Sydney Thunder 4 for 168 (Morgan 71*, Hilfenhaus 2-39) beat Melbourne Stars 8 for 166 (Pietersen 60, Maxwell 34, Watson 3-23) by six wickets
The defending champions are still alive – mathematically at least. Eoin Morgan crunched a last-ball six straight down the ground to give the Sydney Thunder a famous six-wicket win – their first of the season – in his last game for them before he flies to India with the England team.
The Thunder required five to win from the final ball, and as the smite – off a half-volley from Ben Hilfenhaus – flew into the sightscreen, Morgan dropped his bat and leapt. Pat Cummins, the bowler who reinvented himself as an allrounder at No. 6, and who had already hit a huge six earlier in the over (from which the Thunder had required 16), gave him a bearhug.
Earlier, Morgan’s former England team-mate Kevin Pietersen had guided the Stars, who were invited to bat, to 8 for 166. But his dismissal sparked a dismal collapse in the final five overs, and it came back to haunt him.
Without the middle-order ballast of Peter Handscomb – who should return for the latter half of the pool stage – the Stars’ batting line-up looks rather top-heavy. Over 70% of Stars’ runs this season have been scored by their top three – if they are to make the finals again, this needs addressing.
And so it proved here. Glenn Maxwell and Luke Wright had given Pietersen a punchy platform in the Powerplay, but he got off to a slow start. There was the standard Red Bull run to get things going, but he could barely manage more than a single, moving to 28 from 27. From there, he flew, taking 32 from his next 10, with Chris Green reverse-swept, then tonked over midwicket, for four and six, and Gurinder Sandhu ripped to shreds.
Watson stalls the Stars
After Sandhu leaked 21 from the 15th over, Stars looked set for a huge total. Pietersen was on 60 and had shared 55 with Faulkner for the fourth wicket. Shane Watson appeared to be running out of bowling options; Russell had pulled up lame, Sandhu and Cummins had been too costly, and he had just one over of spin – from Green – up his sleeve.
So Watson turned to his own bowling, which had looked in fine fettle earlier on. Pietersen drilled one back to the left of Watson, who took a magnificent caught-and-bowled in an over that cost just five. With the partnership broken, it was the perfect time to reintroduce the hitherto expensive Cummins. He sent down the 17th, which cost just seven, before Green bowled Faulkner and Sam Harper in consecutive balls with his skiddy offbreaks in the 18th over that went for just one. He nearly had Adam Zampa, too. Never mind, Watson brought himself back, dismissed Zampa and conceded two.
With Cummins’ last yielding just five, the final five overs had been worth 20 runs for the loss of five wickets. With rain tumbling, the Thunder had hauled themselves back into the game.
Morgan’s innings of two halves
Thunder found themselves in a spot of bother early. Aiden Blizzard had played out eight dots in the 11 balls he had faced when he fell. Kurtis Patterson’s fast start fell to nothing. Watson was brilliantly caught by Harper. Morgan and Ben Rohrer, realistically, were the last hope. Russell was carded to come in at No. 6, but his left hamstring injury ruled that out, so Cummins was promoted. Against the likes of Zampa, who bowled beautifully, Morgan looked horribly scratchy at first. He managed just 15 runs from his first 28 balls.
But then, Michael Beer – very tight until then – returned for the 15th over. Thunder needed 72 off 36. Beer’s first ball was whacked down the ground for four, before he was slog-swept for six. Morgan was away, and he didn’t look back. On a pitch favouring spin, Morgan realised that seamers were to bowl each of the last five overs. When they dropped short, he pulled, and he flat-batted over long-on too. By the time his winning six had sailed into the night, he had taken 56 off his last 22 balls to finish with 71. Finally, Thunder had a win.
Legspin it to win it
As Morgan recognised, pace off was the order of the day, and two legspinners were to the fore. In the chase, Beer’s first two overs cost just seven, while Zampa’s four excellent overs cost just 19, with a wicket, 10 dot balls and one boundary. The blueprint had been set earlier, however: Thunder’s three best bowlers were the variations in pace of Watson, the darts of Green and particularly the dangerous leg-breaks of Ahmed, who wasn’t afraid to give the ball some flight and rip, notably when bowling David Hussey. The trio’s 12 overs cost 79 and resulted in seven of the eight wickets.
Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp