Stars overcome Gayle blitz to reach semis
Melbourne Stars 8 for 145 (Hodge 39, Hussey 32) beat Sydney Thunder 132 (Gayle 65, Faulkner 3-24) by 13 runs
It took eight rounds across 31 days for Chris Gayle to deliver and yet, incredibly, Sydney Thunder lost again to gift the Melbourne Stars a semi-final berth. The Stars' tournament chances had seemingly slipped after setting what appeared an underwhelming target of 146 for Thunder to chase.
When Gayle lit up the MCG with the fastest fifty of the BBL, off just 25 balls, Thunder's 12-match losing streak looked to be dead and buried along with the Stars' season. The Sydney franchise had not won since Gayle was last the Man of the Match, for a 54-ball century in December 2011 against Adelaide Strikers at the ANZ Stadium.
Gayle hurtled towards three figures here as he displayed his brutal power. He thumped Jackson Bird over the sightscreen in the second over, showing utter disdain for Bird's Test match form. Gayle then clubbed 19 runs from John Hastings' first over, including a flat-bat down the ground, a ramp over third man, a conventional cut to point, and a contemptuous slap that cleared the longest boundary on the ground at midwicket.
He had some luck, with Cameron White failing to lay a hand on a towering sky ball, and it seemed then that the prize scalp of Gayle and a semi-final berth might have escaped the Stars' grasp. Gayle scored 50 of the 59 runs that came in the Powerplay, with Simon Keen the only wicket to fall.
Matt Prior played a slow hand by comparison to Gayle. His 16-ball 7 ended when he holed out to a superb running catch at long-on by Bird. But it brought the in-form Usman Khawaja to the crease and the chase seemed a fait accompli. Thunder needed 55 from 48 balls with Gayle and Khawaja in complete command before Gayle tried to clear the rope for a fifth time, only to be caught by Glenn Maxwell for 65.
Khawaja inexplicably sliced Bird to Brad Hodge at deep point the following over and what seemed impossible at the start of the 13th over suddenly appeared inevitable.
Thunder conspired to lose their last eight wickets for just 41 runs to be bowled out 13 short of their target and consign themselves to a winless season and a 13th straight loss as a franchise. All the Stars bowlers were gifted at least a wicket each. James Faulkner bagged three and Dimitri Mascarenhas picked up two in his first game for the Stars as a replacement for Lasith Malinga.
Earlier, Stars looked to have blown a golden chance to make the semi-finals when they compiled only 8 for 145 having elected to bat.
Luke Wright ran himself out early. Rob Quiney appeared to have found some much needed touch only for his promising innings of 22 to end when he hit Sean Abbott straight up in the air and was caught by Khawaja.
Brad Hodge and David Hussey were left to mount a rescue mission, as they have done so often on this ground together. Hodge again showed his class making 39 from just 26 balls before he played around a full delivery from Dirk Nannes. Hussey did as a Hussey so often does, compiling a busy 32 that featured only one boundary.
But the innings fell away badly from there. The Stars managed just 18 runs from the last 25 balls, and lost four wickets in the process. Fortunately for the Stars, Thunder's finish was even more calamitous and Shane Warne will get another chance to captain his side having been forced to watch tonight from the confines of the change rooms due to his suspension.
Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Perth