed shortly afterwards, and Billings was run out for 32 after some excellent death bowling from McClenaghan and Andrew Fekete. At this point, Steve O’Keefe was leading the charge, hitting three boundaries through mid-wicket in a manner which suggested he had few other shots. McClenaghan proved this theory by bowling outside off stump, and four consecutive dots in the last over saw the Sixers limp to 149.

As fragile as the Sixers batting had looked, there remained a sense that the Thunder’s could be more so if they couldn’t get going. Their pursuit of 150 couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start, Jos Buttler succumbing to some excellent bowling from the previously unheard of Daniel Sams and bringing Watson to the wicket at 1/1. Where the Sixers began fluently and aggressively, the Thunder were just slow. Kurtis Patterson found the middle of the bat but could not pick out a gap, and his only boundaries came from inside edges off Sams’ impressive left-arm pace. Watson looked to have some degree of control, with a particularly solid hit over mid-wicket hinting at a proficiency against the short ball the Sixers would have done well to heed.

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Top form: Shane Watson bats during his match-winning 77.

Even still, 1/37 was an inadequate haul, and even though Watson was able to hit the occasional boundary against the spin of Botha and O’Keefe the required run rate was soon beginning to rise and the pressure was starting to build. It was Sams who ended the partnership, claiming another wicket with a brilliant slower ball which decked back to bowl Patterson. When Ben Rohrer chipped a simple catch to Henriques off Botha and Ryan Gibson began to show a remarkable lack of form, the Thunder were in big trouble. Watson brought up his 50 in the 15th over with a big straight six, and followed up with another off Botha the next over, but Gibson was playing so badly that Watson was only facing two balls an over and retirement appeared a viable option.

It was at this point that Sean Abbott returned to the attack. Coming off a season in which he led the BBL in wickets, Abbott had bowled two overs with confidence before he decided to drop short to Watson. When, not unexpectedly, the in-form Thunder captain smashed it over mid-wicket, Abbott’s morale dropped like a lead balloon. The resilience he had possessed in spades last season was long gone, with a full toss followed by a massive wide and a short ball which was slashed over point. Watson had found his touch, and Abbott had completely lost his, as 16 came from the over and the Thunder were left needing 26 off 3 overs.

Soon Watson was gone, along with the horrendously out of sorts Gibson, when Sams returned. Both were caught as the young left-armer turned the match again, and the penultimate over, delivered by Bollinger, was similarly effective. With Nair and Aiden Blizzard at the crease, the latter with a fluorescent green bat in hand, the Thunder needed 15 off the last over. Abbott was bowling, and his self-confidence drained further as Nair hit two fours off bad balls to leave Blizzard with 6 to get off three. It was defendable, but a Thunder victory was the inevitable result as Abbott miscued again. With 1 needed off the last ball, Nair scrambled through for the winning runs to end a thrilling, topsy-turvy match which only heightens excitement levels for the season ahead.

Top 5
1. Shane Watson (Sydney Thunder)
The star of the show, Watson showed incredible composure to carry the Thunder’s innings with out-of-form teammates at the other end. He punished anything short or overpitched, and played a captain’s knock which reminded all watching of his destructive best.
2. Daniel Sams (Sydney Sixers)
Sams was incredible on debut, taking 4-14 and looking the Sixers most dangerous bowler by a long way. He took four of the five wickets, including the massive scalp of Watson, and he appears to be an excellent long-term prospect with his smarts and ability to change it up.
3. Fawad Ahmed (Sydney Thunder)
Ahmed used his variations and flight to devastating effect, beginning with a wicket maiden and going on to deliver a spell which dismantled the Sixers early momentum. He bowled with confidence and excellent control, and his ability to put the brakes on the Sixers middle order bodes well for the tournament ahead.
4. Arjun Nair (Sydney Thunder)
Things weren’t looking great for Nair when his first ball, a full toss, was dispatched to the boundary, but he responded by taking the massive wicket of Henriques and very nearly removing Hughes two balls later. He was tight and ensured that there was no let off when Ahmed was not bowling, and he made a handy contribution with the bat to seal the win.
5. Sam Billings (Sydney Sixers)
Played a mature innings amidst the Sixers spin-induced collapse, looking completely at ease and accelerating well to give his side a chance. His pair of reverse sweeps against Nair were beautiful shots, and he showcased his power with a nice six over mid-wicket when it was time to attack.