Strikers v Thunder, BBL semi-final, Adelaide January 21, 2016

Khawaja's 58-ball 103 powers Thunder into first final

Sydney Thunder 2 for 160 (Khawaja 104*) beat Adelaide Strikers 7 for 159 (Ross 47, McKay 3-44) by eight wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Usman Khawaja celebrates his second century of this season's BBL © Getty Images and Cricket Australia

A year ago, a team from Sydney - who had sneaked into the last four - came to Adelaide to play the table-topping locals in a semi-final, and silenced a record crowd, with victory thanks to a magical innings from a stylish left-hander. This time, the name, colour and look of the Sydneysiders were different, but the outcome the same.

Thanks to another glorious innings from Usman Khawaja, Sydney Thunder, for so long the competition's whipping boys and laughing stock, have never lost a BBL semi-final. On Friday, Melbourne Stars - with bad weather forecast - will play Perth Scorchers to host the Thunder in the Final. For Strikers, the curse of the BBL's top spot continues. Since BBL01, every table-topper has gone out in the semi-finals.

Khawaja has reached rare heights this summer, but here, there was simply nowhere the Strikers could bowl to stop him. Within four overs, he had knocked off a third of the target, sharing 53 with Shane Watson, who was allowed just three deliveries. Gary Putland was recalled by the Strikers but mauled by Khawaja, with a brutal flick to leg in his first over followed by a scythe through the covers in the next.

Jon Holland was treated no better, with a slog-sweep and two boundaries down the ground dispatched by Khawaja. The worst was reserved for Michael Neser, whose first over went for 19, including the easiest loose-limbed six over midwicket. There was more, all in the same magical over: an idyllic cover drive, a perfectly placed cut and a wristy flick.

So beautiful and brutal was this display of batsmanship - there was not a single stroke that could be labelled a slog - that when Khawaja did find a fielder, cheers rung out. After Watson fell to a better Ben Laughlin over, Khawaja knocked Travis Head for a couple of singles to bring up the Thunder's fastest ever 50, from just 24 balls. Khawaja was not yet done. Head's next over was slog-swept and late cut for six, then four.

Adil Rashid's introduction briefly caused Thunder some bother, as Hussey was given caught behind when he did not seem close to it. Soon enough, as Rashid lost his length, Khawaja went after him too, lacing a beautiful cut for four. Rashid returned and fought back well towards the end, but by then, the damage had been done.

As rain fell, Khawaja - in the company of Henry Nicholls - had motions to go through. Not a single risk was taken until he pulled Laughlin over the man at deep-square for another marvellous six to reach his second century of the tournament, and his fourth in seven innings in all cricket.

Strikers' 159 would likely not have been enough, even without a performance of such inspiration. The hosts were immediately behind the game, as fit-again Mahela Jayawardene was caught behind to Watson, and Tim Ludeman skied to a back-peddling Andre Russell, who made an extremely tricky catch look simple. Just as Head looked to be getting into his stride, consecutively cover-driving Nathan McAndrew for four, he was gone, slapping a half-volley straight to cover. When Brad Hodge missed a slog-sweep to a turner from Chris Green, Strikers were in strife at 4 for 66 at the halfway stage.

A sweep-laden innings from Alex Ross, alongside some late humpty from Neser and Rashid, carried the Strikers to 159. Ross got after Fawad Ahmed, with a pull and two sweeps for four, then Watson, who he guided fine and pulled hard for another pair of boundaries. Watson dismissed Ross's partner Jake Lehmann to halt the charge, but Neser threw the hands hard, proving particularly productive through the midwicket region. When he was yorked by Russell, and Ross fooled by a McKay slower ball, the onus was on Rashid to provide a final flourish. He delivered, cutting over backward point and driving over the covers for four, then finishing the innings with a tonk down the ground for six.

Little did he know, though, that he was just setting the game up a little more perfectly for Khawaja. The Thunder had headed to Adelaide with no fear, as the only team to beat the Strikers in the regular season. They leave on Saturday - like their female counterparts - having made their first ever final. Make no mistake, the Thunder have arrived, even if it is five years too late. If it all looks like this, they are welcome to stay.

Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp

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