Melbourne Stars 2 for 194 (Stoinis 83, Larkin 83, Morris 2-30) beat Sydney Thunder 8 for 166 (Ross 58, Haris 3-17) by 28 runs
A change in approach and finals pressure worked beautifully in concert for the Melbourne Stars, allowing them to squeeze the Sydney Thunder into defeat after a rousing post-season campaign and delivering the hosts a place in the Big Bash League decider against the Sydney Sixers at the SCG, on what is likely to be a very soggy Saturday night at the SCG.
Batting first at their captain Glenn Maxwell’s request, Marcus Stoinis and Nick Larkin provided the spine of the innings with a pair of identical scores that had contrasting constructions and also expectations. Stoinis, as the tournament’s leading run-maker, did what has been expected of him at the top of the order in the style of an experienced professional, while Larkin showed why the Stars had kept faith with him over the past two seasons, coming to the boil beautifully with one of the best and certainly most high profile innings of his career in front of 13,067 spectators.
Their efforts gave the Stars 194 to defend, and with Nathan Coulter-Nile providing an impactful contribution to see off Alex Hales and Usman Khawaja before Haris Rauf accounted for the Thunder captain Callum Ferguson, Maxwell and his bowlers were able to steadily ramp up the squeeze on the visitors. Rearguards from Alex Ross and Arjun Nair were not enough, meaning the Stars will travel north for a final they would have hosted had they not been beaten badly by the Sixers in the battle between first and second last week.
Role reversal suits Stars
Not since 2014 had the Stars last chosen to bat first in a BBL final when given the option, and only Maxwell, Stoinis and Dan Worrall were still playing for them back then. So it was a major change in approach when the coin came down on the right side for Maxwell, but a shrewd one given the Stars had lost four in a row batting second, while the Thunder’s rise from fifth on the ladder to the cusp of the tournament decider has been characterised by their staunch defence in the field and with the ball as Callum Ferguson swung his bowlers around with supple captaincy.
And as the Stars crunched 26 from the first two overs and the Thunder reprieved both Stoinis and Larkin with early dropped catches – Jay Lenton’s off a Stoinis leg glance from Chris Morris one of the worst of the entire season – the role reversal appeared to create a dominant theme for the evening. Stoinis certainly enjoyed the chance to reprise the role he took up when coshing 147 against the Sydney Sixers at the MCG after the Stars had been sent in, while Larkin grew into his innings with a calmness that allowed the rate to slow to 7.76 after 13 overs before acceleration.
Cook attacked, Maxwell not needed
One of the Thunder’s strongest suits against the Hurricanes and the Strikers was the whippy wrist spin of Jono Cook, who had returned figures of 5 for 37 from the two finals and revelled in bowling second to put opponents under pressure. He seemed destined for a more difficult night from his second ball this night, as he drifted full to Stoinis and was punched back down the ground. For a bowler with a style that lends itself to targeting the stumps, Cook strayed wide too often, giving Stoinis room to free his arms, and only bowled for three overs costing 36 for 0.
As a result of that analysis and the keeping of wickets in hand, Stoinis and Larkin were able to free their arms with terrifying effect for the visitors in the final overs. Tallies of 18, 14 and 12 came from overs 14, 15 and 16, and after Stoinis was bowled behind his pads by a relieved Morris – having reached the highest ever aggregate for a single BBL – it was Larkin who was able to take control as Maxwell arrived for the closing overs. Forty-nine were clumped from the final four overs, of which Maxwell was required to score only four: there’s a ratio no-one expected before the start of the game.
Coulter-Nile has one of those nights
For the Thunder to be a chance, they needed Alex Hales to maintain his run of five consecutive scores over 40 and Usman Khawaja to support him in the manner seen when they helped usurp the Hurricanes at Bellerive Oval. But the Stars had in their line-ups one of the more mercurial players in recent Australian cricket history: Coulter-Nile. Team-mates and opponents alike have spoken of days and sessions in which Coulter-Nile “clicks” and turns a game, and here he did it in the field with the ball.
Unable to find the boundary early, Hales chanced a quick single to Coulter-Nile’s right arm at mid on and paid for it with a direct hit that saw him run out by about a centimetre. When Maxwell called Coulter Nile into the attack he scythed through Khawaja’s attempted slog to splay the stumps, celebrating raucously with Adam Zampa after he did so. By way of a follow-up, Haris maintained his domination of Ferguson, a bouncer down the leg side snaffling the Thunder skipper for the third time in 10 balls faced this tournament, and placing the game all but in the Stars’ keeping.
Ross rearguard can’t save Thunder
One quality batsman remained in the path of the Stars. Ross’ ability to combine improvisation and power has made him a valuable commodity in Australian domestic cricket for some years, and in the company of Nair, among the league’s most unconventional hitters, he was still capable of wresting the match from the hosts’ strong grasp. After a period of slowing down and taking stock as Nair sliced boundaries where he could, Ross looked to take on the task of wrenching the runs he needed.
His first target, having reached his second 50 of this tournament, was the Australian limited-overs spin bowler Zampa, and he got a hold of one leg break with sufficient force to send it flying well into the seats in between the two team dug outs, and next ball shouldered arms to a wide. Zampa, though, was able to respond with something tighter to Ross’ legs and thus harder to get under, resulting in a catching chance in the deep. Nic Maddinson, for all his batting struggles over the competition, took a tremendous running catch, and that was to be more or less that.