Vintage McCullum shines as Heat begin campaign with 10-run win

It all seemed good for the Adelaide Strikers for as long as the openers were at the crease. The Adelaide Oval was packed, the crowds were loud and colourful as they cheered the home side on. The required rate was in control, for most parts of the chase, before it all came crumbling down in the death overs and they eventually lost the match by 10 runs to Brisbane Heat on Tuesday (December 21).

For Brendon McCullum, the Heat skipper, the powers had waned, so had the reflexes, but when it came to intent he didn’t hold back on reminding the spectators of his Twenty20 prowess ala the blitz in the Indian Premier League opener. After being put into bat by his counterpart Brad Hodge, he essayed shots all around the ground – the uppercut over backward point, the pull over mid wicket and the non-hesitant walk down the ground to clobber one straight back to the bowler – almost nostalgic of the entertainment that the now-T20 specialist has provided over the years.

This time, however, he found company of Jimmy Peirson, who matched him for every shot. Unfortunately, unlike the 158-run exhibition in Chinnaswamy Stadium in 2008, this time his innings was cut short on 42 when he cut Kieron Pollard’s slower delivery to Jake Lehmann at backward point. The fall of his wicket came only a delivery after the tall West Indian had accounted for his opening partner, who holed out to Chris Jordan at long off. From 90 for no loss, Heat had been reduced to 90 for 2 with the first two balls of the ninth over.

Riding on this momentum, that was broken at the back of consecutive wickets, Alex Ross and Chris Lynn continued Heat’s charge – first with caution and then with some attractive strokes. Pollard was welcomed with two sixes off the first two deliveries of the 13th over by Lynn, when the right-hander smacked a tennis-like forehand shot over long off and then a massive hit over long on. Together they put on 40 runs off 36 balls, before Pollard eventually had the last laugh, leaping at long off to catch a flat hit from Lynn.

Ross, who was scoring at less than run-a-ball in the partnership, stepped up following the departure of Lynn, and began a carnage. Liam O’Connor became first of the victims of his brutal hitting. The spinner got swept, reverse swept and then pulled for three consecutive boundaries in the 16th over.

Ben Laughlin came next on the hit list and the pacer was meted with absolute disdain. A boundary whacked over the point region, a six over sweeper cover, a six over long leg and a boundary whacked through the extra cover region – all in the 19th over that produced 22 runs.

In the last over, Jordan’s slower one too went over the long on fence, but the English pacer did well to come back as Heat ended up with with 206 for 5. Ross’ fine half century came to an end when he was cleaned up by Jordan off the last ball of the innings for 64.

In reply, Strikers openers Ben Dunk and Jake Weatherald went a step ahead, ceasing the control of the chase early on in the innings. They scored more than Heat’s opening duo, and at a faster pace. Both of them notched up their respective half centuries and helped the side go past the 100-run mark in only 50 balls. Given the rate at which batsmen had scored in the match, Samuel Badree and Mark Steketee were rather economical.

The duo offered the delirious Adelaide crowd quite a few catching opportunities in the stands as they managed to send the ball past the boundary ropes nine times. For as long as they were at the crease, for 11.1 overs in which they added 133 runs, the chase seemed to be in control of the hosts.

However, once Jake Weatherald departed, the first wicket to fall, Striker’s chase started coming off one chip at a time. First they broke the momentum, and then they strangled them for runs. One over after Steketee dismissed Weatherald, he had his opening partner Dunk caught at long off.

Brad Hodge got going quickly, but soon enough found boundaries hard to come by. Same was the case with Travis Head. He spent 25 balls in return for 23 runs. Pollard, Jake Lehmann and Chris Jordan could do little as the required rate kept mounting with each passing delivery.

McCullum was in top form with his field placements, bowling changes and ensuring the team kept at it even when it seemed that Strikers were cruising in pursuit of the target. He was helped by his death bowlers. Even Ben Cutting, who had conceded 39 runs off his first three overs, gave away only seven off the penultimate over of the match and also cleaned up Pollard.

Needing 17 runs off the last over, the hosts failed to score boundaries and had to remain content with six runs.

Brief Scores: Brisbane Heat 206/5 in 20 overs (Alex Ross 64, Jimmy Peirson 46; Kieron Pollard 2-27, Chris Jordan 2-29) beat Adelaide Strikers 196/6 in 20 overs (Ben Dunk 85, Jake Weatherald 52; Mark Steketee 3-32, Ben Cutting 2-46) by 10 runs

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