Head stifles Renegades' chase despite Gayle heroics
Adelaide Strikers 5 for 170 (Ludeman 49, Dean 48, Doherty 2-30) beat Melbourne Renegades 143 (Gayle 56, Head 3-16) by 27 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Melbourne Renegades needed to chase down Adelaide Strikers' 170 in 16 overs to set up a rematch in a Big Bash League semi-final at Adelaide Oval on Thursday. An outrageous 12-ball 50 from Chris Gayle, equalling Yuvraj Singh's fastest-ever T20 half-century, looked to be carrying them to an unlikely victory, before the Strikers' spinners fought back to strangle the Renegades, who at one stage lost seven for 37, and win the game. As a result, Sydney Thunder qualified for their first semi-final in BBL history.
Gayle had 51 of his team's first 60 runs, including seven sixes. But by then, Renegades had already lost three wickets. Tom Cooper - who had watched Gayle pummel four consecutive Greg West deliveries for four sixes in the innings' first over - was the first to go when he nicked the first ball off Michael Neser to the wicketkeeper. Travis Head then dismissed Cameron White and Dwayne Bravo off consecutive deliveries to derail the chase.
It was a truly scintillating passage of hitting from Gayle, and one that had been brewing. Throughout the competition, he has looked far more comfortable chasing than setting a target, and he has become well-acquainted with Docklands Stadium's short square boundaries. After West was tucked to deep-midwicket for two, followed by a defensive stroke, Gayle let fly, pulling a short ball over cow twice, then flicking one behind square and then over long-on, all for six. He hit the first two balls he faced from Ben Laughlin for six too, a wide full toss over long-off, then the resultant free hit was sent to cow corner. Head's first ball, bravely flighted, also went the distance over long-on to bring up Gayle's half-century.
Head - who could only manage a duck on the day he was called up to Australia's T20 squad for the first time, exhibited his all-round ability. He had two in two as Cameron White and Dwayne Bravo fell off successive deliveries, but Gayle didn't back off, hitting him nonchalantly over long-off. Then came perhaps the biggest moment of the evening as he cramped Gayle for room as the top edge was well pouched by Tim Ludeman, the wicketkeeper.
With Gayle gone, there was a feeling that the Renegades had already sunk, even though Peter Nevill kept pinching boundaries. But he was run out by sharp work by Brad Hodge before the tail, that looked to hoick the spinners into the Tasman, came a cropper. Some late heave from tail-enders Nathan Rimmington and Cameron Gannon proved in vain as they lost by 27 runs.
In truth, Renegades did not deserve to qualify. They failed to win a game at home, and regularly failed to capitalise on good starts, and, like Gayle himself, struggled badly while batting first. They bowed out with fewer wickets than any BBL team in history, 32, having particularly been unable to pick up wickets in the first ten overs. Here, as Strikers casually compiled a professional 170, they made it to halfway 82-0, thanks to some powerful hitting from Jono Dean.
Dean, who hit four sixes, fell in the 11th over, top-edging a Bravo slower ball back to the bowler. Head was caught deep in the legside next over. Before they realised, Xavier Doherty quickly snared Alex Ross and Tim Ludeman, who had played attractively after recovering from a slow start. Hodge and Jade Lehmann came together to share a vital 45. Lehmann pulled and square drove impressively before falling in Rimmington's final over, while Hodge was canny as ever, his innings full of short arm jabs and bunts over square leg.
Thunder, watching this game as a squad in Sydney, will have breathed easy when Gayle fell, and they travel to Adelaide for Thursday's semi with no fear; their record as the only team this season to beat the Strikers is in tact.
Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp