Neser, Rashid, Siddle help Strikers defend 158
Adelaide Strikers 7 for 158 (Ingram 48, Carey 34, Fawad 3-31) beat Sydney Thunder 9 for 133 (Nesser 3-29, Siddle 2-13, Rashid 2-21) by 25 runs
Meticulous and clinical, the Adelaide Strikers turned a precarious position against the Sydney Thunder into a 25-run win to reach the top of the Big Bash League table.
Yet again, the Strikers' success was underpinned by Rashid Khan, the outstanding player in the tournament so far. In five matches, he has recorded figures of 2-22, 2-22, 2-19, 2-18 and now 2-21, bowling with control and penetration that has allowed the Strikers to triumph when batting first, while their opponents favour chasing. To boot, he even heaved a couple of sixes in the final over of Adelaide's innings.
The margin of the Strikers' victory defied their struggles for much of the night. Colin Ingram's six-ridden 48 hauled them to 158 for 7; then, with the Thunder on 42 for no loss after five overs, Peter Siddle delivered a crucial maiden before combining with Rashid to throttle the home team. Even Ben Rohrer's three late sixes were not enough to give the Thunder real hope of avenging their defeat at the Adelaide Oval before Christmas.
Adelaide steady as she goes
The Strikers are unusual in their penchant for batting first when they win the toss - something they have done more than the other seven teams combined this BBL season. It is a reflection of how, with a strong bowling attack that includes Rashid, who is especially proficient in the second innings, they feel comfortable defending totals. Travis Head won the toss, batted first and won against the Sydney Thunder at Adelaide a fortnight ago, and aimed to do the same on Sunday evening. Perhaps the scorching heat in Sydney - it was the hottest day in the city for 80 years - played a role too, making it attractive for the Strikers to field when it was cooler later in the night. The Strikers began their innings smoothly enough, just a little slowly: after eight overs, they had only lost one wicket, yet had a run rate of under seven.
Fawad pulls them back
Legspinners have been the most successful type of bowlers in this season of the Big Bash. And for all the attention on the overseas stars - Rashid, Shadab Khan and Yasir Shah - Fawad Ahmed has been almost as effective. In the ninth over of the Strikers innings, he changed the complexion of the game by snaring both set batsmen. First, Travis Head spliced a shot to long-on. Then, after striking a couple of slog-swept boundaries - the second was caught on the long-on boundary, but Kurtis Patterson was touching the rope while initially taking the catch - Alex Carey was flummoxed by a googly and clean bowled. Fawad cleaned up Jonathan Wells with a delivery that went straight on in his final over, to end with 3 for 31 and take his BBL season haul to eight wickets at 18.50 apiece, to go with an economy rate of 6.16. In all, the Thunder delivered 12 overs of spin, with Chris Green taking 1 for 22 from his allocation.
Ingram's late dash
At 4 for 104 with one ball of the 16th over left, the Strikers weren't going anywhere quickly. Then, Colin Ingram did as overseas batsmen are supposed to do. With beautiful timing, he creamed three sixes - a heave over long-on from Arjun Nair, a crisp strike over long-off off Green, and a pull over square leg off Gurinder Sandhu - to haul Adelaide into a position from which they could amass a working total. As Ingram walked off, slashing a full and wide delivery from Sandhu to the keeper, the suspicion remained that the total would not be quite enough. But Rashid harrumphed two sixes in the final three balls of the Strikers innings to shore them up to 7 for 158; 54 of those runs having come off the final 25 balls.
Thunder's flying start
At 32 without loss in four overs, the Thunder appeared to be cruising towards their target. Head entrusted Rashid to bowl the fifth over, but Patterson scythed two fours through the covers to leave the home team requiring only 117 from 15 overs with ten wickets still in hand. It should have been a cruise.
The Strikers' comeback began with that rarest of T20 commodities: the maiden. Siddle produced six deliveries of subtle variation and immaculate precision to Jos Buttler. In the following over, Rashid's googly had Buttler clean bowled, and suddenly the Thunder were stifled. In four overs together, Siddle and Rashid conceded only 13 runs - the prelude to a stretch of 42 balls without a boundary. In the process, as if sleepwalking, the Thunder's position of overwhelming domination first became uncertain, and then increasingly precarious. Both Patterson and Shane Watson scored at a strike-rate of well under 100.
By the time Watson was out, heaving a catch to long-on, the Thunder needed 84 from only 41 balls, though they still had seven wickets in hand. Yet, once again, Rashid proved far too good - and even caught Green at long-on to effectively seal the Strikers' victory. Rohrer struck some admirable blows late, but it always seemed futile.
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts