Khawaja 70 hands Thunder maiden title
Sydney Thunder 7 for 181 (Khawaja 70, Stoinis 3-30) beat Melbourne Stars 9 for 176 (Pietersen 74, Watson 2-17, Green 2-27) by three wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
The fifth BBL final was a tale of two innings, and two collapses. Kevin Pietersen, who is in marvellous form, scored 74, before Usman Khawaja, who is in simply superhuman touch, made 70 which, as wickets tumbled, proved enough to hand Sydney Thunder their first title.
Thunder had never finished outside the bottom two for the first four seasons and 2015-16 has been a topsy-turvy one too. They lost four consecutive games after winning their first three and only crept into the finals when their fate was beyond their control. Since then, however, Thunder have been clinical.
Khawaja had considered quitting the western Sydney (the area he grew up in) franchise, but opted to stay after a chat two years ago with Michael Hussey, whom the club pursued desperately to mastermind a rebuild. Thunder have won only 11 out of 41 matches since the Big Bash's inception and Hussey has been at the helm of nine of them, including a final on the same day Thunder won the inaugural Women's BBL too.
In his final game on Australian soil, Hussey was given a guard of honour by Stars led by their captain, his brother, David Hussey, as he walked to the crease. He left, 18 runs later, to a standing ovation; fortunately for him, his team-mates finished the job.
Pietersen's was princely innings. The match was barely into the second over when Marcus Stoinis slapped Shane Watson to mid-off, where Andre Russell, who had struck Stoinis's chest with the match's first ball - took the catch. Pietersen was initially starved of the strike. He was stuck at the non-strikers' for ten balls before flicking Clint McKay for a four, then had to wait ten more deliveries for another hit. Perhaps the Pietersen of old would have forced a suicidal single or lost concentration; here he lofted Jacques Kallis over long-on, cut him for four and just kept going.
Stars were 50 for 2 in seven overs when the other opener Luke Wright fell, but Pietersen was unperturbed. He swatted Fawad Ahmed's first delivery for a straight six, picked up a googly and swept it fine to round off the over and in the next one bowled by the legspinner, Pietersen skipped to leg and flicked the ball over the cover boundary quite powerfully.
In Peter Handscomb and David Hussey, Pietersen found a pair of willing assistants to run hard and exploit the MCG's vast expanses. The big ones came along too as Handcomb favoured the cut and whip while Hussey profited from slog-sweeps.
But when Kallis bowled Hussey with a magnificent yorker, it sparked a collapse as Stars lost six wickets for 45 runs.
Pietersen had drilled the first ball of the 15th over for six, but in the next one, a push to leg back ended up in the bowler Green's hands. With the stadium silent and the fielders confused, Pietersen simply walked.
Rob Quiney was through his shot early and popped a return catch to Russell, but Stars managed to finish on 176 thanks to some late heaves from Evan Gulbis and Adam Zampa. This despite three wickets off the final three balls of the innings - Zampa and Daniel Worrall were run out either side of Gulbis being magnificently caught on the midwicket fence by Green.
Khawaja ends the BBL with 345 runs in four innings, three of which were genuinely match-winning. He has been untouchable in the Powerplay, making the finest gaps look like vast craters and his timing takes the ball over the infield easily. Ben Hilfenhaus, in his first over, was driven down the ground twice, once along the deck and once through the air; Worrall was crunched through the covers, flicked over long-off for six and ramped over fine-leg for four. Khawaja was purring along.
At the other end, Jacques Kallis was a touch more labored. He managed to cut Michael Beer for a couple of fours but, after suffering cramp, slapped Adam Zampa straight to long-on. Watson came in at No. 3 and chipped Stoinis straight to midwicket.
Khawaja had survived two loud lbw shouts either side of lifting Zampa over down the ground for six, but fell to David Hussey, plopping a rank full toss straight to backward point. When Michael Hussey was bowled slog-sweeping by Zampa, and Russell edged Stoinis behind, Thunder were 146 for 5. They had lost five batsmen for 60 runs from being 86 for 0.
Aiden Blizzard hoicked Beer for four, then six, only to be run out by a superb direct hit from the left-arm spinner. Needing 14 from 12, Green drilled one over cover for four, survived a skied chance at midwicket and was caught at cover seconds later. The drama was clearly not yet done.
The final act read four required from the last over. So Ben Rohrer flicked to leg for two, and drove down the ground for six and under firework-filled skies, the Thunder fairytale was complete.
Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp