Mitchell Johnson magic takes Perth to fifth BBL final

Mitchell Johnson delivered one of the greatest ever Twenty20 bowling spells to spearhead Perth Scorchers to a decisive seven-wicket win over the Melbourne Stars in the first semifinal of the Big Bash League (BBL) – one which handed them a berth in the sixth edition’s final.

The Scorchers’ talisman ripped through the Stars’ vaunted top order to finish with the astounding figures of 3 for 3 from four overs as the visitors mustered a modest 136 for 8. In reply, star batsman Shaun Marsh (56 from 44 balls) ensured the Scorchers never wobbled during a typically commanding performance. He was joined towards the end by Ian Bell (26 from 15) as the Scorchers reeled in the total easily with 19 balls to spare.

The Stars needed to replicate their recent performances at the WACA and take early wickets to defend a modest total. Following script, the wicket of Michael Klinger (7) in the second over revived their flagging fortunes but the Stars’ spirit quickly sunk when opener Sam Whiteman was adjudged not out when on 13 despite appearing to have been caught behind.

Whiteman (31 from 25 balls) provided the initial fireworks, while Marsh celebrated his recall back into Australia’s One-Day International team with a classy knock to guide the Scorchers into their fifth BBL final.

However, the match will forever be remembered for Johnson’s throwback bowling performance, where he had the WACA rocking and rolling. It added to a litany of memorable bowling spells for Johnson, who has a knack of reserving his inimitable best for the WACA. Previously, during those memorable Test bursts, Johnson was able to conjure sharp and menacing bounce, however, on a surprisingly slower wicket, the veteran paceman outfoxed the batsmen with unnerving accuracy just short of a length.

The 35-year-old’s magical day started from the get go when he dismissed Rob Quiney with the first ball of the innings as spectators were still filling into the WACA due to an early start time of 4.40pm local time. Two balls later, the Stars lost their other opener when Luke Wright was brilliantly caught in the gully by Ashton Turner as Johnson astoundingly started the match with a double-wicket maiden.

As he showcased numerously during his international career, once Johnson is in the midst of a purple patch he’s almost impossible to curtail. The Stars had no answer for Johnson, who added to his amazing performance by claiming the prized wicket of Kevin Pietersen (5) as the Stars slumped to 21 for 3.

Johnson was jubilant to snare his long-time nemesis and undoubtedly shocked – as everyone else – to see his figures gleaming from the scoreboard reading 3 for 0 in his third over. Johnson didn’t concede a run until his 18th delivery and became the first bowler in BBL history to go for fewer runs than overs in a match.

In Twenty20 cricket worldwide, only Chris Morris and Nuwan Kulasekara have conceded less runs in a four-over spell, with two runs apiece. In a rare sight for a bowler in Twenty20 cricket, Johnson deservedly received a standing ovation from the WACA’s faithful.

After Johnson’s sizzling spell ended, the shell-shocked Stars spiralled further when Marcus Stoinis (5) was caught in the deep off Jyhe Richardson after the visitors were reduced to 26 for 4 after six overs. It meant they had to pick up the pieces through captain David Hussey and Sebastian Gotch, who combined for a calming 52-run partnership through clever manipulation of the field.

However, Hussey (26 off 21) fell trying to slog Turner’s spin leaving the Stars once again in strife. Gotch, aided by support from the middle and lower order, guided the Stars to a somewhat competitive total through working the pacemen around juxtaposed by audacious batting against the spinners. His standout 47-ball 48 ended when he was brilliantly caught by Agar completing a memorable fielding performance by the Scorchers.

Justifying Klinger’s decision to bowl first and jolted by Johnson’s heroics, the Scorchers were outstanding in the field and superb in their catching. As they have shown throughout the BBL’s history, the Scorchers were brilliant in the crux moments and showcased their famed pluck manifesting from hard-nosed coach Justin Langer.

Despite long being a glamour team of the competition, the Stars have frustratingly been unable to breakthrough and go all the way. Conversely, the Scorchers will be seeking a third BBL title when they host the final on Saturday (January 28) against either the Heat or Sixers who meet in Brisbane on Wednesday (January 25).

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