Stars secure fourth straight win
Melbourne Stars 8 for 175 (Hodge 88) beat Adelaide Strikers 4 for 167 (Pollard 65*) by eight runs
They speak of Twenty20 as a young man's game, but the evergreen Brad Hodge, like Ricky Ponting, continues to dispel popular opinion. Two days shy of his 38th birthday Hodge put on a batting master-class, at one of his favourite and most prolific venues, the Adelaide Oval, to help the Melbourne Stars to a crucial win over the Adelaide Strikers.
Hodge's 88 from 58 balls featured ten fours and three sixes, but it was the purity of his timing, the stillness of his head, and the artistry of his placement which made it so much more. He spoke in a pre-game interview of the importance of a 360-degree range of stroke-play for modern batsmen in T20 cricket, and sure enough, like the old pro he is, he walked out and delivered what he spoke about.
First he swept Johan Botha to the boundary. Then he uppercut Shaun Tait fine of third man before glancing him wide of fine-leg for consecutive fours in the third over. He drove elegantly through cover and lofted powerfully over long-on. He hit Botha miles into the stands to bring up 50 from just 39 balls.
The following over he cut Tait twice, once through backward point, the other through cover, both hitting the fence before the bowler had completed his short follow-through.
Hodge eventually fell to a full toss from Matt Johnston, which he drilled straight to deep midwicket, but he had already taken ten from the over with a delicate steer past short third man and a third six crushed into the construction site at long-on.
Hodge was supported by small cameos all the way down the star-studded order, to set an imposing total of 8 for 175 after stand-in captain Cameron White chose to bat first.
The Strikers were always just out of arms reach in the run chase. Tim Ludeman continued his exceptional form and Callum Ferguson played well but neither could convert their starts, both undone by clever slower-balls from James Faulkner. Clint McKay, Lasith Malinga, and Faulkner bowled tightly through the middle overs to strangle the Strikers. The use of slower-balls was the most damaging tactic. Faulkner's fourth over, the 16th of the chase, cost just five runs and claimed the vital scalp of Ferguson. McKay followed that with an over comprised of three dot balls, two singles, and a leg bye to leave the Strikers needing 58 from the last 18 deliveries.
The only danger was Kieron Pollard. He had scored just 27 runs, from 30 balls faced, when the 18th over began. He took 13 from John Hastings first four balls, before Johnston added two twos, making it 41 required from 12.
Malinga then delivered one of his most expensive overs of the tournament. Fourteen runs were scored from seven balls, the extra ball cost three wides, as Pollard shelved his power-hitting for a delicate paddle sweep to find the rope.
White had gambled by bowling out his big guns to ensure the Strikers had too many score off the last over. Unfortunately Pollard had put it within reach, with 27 runs required from six balls.
Left-arm orthodox spinner Clive Rose, on T20 debut in the absence of Shane Warne, was asked by his stand-in captain to close it out. Pollard and Johnston managed singles from each of the first two balls to mean only a tie was possible. Pollard miscued short of the point rope to ensure the game was beyond his reach. Never has a man been more furious when hitting two sixes in excess of 100 metres off the last three balls of a match than Pollard was, when his team fell eight runs short despite his 65 not out.
The Stars recorded their fourth consecutive win. The Strikers' next assignment is against the only unbeaten team of the tournament - the Melbourne Renegades.
Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Perth