Scorchers seal home semi-final with huge win
Perth Scorchers 103 for 1 (Marsh 64*, North 38*) beat Sydney Thunder 99 (Coulter-Nile 3-9) by nine wickets
Perth employed a scorched-earth policy at Stadium Australia tonight. Even without star-import Herschelle Gibbs, they obliterated Sydney Thunder to secure their fifth consecutive win and ensure a home semi-final.
Gibbs, with three half-centuries in five innings in the Big Bash, withdrew before the game began due to a foot injury, but his absence was not felt after Scorchers steamrolled Thunder for just 99. The home side could not bat out their twenty overs after choosing to bat.
Scorchers were white-hot with the ball and in the field, led by Nathan Coulter-Nile. The 24-year-old quick bowled with great pace and energy on a sluggish drop-in pitch. He knocked over Thunder's much-vaunted top three. First to fall was Usman Khawaja, who nicked a delivery that climbed a little higher than expected. Not all were convinced about the edge, Coulter-Nile did not even appeal, but Luke Ronchi was certain as he gleefully accepted the catch.
Second to fall was Chris Gayle. The Jamaican looked in ominous touch again, having reached 20 with two fours and a six. But a big swipe at Coulter-Nile yielded only a thin outside edge. Umpire Mick Martell initially shook his head but was over-ruled by the third umpire based on camera footage only. There is no traditional challenge system in place, but there is a form of review in exceptional circumstances. Martell changed his decision, via information from the third umpire, to send a perplexed Gayle on his way to a chorus of boos from 12,000 fans.
There was no doubt about Coulter-Nile's third scalp. Four balls after Gayle's departure Daniel Smith drove, with his feet anchored, at a 143kph carrot wide of off stump. Mitchell Marsh pouched the very sharp edge at slip with ease. Coulter-Nile had 3 for 6 from 12 balls and Thunder were half way down a very slippery slope at the conclusion of the sixth over.
The most energetic 40-year-old in Australia, Brad Hogg, was introduced in the seventh over and he bamboozled the two left-hand batsmen, Ben Dunk and Jason Floros, with a mixture of sharp turning leg-breaks and exceptional wrong-un's. Floros had no luck playing straight. So he elected to sweep and was promptly bowled by Hogg.
Luke Butterworth then took on Hogg with a strange hit and run. Hogg ran him out in the manner of Jonty Rhodes in his prime. It was the first of four direct hit run-outs from Scorchers. Nathan Rimmington accounted for Dunk, before Coulter-Nile twice swooped with elegance, and ease, to pull off two direct hits in six balls to end the innings. Few fast bowlers can field with as much skill, fluidity, and grace as Coulter-Nile. He deserved to be named Man of the Match.
Perth only looked vulnerable in the match for one fleeting moment. Luke Ronchi was clean bowled by Scott Coyte with the second ball of the chase. Thereafter it was all Marcus North and Marsh. The pair cruised to the target with 35 balls to spare. Marsh was particularly destructive hitting five sixes in his unbeaten 64. Anything fractionally short or angled down leg side was dispatched with raw power over the square boundary. Just to prove his abilities were not limited to one zone he hit two sixes off Trent Copeland in three balls. The first sailed down the ground over straight long-on, the second was clubbed inside-out over cover.
North remained the silent partner, but a slog-sweep off Floros over midwicket showed he also had the power to clear the rope. His dexterity to glide Coyte to the third-man boundary to seal victory epitomised how easy the win was for Scorchers.
Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Perth