Pietersen fifty eliminates Thunder
Melbourne Stars 2 for 107 (Pietersen 67*, White 23) beat Sydney Thunder 8 for 106 (Blizzard 45, McKay 2-14, Beer 2-14) by eight wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Sydney Thunder's Big Bash League semi-final dreams ended with a whimper, as they hit just five boundaries, the fewest ever in a BBL innings, and were beaten by eight wickets by the Melbourne Stars. A fourth consecutive Victory for the Stars, having lost their first three matches of the season, all but guarantees them qualification for the semi-finals for the fourth season in a row.
After losing three early wickets on a slow and turgid pitch, the Thunder scrapped their way to 8 for 106, and the Stars calmly reached the target with 5.3 overs to spare. Their chase was powered by a vintage Kevin Pietersen innings of 67 not out.
Cricket Australia has been keen to spread BBL matches to non-traditional cricket venues, and the move has been met with excellent crowds. However, the drop-in pitches at the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne and Spotless Stadium in Sydney have been slow, low and not conducive to aggressive stroke play.
Still, the Thunder could not blame the pitch for any of their first three wickets to fall. Jason Roy was bowled in the first over for nought by a skiddy arm ball from Michael Beer. Nine balls later, Daniel Hughes was caught well by Pietersen at mid-off for just 4 and when Jacques Kallis fell in the third over, caught behind off the bowling of Jackson Bird, the Thunder were starring into the abyss at 3 for 9 in a must-win encounter.
The pairing of Aiden Blizzard and Andrew McDonald were then tasked with rebuilding the innings and after a period of consolidation that saw them exit the Powerplay at 3 for 19, the joint worst Powerplay in terms of runs in the BBL, Blizzard looked to accelerate as the pressure mounted. However, the Stars bowlers made harbouring any momentum difficult, bowling tight lines and using canny angles.
McDonald was dismissed in the 15th over for a 32-ball 23, when as the Thunder's flailing efforts at acceleration reached a tipping point, he was undone by a slower, loopier ball from Beer that cannoned into his middle stump.
Some proactive running between the new man Chris Hartley and Blizzard gave the innings a brief fillip before Hartley too wilted under the pressure to be bowled by John Hastings for four. Hastings became the joint leading wicket-taker this season just two balls later when he finally ended Blizzard's stoic but stagnant resistance for a 48-ball 45 to take his thirteenth tournament scalp.
Ahillen Beadle, playing just his second professional match and batting for the first time, struggled alongside Nathan Hauritz to kick on in the dying overs, although Hauritz at least found the boundary once. Clint McKay eventually dismissed him both batsmen in consecutive balls in the final over, meaning that Beer, Bird, Hastings and McKay all picked up two wickets each.
The Stars, without Glenn Maxwell and James Faulkner who were on international duty, never once looked unsure in the chase. Although Luke Wright fell for just four early on to the bowling of Josh Lalor, Pietersen looked imperious as soon as he arrived at the crease and alongside Cameron White, put on 76 for the second wicket to take the Stars to the brink of victory.
Pietersen got off the mark with a powerful cover-drive, standing tall and hitting clean and firmly through the line as the ball raced to the boundary. A second four followed next ball, this one clipped sharply off his pads and threaded through a gap on the leg side. After just thirteen balls and a booming straight six, Pietersen had hit more boundaries than the Thunder had managed in their entire innings.
Speaking after the match Pietersen said he was batting without knee pain for the first time in a long while, and his crisp, energetic footwork was demonstrative of that. Pietersen became the leading run-scorer this season during his 42-ball 67, which is also his highest score since being sacked by England last February.
The Stars lost White for an anchoring 23 with victory in sight, to a superb piece of fielding by Josh Lalor on the mid-wicket boundary who caught the ball, over balanced, jumped over the rope, palmed the ball back into play and hopped back over as he juggled it before landing on two feet and catching the ball cleanly.
There was some confusion as to whether the catch was out according to the laws of the game, with White in particular appearing upset to have been given out, but it didn't matter greatly as the Stars cruised to victory with more than five overs to spare to all but seal a semi-final spot.
Freddie Wilde is a freelance T20 journalist. @fwildecricket