Sixers clinch thriller but Scorchers get home semi-final
Sydney Sixers 176 (Smith 51, Maddinson 49, Coulter-Nile 3-38) beat Perth Scorchers 6 for 175 (North 59, Ronchi 34, Starc 3-28) by one run
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Neither side deserved to lose, but neither side really knew how to win. In the end just one run separated the two sides with Marcus North run out off the last ball to give Sydney Sixers the narrowest of victories over Perth Scorchers.
There were so many plots, sub-plots, so much drama and chaos but it all came down to the last over. The Scorchers needed 13 runs. Brett Lee needed to keep them to a maximum 11. Lee used all of his 11 and then some to give his side victory.
Nathan Coulter-Nile took a single off the first ball, before North went within inches of clearing the long-off rope with the next. The ball bounced just short and over for four. Had it travelled another foot the result of the match may have been different. North drove to long-on and wanted a second run off the third. Steve Smith pounced and fired a return, and had Coulter-Nile not sent his captain back in time, he would have been run out.
The best was yet to come. Coulter-Nile swung and missed at Lee's fourth ball. The equation became seven from two. The penultimate delivery produced exultation, exasperation, relief, and ultimately frustration in a chaotic 15 seconds. Lee bowled Coulter-Nile via the inside edge to send the home fans into raptures. Excitement became despair when they saw umpire Simon Fry signal a no-ball. Coulter-Nile's relief was evident, having stepped off into the gallows only for the rope to snap. Then the frustration swept across the ground when replays showed Lee's heal had landed behind the line only to slide over as he delivered. A legal delivery, incorrectly judged, had cost his team a wicket, a run, and a free-hit.
Lee lost his nerve. His next was a wide. The equation had gone from seven off two, to five off two in the most extraordinary circumstances. Coulter-Nile swiped the next through midwicket with him and North scampering through for two. Coulter-Nile, having earlier claimed three wickets with the ball, needed three runs to win from the last having struggled to 10 from his previous 12 balls. He miscued Lee towards long-on, they ran one, North came back for two, but with 19.5 overs of running under his belt, his legs wilted. Smith's throw was pure and Lee removed the bails to hand Sydney an incredible win.
The irony was the result had no bearing on the standings for either team. North's composed 59 had ensured Perth finished top of the table and gained a home semi-final. Had they failed to reach 151 they would not have had that luxury, and Sydney would have hosted a semi-final. Man-of-the-Match Mitchell Starc earlier made that result a possibility. The Scorchers had cruised to 0-32 from four overs, in pursuit of 177, before Starc turned the game on its head. Starc took three wickets in an over to put his name up for re-selection in Adelaide. He did his Test team-mate Shaun Marsh no favours. The left-hander missed a low full toss and was bowled for a run-a-ball 18. Starc bowled Mitchell Marsh with the next, swinging one back through the right-hander's defence. Starc had sought council from one of world's greatest left-arm quicks, Wasim Akram, during the week. Akram would have been proud of the third wicket. It was not a hat-trick but it was three in five balls, with Paul Collingwood trapped on the back leg by a searing, Akram-esque, in swinging yorker.
North was ably supported by Simon Katich to resurrect the innings and stave off disaster. Katich had the unusual experience of being booed to the crease as a Scorchers player, on the same ground he only recently was cheered as New South Wales captain. He had company, with Perth team-mate Josh Lalor playing his first domestic limited-overs fixture since he represented NSW against Western Australia at the same ground in November.
North and Katich combined for 36 before North was given a life. Brad Haddin dropped a diving chance to his left, having earlier been dismissed for a duck. The Scorchers handed back the momentum when Katich was needlessly run out. Luke Ronchi then played a gem of an innings. His 34 from 13 brought the Scorchers within striking distance only for North and Coulter-Nile to fall agonisingly short.
The Sixers' batting effort followed a similar pattern to the Scorchers chase. Haddin and Michael Lumb both fell early before Nic Maddinson and Moises Henriques steadied. Brad Hogg removed both men in another brilliant spell of left-arm wrist-spin. His spinning partner Michael Beer was again equally miserly with 1-28 from four, whilst Coulter-Nile and Ben Edmondson took five wickets between them.
But both quicks were expensive, mainly at the hands of Steve Smith who clubbed 51 from 25 balls in an exceptional display of ball striking. He was very unlucky to be dismissed, with a ball ricocheting from bat, to pad, to stumps with the type of trickery a snooker player would be proud of. The Sixers made a hash of the final two overs of their innings, losing 5 for 8 to be bowled out with the last ball of the innings. But in the end they made enough runs to get the win. Just enough.
Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Perth