James Piechowski reviews the last 2 days’ action in WBBL02, and how each side finished.
Thunder’s consolation win not enough; Scorchers blaze into home semi-final
It was the 24th January 2016, and the Sydney Thunder women’s team had just won the inaugural Women’s Big Bash (WBBL01) tournament. Lauren Cheatle and Claire Koski were in the middle and celebrated emphatically as they made it to their target of 116 with 3 balls remaining. They then watched their men’s side follow up that victory with one of their own. It was a fantastic achievement from all the players in light green.
Much was expected from the likes of Kaur, Taylor and Blackwell this time around, too. With a batting line-up packed with experience and full of Australian internationals, and up-and-coming Shooting Stars, as well as a generous sprinkling of overseas talent, qualification for the semi-finals in the sophomore edition of the league seemed incredibly likely. 361 days later though, and both the Thunder men’s and women’s sides are out – they’ll play no further part in the BBL.
Thunder went into the first match of their pair against the Scorchers over the 20-21 January, desperately needing a win to keep their slim hopes alive. They won the toss and inserted the Scorchers, who went on to make 149/5 thanks largely to an excellent 74 from 55 balls by Elyse Villani. It was a magnificent display of hitting. Early in the Thunder reply, Shrubsole effected a crucial run out, catching the dangerous Stafanie Taylor out of her ground after running through following her delivery stride. Harmanpreet Kaur’s amazing big hitting was once again the highlight of the Thunder innings. She slammed a remarkable 64* off 37 balls including 6 big sixes. Apart from Blackwell (39 off 37) there was not enough support for her, though, and the Thunder middle order of Stalenberg, Carey and Osborne crumbled quickly again. Agonisingly for Thunder, they fell 4 runs short in a tight finish.
In the second game, Thunder took the honours. Scorchers had already qualified, and may have taken their foot off the gas a little. They failed to make quite as challenging a target this time, settling for 131-4. Bolton scored 53 off 43 balls, but Bates was strangely subdued in her innings of 28, which used up 36 balls, only striking 1 boundary – albeit a six. The Scorchers total proved a few short this time, as a Thunder side determined to go out on a high got home with 5 balls to spare, thanks to 62 off 54 balls from Stafanie Taylor. It was scant consolation though for a season that promised much but never quite turned out how they wanted. Scorchers must now get their “A” game back, for a tough encounter against Heat at the WACA in the semis.
Where did it go go wrong for Thunder? A feature of WBBL02 has been how close the league has been – sides have been separated by small factors, and fine margins. These stats might shed some light on their problems.
Thunder had the 3rd lowest run total (1611) over the course of the league, but scored a good amount of boundaries (157 fours and 25 sixes) so their failure to rotate the strike enough might have been a factor. Their players only feature once in the highest run scorers (Blackwell with 386) and once in the wicket-takers list (Carey with 14). However they featured twice in the most expensive bowling (Carey and Cheatle) and only Sam Bates featured in the top 10 cheapest bowling economy (5.45 RPO). Thunder scored none of the top 10 opening batting partnerships. Carey – a promising all rounder on the verge of the Southern Stars squads – scored only 64 runs with a top score of 20 and Stalenberg, a specialist batsman, with a full international cap, just 80 runs with a best of 24. Stafanie Taylor, one of the best bowlers in the KSL last summer, only bowled 12 overs and took 2 wickets.
Sixers confirm top spot with revenge victory over spirited Renegades
A Sixers team that had already qualified faced the lowly Renegades on the 20th and 21st January. The ‘Gades won a remarkable first match in which they chased down 149, but their slim hopes were soon extinguished after Heat completed their win over the Strikers. For Sixers, Ellyse Perry was injured whilst being out stumped for 7, and was not able to take to the field. She will reportedly miss the semi final.
The Sixers innings was anchored by a big partnership of 88 between Ash Gardner and Sara McGlashan, but when Renegades came out to bat, suddenly it didn’t look enough. Priest made 44 in quick order, and what stood out to me for the Renegades was Sophie Molineux. Just 19 years old, Molineux, a left-hander, looks really classy with the bat and has beautiful touch and timing, as well as plenty of power. She is a wonderful player to watch, and, if she can construct longer innings, I think could have a big future. It will be a good investment to focus on her batting because there is plenty of promise there. The other Renegades player that impressed me was Maitlan Brown, who with her accurate pace bowling and big hitting is also a prospect to watch.
In the Renegades reply, a few fielding errors were creeping in for the Sixers. It was a great innings by Britt 31 (23) but Maitlan Brown came in and cracked it everywhere, in particular taking the normally economical Aley to town, getting 30 off 15 balls including a massive six over midwicket to win the game! Sixers have had a couple of sluggish performances in the field, and sit at the top of the “dropped catches list” with 13 spills to their name. They will be eager to iron out these imperfections before the season climax.
In the second meeting between the sides there was less of a feeling of tension, as the qualification fate of each had already been decided the previous day. Sixers came out on top comfortably this time; the main feature of their innings was a superbly powerful and inventive knock of 84 off 56 balls by Alyssa Healy. Using her feet well and hitting strongly over the top, Healy was imperious, and the total of 158 proved too many for a weary Renegades side. Molineux again impressed though, top scoring with 24.
Sixers now face the Hurricanes in the semis at the Gabba, in a strange result of the way the fixtures are arranged for the double headers with the men. Surely Sixers should have a home draw, but both they and Hurricanes will have to adjust to the less familiar conditions quickly.
Super-over win against improved Strikers fires Heat into semis
The Brisbane Heat faced the bottom-placed Adelaide Strikers in their final pair of fixtures at the Gabba. They needed one win, and possibly two depending on other results. Having won the toss, Kirby Short stuck the Strikers in to bat in the first game.
It was a familiar story for Strikers, who were reduced to 63/5 after 13 overs and looking at a total of maybe 110 or so. However, they then managed to piece together a recovery partnership of 71 between Beaumont (50* (42)) and Wellington (46* (25)) to lay a total of 139, which was maybe 10 runs short of ideal, but still competitive. It was a big improvement on their previous sub-100 run efforts.
Unfortunately for the Strikers it was the largesse of their bowlers that allowed the Heat to get away quickly in their reply, and they never looked back. Schutt proved very wayward in her early bowling, her line all over the place; likewise Sarah Coyte lost her radar also. There was a lot of short bowling, too, from the side in blue. The problem for Strikers has been they can’t seem to string together bowling and batting performances.
Sophie Devine had a bad day at the office. Out stumped second ball earlier, the Kiwi looked to have popped a finger out of joint dropping a hard chance off Schutt in the field. She then couldn’t bowl, which likely didn’t help Strikers. Wellington’s 2 overs for 15 runs was the most economical performance, Coyte’s 2 overs for 25 being the least. Heat’s win, after just 15 overs, was comprehensive and they looked semi-final bound, unless Strikers could turn this around.
The second match on Saturday began as almost a mirror image of Friday’s game. This time Strikers put the Heat in, and they struggled early on, then recovered, making 127/6. It was Deandra Dottin this time with the chief contribution, smashing 51 from 41 balls before being run out. Dottin’s early return to action, following her terrible injury only a few weeks ago, shows her determination and bravery, and must be very welcome for the Heat. The next highest score was 19, but importantly none of the other Heat players chewed up too many deliveries.
It wasn’t the case for the Strikers. Edwards (21 off 19) got things off to a brisk enough start but after she was run out in unlucky fashion, everyone else struggled to get the ball away. Beaumont had to stick around for a long while, as the Strikers’ middle order was blown away by the Heat’s work in the field – there were 4 run-outs in total. It wasn’t long after the halfway point that the required rate was already over 9 an over. But in came McPharlin and the captain-keeper hit 23 off 20 balls with 4 boundaries; and with Beaumont (58 off 54) launching against the spinners too, the Strikers were back in the hunt.
In the end, the death bowling expert Dottin (2 for 8), complete with protective face mask, bowled the last over. She nailed her yorkers well – Strikers only managed 5 off it, tying the game.
Unluckily for the Strikers their super over was a bit of a non-event, as they limped to just 4, losing 3 wickets in the process. Again, the absence of Devine seemed to really hurt them but with Dottin hitting the block-hole with metronomic efficiency, it would have been incredible for anyone to score many off it.
Heat secured their place in the semis in simple fashion. In their super over, after a Dottin single, Mooney creamed the ball through the covers for four. The Heat were through, despite fighting performances from the Strikers in these last 2 matches. It had been a big improvement from the Adelaide side – if only this level could have been reached from the start, it could have been them rather than the Brisbane outfit that would be progressing.
The Heat, an unfancied side in the lead up, have proved the doubters wrong, and now join the men’s side in the semi final line up. They now face a very challenging task away at the WACA against the Scorchers. Aside from the dominance of Mooney with the bat, a player dominant to leg and seemingly unstoppable when she gets going, the fact that their non-international players like Kirby Short (212 runs) and Jemma Barsby (16 wickets) enjoyed successful campaigns has helped them a lot.
Hurricanes through; Stars blown out of semis in last over
The Hobart Hurricanes’ adversary for their final 2 fixtures was the Melbourne Stars. Hurricanes were put into bat by Meg Lanning and made 115/3 in 14 overs in a rain-affected innings, Knight top-scoring with a fine 45 off 31 balls. The Stars target had to be re-calculated, but Emma Inglis must have eaten a good breakfast on Friday morning because she came out all guns blazing, striking the ball sublimely well. All signs of the scratchiness of recent innings dismissed, it was pure power hitting from the 28 year-old Melbourne native as she smoked 51 from 31 balls, 360 degrees around the Blundstone Arena.
Lanning was subdued at the other end, until she clipped Hunter tamely to mid-on for 8. What followed after another rain delay and a reduced target for the Stars of 98 off 12 overs, was astonishing. They continued to lose wickets and the ‘Canes looked on top. Stars needed 15 off the last over bowled by Satterthwaite, whose slow bowling had proved tough to get away; and then 12 off the last 2 balls with Cameron, previously looking out of nick, on strike. She showed her hitting capability with a slog-sweep for six over cow-corner. Satterthwaite, coming around the wicket, then made the costly mistake of moving too wide on the crease, bowling a no-ball which must have been called for the position of her back foot. This delivery was also smited for four straight down the ground by Cameron. Jess then dinked the final ball to square leg for a single, and Stars had won an incredible match. The live stream commentators at Hobart went delirious. They really were showing all the emotion you might expect from a World Cup final! If you’ve not seen the highlights, I recommend it.
The next day, following the events at Brisbane, all eyes turned to the Blundstone Arena in Hobart. It was now a simple eliminator. As Heather Knight so aptly put it: a Quarter-Final. Hurricanes had to win.
Another strange lop-sided innings from the Stars ensued. Lanning scored most of the runs – 81 off 55 balls. It was another superb knock and enough to win her the player of the match award. She is so strong all around the wicket but particularly square on the off-side. The Stars middle order got bogged down again though, with only Cameron making double figures, and Mack using up 16 balls for her 7. Hurricanes were electric in the field, as has often been the case, effecting 3 run outs as the Stars got more and more desperate to rotate the strike.
Lanning was visibly fuming after the run out of her younger sister Anna. Using her feet to follow a wide ball she could have left, Lanning only fooled her sibling into thinking a quick run was on. It wasn’t, and Anna was some way short trying to scramble back. This seemed to spark something in the Australian captain though, as she then hit 4 consecutive fours. Stars were well on their way again. Lanning senior was finally dismissed when a full ball which appeared to be above waist height from Hayley Matthews, was called legitimate by the umpire, and was hit hard towards square leg only to be brilliantly caught by a diving Julie Hunter. She simply plucked it out of the air. Knight then took a superb diving catch of her own to dismiss Kearney, and Stars finished on 135/8, a challenging total that was a few more than they might have made, based on 86/4 after the 16 over mark.
The Hurricanes reply got off to a brisk start, but they soon found themselves 19-1 after 4 overs. Kristen Beams was the main danger for Stars, taking 3-11 as the other bowlers struggled to make an impression against a strong ‘Canes batting line up. Knight (35 off 26) continued a splendid recent run, sweeping and lapping with aplomb as she struck four fours and a six, top-scoring for the ‘Canes. The England captain has now scored 31, 34*, 45 and 35 in her last 4 innings and sits 8th in the WBBL02 top run scorers with 331, the best-placed Englishwoman. Encouragingly, these runs have come at a strike rate of almost 120. Only her bowling has disappointed, and she has opted to not bowl regular overs herself in recent games.
And so it came down to the final over, the Hurricanes needing 12 runs to win. Hall and Thompson played it expertly, striking 8 off the first 4 balls. After an incredibly close game the previous day, it was truly amazing that this one went the distance too, Corinne Hall hitting the penultimate ball from Triscari straight back past her to the rope. Cue jubilant scenes from the Huricanes – they had emerged victorious from this encounter by the smallest of margins, booking a semi-final place for captain Knight and the ‘Cane train. The contrasting emotions for Stars were pronounced – poor Gemma Triscari looked inconsolable. Having seemed a good bet for qualification, the Stars somehow missed out at the last hurdle. The ‘Canes now need to psyche themselves up for what should be an epic encounter with the Sixers in the semi finals.
It’s been apparent as WBBL02 progresses that most of the England players have come into better form in the latter part of the competition. For example Edwards and Knight, and also Beaumont who finished with two 50s against the Heat. Those players arriving as late replacements – for example Winfield for the Heat and Jones for the Sixers, have looked busy but are yet to make any big contributions. We also have, unlike last year, at least 2 guaranteed England players featuring in the final, as each of the remaining sides have one or more in their ranks, and they are all likely to be picked, barring injury. This will be important experience under maximum pressure for all the players that make it through.
As far as the competition goes, it’s remarkable that 3 of the 4 sides progressing are the same in both the men’s and women’s formats. Sixers, Scorchers and Heat all have a shot at the same double attained by Thunder last year. Meg Lanning’s Melbourne Stars were so close to making it all four sides. I think this kind of solidarity between the formats helps raise the awareness and profile of the women’s game.