Despite the best efforts of Sean Abbott – who avenged his mauling by Travis Head here last New Year – the Adelaide Strikers saw in 2017 in style by comfortably defending their modest total of 152 with an outstanding bowling display that gave them their first win of the Big Bash League in a match that was attended by 45,741 fans.
Abbott recorded just the fifth five-for in BBL history, and the competition’s best figures since 2012, but Sixers’ batting crumbled in a heap at Adelaide Oval to lose six wickets inside 25 runs as they were bowled out 104 in the 19th over.
The 2015 edition of this fixture – a quite extraordinary game – will be remembered longest for Head’s assault on Abbott; 51 runs from 16 balls gave Strikers the unlikeliest victory and sent Adelaide into raptures.
It was a different story this time round. Abbott came on for the first time in the tenth over, with the Strikers – with Brad Hodge backing up Ben Dunk – 89 for 1 and cruising. With his fourth ball, Abbott made Dunk pick out short cover, then dismissed Hodge – caught well by the sprinting Johan Botha at cow corner – and that man Head, who Will Somerville dived athletically to catch at fine leg, in his next over. Next over, Jake Lehmann played all around Somerville – who cancelled a holiday celebrating his wedding anniversary to play – and the Strikers were suddenly and improbably at 102 for 5.
Abbott returned for two more overs of clever variations at the death – picking up the wickets of Chris Jordan and Tom Andrews, both skying – and his figures read 5 for 16. Perhaps his parsimony turned the game most: none of his four cost more than seven, he did not concede a boundary and half his deliveries were dots. Abbott’s was a mighty contribution; alas it did not prove enough.
After a steady if unspectacular start (Jason Roy’s reverse-slog-swept six aside) the Sixers lost a wicket in each of the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth overs – all of which were delivered by different bowlers – to lose five wickets for 12 runs. The Sixers were under the pump and, as if to illustrate the point, when the fourth of those wickets fell (Brad Haddin treading on his stumps to the effortlessly awkward Billy Stanlake), Sam Billings was greeted by a slip, gully and short leg.
The trouble did not stop there. After two safe overs break, Botha cut Ben Laughlin – who had begun the rot with the wicket of Roy – straight to point, then Abbott prodded back to Liam O’ Connor. At 64 for 7, it looked a good game to win for the Sixers. All this from a batting line-up that, bolstered by the return of Nic Maddinson – whose dismissal, caught at point, was perhaps the tamest of all – looked extremely strong.
Billings has just one more match for the Sixers before he joins up with England in India but his three innings so far have seen him score 42, 40 and 40 more here. He was left to do the job alone and, after a ropey start in which he could have been caught, stumped or chopped on, it proved too much. That does not mean there wasn’t time for some outrageous strokeplay as the fireworks roared overhead – twice he swept seamers into the members’ section, while there was a beautiful drive down the ground, too. With 54 required from 19 balls (a situation not unlike Head’s last year), it took a special moment from his mate Jordan to dislodge Billings, with a magical caught and bowled.
The Strikers should not have had enough runs to win this game. That they did was down to their varied bowling attack. Hodge used seven bowlers (three spin, four seam), and did not need to call upon Keiron Pollard until the 16th over of the innings.
The spinners flew through their overs, with O’Connor particularly impressive. Of the seamers, Jordan was excellent up top, and Stanlake’s pace, bounce and tricky angle made him difficult to hit. Laughlin, though, with his run and pace becoming ever shorter and slower, was the pick of the lot, conceding just 10 runs from his four.
If the Strikers continue to bowl like this, they could make another final, despite losing their opening two fixtures.