Gardner, Aley power Sixers into third straight final
Sydney Sixers 5 for 138 (Gardner 72, Devine 2-21) beat Adelaide Strikers 9 for 121 (Beaumont 50, Aley 4-18) by 17 runs
Ashleigh Gardner took flight with the bat before Sarah Aley ushered a staggering collapse with the ball as Sydney Sixers advanced to their third consecutive Women's Big Bash League final with a 17-run win over Adelaide Strikers. The defending champions' win gained them the chance to vie for a second title in three editions of the tournament.
While the Strikers began tightly with the ball and were kept in the contest until late by Tammy Beaumont, Gardner's 45-ball 72 and then Aley's burst of 4 for 1, amid the Strikers' loss of six wickets for a mere three runs, were obstacles too great for the home side to overcome. The leading team of the qualifying rounds has thus made the final, and will take on Perth Scorchers after they dumped Sydney Thunder from the tournament on Thursday.
The Schutt shield
As befits her consistent place taking the new ball for Australia, Megan Schutt made life difficult for the Sixers after Ellyse Perry chose to bat on a sunny Adelaide afternoon. Across the tournament, Schutt had bowled her overs at a cost of a mere 5.85 runs per over until the semi-final, and she raised her game to more miserly levels this time around.
At the other end, Sophie Devine was also effective, and gained the first wicket of the match in the form of the Sixers and Australia wicketkeeper Alyssa Healy. After four overs, the Sixers were a decidedly wobbly 1 for 9, with the clamps seeming to have been placed well and truly on their innings by Schutt in particular. The Sixers needed a way to supercharge the innings - fortunately they had just the power player for the task.
Gardner goes bang
Early in the season, Gardner had played a pivotal role in securing a nervy chase for Australia in the opening Ashes ODI at Allan Border Field with a vital burst of hitting opposite Alex Blackwell. In Adelaide, she had the task of batting for longer and setting up the Sixers' tally after their early struggles, and did so in a fashion that remained true to her heavy-hitting ways. While Perry played a sensible supporting hand, rotating the strike and finding gaps, Gardner set about clumping the Sixers' scoring rate into healthy territory.
Schutt, Devine, Suzie Bates and Amanda-Jade Wellington were all hoisted for at least one Gardner six, several of which carried the men's boundary as well as the women's. The most intriguing battle was between Gardner and Wellington, who spun her legbreaks teasingly, and came close to ending Gardner's innings on 46 when a high ball swirled over Bridget Patterson on the midwicket boundary but burst through her hands while carrying for the six that took Gardner over 50. Wellington would eventually deceive and dismiss Gardner, stumped off a wide, but by then the allrounder had carved out 72 and ensured a decent Sixers total.
Sliding the ball on with enough pace to punish any misjudgements, Aley has long been one of the more challenging customers in the WBBL. She does not generally need the help she got when coming on to bowl in the fourth over of the Strikers' chase, with Devine and Bates seemingly traveling well in pursuit. Aley's first ball was a little short, and hurried onto Bates just enough to have the New Zealand captain pulling straight into the hands of midwicket. Very next ball, Tahlia McGrath sized up another delivery that dropped short and also wide of the stumps. Her attempt to cut was airborne, and straight at Sarah Coyte, who celebrated enthusiastically with her team-mates at putting Aley onto a hat-trick.
While the rest of the over was safely negotiated by Beaumont, the collapse would be maintained in Aley's next over, when she snared a couple of wickets in more typical fashion - Wellington and Tabitha Saville both pinned lbw by balls delivered stump to stump. Patterson and Devine fell in the same period at the other end, meaning the Strikers lost 6 for 3, of which Aley's haul was a remarkable, and decisive, 4 for 1.
Making them work for it
At 6 for 23, the Strikers were every chance of folding in the manner of the Scorchers' men's team on Thursday night, but Beaumont was able to stem the bleeding for a time with ardent help from Schutt. Though they let the required run rate balloon into two-runs-a-ball territory, the pair importantly guided the Strikers past 70, and so when Schutt fell lbw to Erin Burns, the game was not quite done for.
Beaumont made it to a meritorious 50 and cut the equation to 44 from 22 balls. But she was to be dismissed the next ball after reaching her milestone, lbw trying to reverse sweep Coyte, and from there the match petered out, albeit rather later than it had earlier seemed likely to. The Strikers' streak is over, ended by a pair of explosive passages of play from the most consistent force in the league.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig