Watson, spinners keep Thunder in contention
Sydney Thunder 5 for 202 (Watson 66, Russell 46, Hussey 41, Abbott 2-41) beat Sydney Sixers 156 (Maddinson 70, McKay 3-16, Green 3-27, Fawad 3-39) by 46 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Needing a win to stay in contention for their first Big Bash League semi-finals, Sydney Thunder turned out in style and sank Sydney Sixers in front of a record crowd. Thunder had lost their previous four games, missed their preferred opening partnership, but produced a clinical performance with the bat to post the season's highest score. Quick contributions from Shane Watson, Michael Hussey, and Andre Russell powered Thunder to 202. The bowlers then dismissed Sixers for 156 to cap off an impressive all-round performance.
Thunder are now safe, so long as one of the Melbourne teams lose their final games, or else they enter the murky world of net run-rate. Either way, in keeping their side of the qualification bargain, Thunder pulled the plug on Sixers' season.
It was not all plain sailing, though. To remain in contention for finals themselves, Sixers had to win inside 16 overs. And when Nic Maddinson was joined by Brad Haddin in pursuit of 203, Hussey, playing his final game in Sydney, looked anxious, and with good reason. Thirty of Maddinson's first fifty runs came in sixes, and he was swinging with such power that the back of his bat simply flew off as he tried to drill offspinner Chris Green down the ground.
Green proved an unlikely staller for the Thunder. Brought into the attack with Sixers on the charge, he had Haddin caught sweeping second ball and conceded just five runs in his first two overs. Maddinson's blitz ended when he was caught brilliantly by a diving Henry Nicholls at long-on off legspinner Fawad Ahmed the following over. Sixers were 118 for 4 in the 13th over, and they added very little to that.
With the bat, Thunder could have done little more. Watson, promoted to open in the absence of Usman Khawaja and Jacques Kallis, veritably ghosted to 66 off 41 balls. Hussey anchored the innings, while Russell was in brutal form, fearlessly clearing his front leg and throwing his hands to launch four sixes in the death to propel Thunder.
Despite a torrid start to the tournament, Watson has been in fine form in 2016. This innings was marked by his staples: hard-hit pulls, booming front-foot drives, attractive cuts, slog-sweeps to the spinners and three stunning sixes too. All good signs with the World T20 around the corner. Either side of sending Doug Bollinger sailing down the ground, he went after Nathan Lyon, nailing him over cow corner, then long-on. Aiden Blizzard, who joined Watson at the top, pulled a Johan Botha half-tracker for a six, but fell to the first ball of the seventh over, Sean Abott's first.
Watson built for six more overs with Hussey, before he was caught at long-on attempting another biff. Hussey was smart as ever, pulling boundaries behind square and running with the speed of a man half his age. It was a surprise to see Nicholls come in at No.4 before Russell, but the New Zealander did not last long, miscuing Lyon to backward point.
Russell then set to work immediately, with a violently-pulled six followed by a magnificently orthodox cover-driven four off Ben Dwarshius. Jackson Bird was then belted for a six, before Russell got stuck into Bollinger. There was a six over cow corner, a drive through cover, and a pull despite taking his eyes off the shot contained in a single over, the 18th. It took a moment of genius to eventually dismiss Russell as Botha tossed up catch on the long-off fence to his alert team-mate Jordan Silk. A cameo from Ben Rohrer then took Thunder past 200, where they looked safe.
After Michael Lumb fell early, Sixers' chase was all about Maddinson. He was in sublime touch and looked set to pull off a heist, even if not quite quickly enough. He struck Russell for successive leg-side sixes, then gave Fawad the same treatment down the ground. Watson was next to be sent for a six and a four, before the debutant Nathan McAndrew was bullied.
Green, however, arrived and slows things up, while Fawad attacked the new batsmen. Slowly but surely, Sixers' dominoes fell, and Thunder completed the job.
Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp