The Report by Akshay Gopalakrishnan
Melbourne Stars 137 for 2 (Maxwell 41*, Larkin 41*) beat Sydney Thunder 135 for 8 (Sams 42, Boland 2-28, Stoinis 2-29) by eight wickets
Melbourne Stars’ bowlers settled into the ideal pace on a slow Carrara Oval surface to stifle Sydney Thunder and rise to second on the BBL table.
Having struck twice inside the Powerplay, the Stars continued to chip away at the Thunder order. Only during a 25-ball 42 from their No. 6 Daniel Sams did the Thunder innings gain a measure of steam. It was enough to lift them to 135 after they had ambled along at around a run a ball for much of the innings.
It wasn’t enough to challenge the Stars top order, however. They hardly broke a sweat, knocking down the requisite runs in 17.2 overs to win by eight wickets. Marcus Stoinis blazed away to launch the chase with a 22-ball 34. The foundation was so strong that even the usually belligerent Glenn Maxwell played a muted knock, striking just a four and two sixes in his unbeaten 41, and putting on an unbroken 80 for the third wicket with Nick Larkin to see the Stars home.
The defeat has displaced Thunder from the top half of the table. They are now fourth, with six points from as many matches.
Choking ’em out
As he did in their previous game, Shane Watson, the Thunder captain, opted against chasing, with the possibility of the surface slowing down as the game wore on. As he did in the previous game, Watson fell early, well inside the Powerplay. But unlike in the previous game, nobody from Thunder’s top order rode the early storm.
Jos Buttler, the season’s highest run-getter, was the first to fall, his start cut short when Boland found his leading edge, which was held at point. Calum Ferguson followed next ball, when he threw his hands at an expansive punch and sliced a catch to backward point.
The common element in the two balls was that both had been delivered slower. That became the primary ingredient for success on this surface. Joe Root fended softly at the hat-trick ball, which cut away off the seam and found the edge of his bat, but didn’t carry to the keeper. With Thunder 28 for 2, the pressure was on.
While the slower ball was effective, it came with an obvious rider. As a bowler, there was always the risk of overdoing it. Having picked up 2 for 8 in his first two overs, Boland was welcomed into his third with a cut past third man, who misfielded, for four from Root. Very quickly, it prompted Boland to drag the pace back. But Root had already sussed out a template.
After negotiating a slower ball and a regular length ball, Root was waiting right back in his crease when Boland dropped his pace, and length, off the fifth ball of the over. He pulled it over midwicket. When Boland repeated the drill next ball, Root played even later, pulling him behind square to give Thunder 12 runs to close out the Powerplay.
On a pitch where balls routinely stopped on the batsmen and finding the right timing was difficult, Root had managed a control percentage of 85 when he jabbed a length ball from Stoinis off the inside of his bat to midwicket. However, the best of the fightback was yet to come.
Liam Plunkett hadn’t played a T20 since October last year. In fact, barring two T10 matches in the UAE in late November, he hadn’t played any cricket at all. Considering that, he had done well to give away just eight runs from his first two overs. Sams, however, would go on to ruin his figures.
Sams pulled a slower short ball from Plunkett for six over backward square off the second ball of the 15th over, and sliced the next for as many over backward point. He then picked a slower ball from Stoinis and sent a towering hit soaring over deep square leg. In between all the big hits, he turned the strike over regularly. It meant that between overs 15 and 17, Thunder collected 35 runs.
It was the only spell of substantial acceleration, as after another six off Stoinis, the bowler had the last laugh by having Sams caught at deep point, and Thunder slipped back into their shell. In the end, that made a telling difference.
No slow, no go
Unlike the Stars bowlers, Thunder’s didn’t bring out their variations and slow it up. Instead, they opted to fire it in at pace. On this surface, with its lack of bite and carry, they were setting themselves up for failure.
A rush of boundaries – four of them in the first 14 balls of the innings – warned Thunder that a change in strategy might be called for. And then Ben Dunk drove a full ball from Sams into the hands of Root diving forward at short cover.
Thunder’s bowlers continued to go full tilt. Even Jonathan Cook, the legspinner, hit speeds upwards of 90kph. He was taken apart for a hat-trick of fours in the sixth over, which went for 15 runs, and the Stars had raced to 53 for 1 at nearly nine an over.
Stars didn’t look back. When Stoinis was taken out by Fawad Ahmed, slicing a catch to backward point, Stars needed 79 from 78 balls. Maxwell and Larkin collected 67.5 percent of those runs in ones and twos. In all, their partnership contained just two fours and three sixes, the last of which, from Maxwell, gave Stars the winning runs.