Sydney Sixers storm into home BBL final as Melbourne Stars fold for 99

Sydney Sixers 7 for 142 (Philippe 34, Zampa 3-21) beat Melbourne Stars 99 (Abbott 3-23, Hazlewood 2-14, O’Keefe 2-22) by 43 runs

The Sydney Sixers will host the Big Bash League decider at the SCG and consequently the celebrity bushfire relief fundraising game that will precede it, after the Melbourne Stars fell into an almighty heap at the MCG to maintain their nine-year history of struggling in the tournament finals.

In a match conspicuous for its distinct lack of boundaries – only 15 fours or sixes were struck all night – the Sixers’ measly 7 for 142 proved far too many for the Stars as they were pressured into chaos by Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Steve O’Keefe and Sean Abbott, returning their lowest ever score in a BBL game. A small crowd was left to sing forlorn renditions of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline as the match petered out, thrusting the Stars into an elimination final at home on Thursday night that they must win in order to face the Sixers again.

The Stars’ failure to stay in the game for long enough to have a chance of chasing down their target rendered meaningless an outstanding spell by Adam Zampa, who had succeeded in defeating Steven Smith while reaching 16 wickets at 16.06 for the tournament – his best ever tally for a domestic Twenty20 competition – and conceding only 6.76 runs per over, his best economy rate for any event in which he has played 10 matches or more.

Sixers unscathed after Powerplay

On a decidedly dry, straw-coloured surface, the Sixers were sent in by Glenn Maxwell and seemed intent, with a shortened batting line-up that featured Abbott as high as No. 7, on building steadily rather than swinging for the fences. In truth they were not given much opportunity to do so by the Stars, who bowled commendably tight lines in the early overs, meaning that even without losing a wicket, Josh Philippe and James Vince were still fighting to take control of proceedings.

Nevertheless, a tally of 46 after the Powerplay was enough of a platform if some further acceleration could be found soon afterwards, and the introduction of Zampa when the fielding restrictions lifted had Philippe and Vince looking visibly intent upon clearing the boundary. Philippe charged his first ball and collected a single from the second, before Vince swung across the first delivery he faced from the wrist spinner and skied a simple catch. This turned out to be less the end of the beginning than the beginning of the end.

But picked apart by Zampa after it

Taking after the lead of Callum Ferguson for the Sydney Thunder in Hobart, Maxwell used his bowlers freely and frequently, handing the ball to no less than eight members of his XI. These frequent changes – even allowing Marcus Stoinis his first over of the tournament, from which he succeeded in coaxing Moises Henriques to flick errantly to short fine leg – denied the Sixers much chance to get into a rhythm.

The controversies of Henriques’ dismissal, where it was unclear whether Zampa had been outside the fielding circle at short fine leg when the ball left Stoinis’ hand, and also Smith’s evident annoyance at being given out caught behind, caused more than a few shaking heads in the Sixers’ camp. However, there could be no debate that the innings was wrapped around Zampa’s fingers, as he delivered another exemplary spell for the Stars in a year where he will be bowling for Australia in the T20 World Cup on home soil. His last wicket, a delectable leg break zipping past Abbott for Seb Gotch’s second stumping, was a sight to please any spin bowler, past or present.

Sixers give themselves a chance

Early wickets were mandatory for the visitors given the paltry total they were defending, and there was a collective yelp of delight when the tournament’s leading scorer Stoinis clipped Ben Dwarshuis tamely to a straight mid-on in the third over. Five balls later Nick Larkin flicked Abbott straight to short fine leg, signalling greater anxiousness among the Stars, and when Hazlewood scythed through Peter Handscomb in the manner that has more or less ensured the end of the Victorian’s Test match career, the game was wide open.

Nic Maddinson had been the only Stars batsman to even hint at enduring, and for a little more than three overs he and Maxwell tried to rebuild. The run rate was far from outrageous, and in Maxwell the Stars had perhaps the best middle-order player in the competition at their disposal. But the brief calm was interrupted by more mayhem when Maddinson leaned back to cut Lyon and could only slice a catch to gully. Maxwell was suddenly alone as the last of the specialist batsmen.

And juggle their way into a home BBL final

Even now, the Stars had a reasonable chance, provided Maxwell could find someone to stay with him. But a remarkably low boundary count – only four fours for the innings entering the 11th over after the Sixers had only managed six fours and one six in their innings – meant that the required rate was creeping up quickly. In search of a circuit-breaker, Maxwell aimed to launch O’Keefe over long off, and struck it cleanly.

But O’Keefe’s low arm action meant the ball travelled flat and low off the bat, within the reach of Vince on the boundary. He fumbled his first attempt and the ball sprang free, before recovering admirably to snatch the chance in one hand and send Maxwell on his way. That, more or less, was that, condemning the Stars to their fourth consecutive defeat and delivering the Sixers a home tournament decider at the SCG next Sunday. The Stars must regroup to host the Strikers or Thunder in order to force a rematch in Sydney.

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