Swepson’s spin helps Heat into playoffs

Brisbane Heat 3 for 139 (Ross 46*, Burns 42*) beat Melbourne Stars 7 for 138 (Wright 60*, Swepson 2-14) by seven wickets

It took 27 games for a team to fall out of contention for this BBL’s finals, and 28 for one to qualify, but – shorn of their captain Brendon McCullum, their smiter-in-chief Chris Lynn, and the crafty legspin of Samuel Badree – the Brisbane Heat knocked the Melbourne Stars off the top of the table and secured their finals berth.

Having limited the Stars to just 7 for 138 on a used and two-paced pitch, the Heat made it home in the 18th over, thanks to an unbeaten stand of 74 from Alex Ross and Joe Burns, the stand-in captain.

An extraordinary opening
The Melbourne Stars chose to chase the last 13 times they had won the toss. So when David Hussey won the toss, he elected to bat. It didn’t start well. Sure, Mark Steketee began with a wide, but then Rob Quiney chopped on and Kevin Pietersen was pinned in front. Both for golden ducks. Out ambled Seb Gotch, a debutant who would later keep wicket in short sleeves (to the dismay of the punditocracy and twitterati), to face a hat-trick ball, which he nudged to midwicket for one.

Gotch, diminutive in stature and open of stance, hustled hard between the wickets and was the aggressor in his partnership of 54 with Luke Wright, who was struggling badly for fluency. Wright never fully got going, but he saw the innings through, dragging the Stars with him as wickets fell constantly. There was another stand of 54, with Hussey, but they never threatened a big score. In his 50th game for the club, this was Wright’s slowest knock of over 30 balls for the Stars, and his team never recovered from their slow start.

Swep-t away by the legspinners
With Gotch and Wright settled and accumulating (the Powerplay was over, and they had taken 21 from the previous two overs), on came Mitchell Swepson, Australia’s latest call-up and Shane Warne’s new favourite human. Swepson bowled beautifully, and did not concede more than a single from any of his 24 balls.

His first over cost five, but his second did the damage, as Gotch failed to pick the wrong ‘un and was bowled. Next ball, Marcus Stoinis became the third Stars batsman to get a golden duck, chopping on trying to cut. After a third over costing four, his final was worth just three, Hussey patting three dot balls to point: it looked as if the Stars were simply looking to see him off, the ultimate compliment for a T20 bowler. Swepson, who now averages 16 in the BBL, ended with figures of 2 for 14.

In the Heat’s chase, Adam Zampa also bowled beautifully, claiming figures of 0 for 18 from his four overs; like Swepson, he did not concede a boundary.

A sensible chase
There was plenty of nous on show as the Heat romped home. They lost two wickets in the Powerplay – Jimmy Peirson caught at mid-on and Nathan Reardon at deep square in consecutive overs – but never panicked or let the rate rise. Sam Heazlett played a gem of an innings, with a beautiful square six, before being caught at long-on, while Ross was typically busy. Burns struggled to get going, but was ticking by the end, nailing Ben Hilfenhaus for consecutive sixes in the 17th over.

Depleted by international call-ups and injury, the Stars are short on many things, chief among them the bowling of John Hastings and James Faulkner. The Heat read this and held back against their strength – spin (against which they scored 6.11 runs per over) – and attacked seam (which cost 8.95).

Where are they now?
So the Heat are through with a game to spare (against the Renegades at the Gabba on Friday, where a win will secure a home semi and they will definitely welcome back McCullum, and maybe Samuel Badree), but who will join them? TheStars are back at the MCG on Saturday, against the Sixers, who have also won four and lost three. The Stars can secure a home semi-final with a win, and they have a strong net run-rate. A heavy defeat, however, could still see them miss out on next week’s semi-finals altogether. Fortunately for them, it’s the final game of the regular season – coming straight after fellow contenders Scorchers travel to the Hurricanes – so they will know exactly what is required of them.

Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp

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