Sydney Thunder 6 for 168 (Watson 68, Sangha 30) beat Adelaide Strikers 97 (Ingram 48, Nair 3-12) by 71 runs
Sydney Thunder atoned for their New Year's Eve loss to Adelaide Strikers after a Shane Watson batting blitz and early inroads with the ball was enough to see off the high-flyers from South Australia.
Both sides had major absentees, with the Thunder saying goodbye to English imports Jos Buttler and Joe Root, while the Strikers were without Alex Carey and Peter Siddle, both on international duty.
Thunder captain Watson won the flip and elected to bat, finally making good on his early season promise with a powerful half-century. He was backed up by Anton Devcich, with the New Zealander providing an impressive opening foil. A handy 30-run partnership from 13 balls closed the innings at 168, led chiefly by Jay Lenton.
Usual suspects Rashid Khan, Michael Neser and Ben Laughlin bowled well for the Strikers, but Liam O'Connor and Billy Stanlake were wayward at key times, allowing for the Thunder to take charge. A poor Powerplay consigned the Strikers to a tough scoring rate early in their chase and they failed to recover. While Colin Ingram provided a vigil of sorts, once the Thunder were ahead, they didn't look back.
He'd threatened to go big in previous matches, and this time he did. Watson was at his destructive best, his characteristic portfolio of pulls and drives almost taking the game away from the Strikers before it had properly begun.
He got the Thunder's innings going when he was able to dispatch O'Connor's wayward first over for multiple boundaries. He was ably supported by Devcich, who unleashed a brutal, fence-clearing on-drive from Neser's follow-up over.
O'Connor was subsequently withdrawn and replaced by the returning Stanlake who had been released from Australia duty for the day. He came into the game with an economy rate of 9.25 and was unfortunately true to form to begin with, conceding 14 from his first via another Devcich lofted on-drive, a top edge over keeper Harry Nielsen, and another swung away through the leg side, beating backward square.
It amounted to a blistering Thunder start, yielding them 34 from their opening three overs.
Watson brought his fifty up from 27 balls with a six, having been dropped in the deep on 35, and then hit two more in his next three deliveries. His partnership with Jason Sangha was a particular highlight. Sangha perished for 30 after an enterprising innings of flicks and drives at high bat speed, but did much to back the view that he is one for the future.
How to handle Khan: Bat first?
Rashid was thrown the ball after four overs in response to the fast start. There was some discussion that left-handers may provide the best antidote to the competition's best bowler, who statistically enjoys better success against right-handers. The theory proved fruitless, as Rashid had Devcich lbw playing a reverse sweep at his third delivery. It brought Callum Ferguson to the crease, and Rashid claimed him first ball when he innocuously chipped him to midwicket after seeming to get tangled on the back foot. So far, no antidote.
It meant Sangha was charged with the task of surviving the hat-trick ball; a ball he faced with a slip, leg slip and bat pad in place. He both read and defended Rashid's wrong'un, and saw out the remainder of the over with both the slip and bat pad unmoved. That both positions remained, despite the run rate at 10, says everything about Rashid's impact. He started the over with the opposition 0 for 34 after three, and finished it at 2 for 37 from four.
That said, there is something about batting first against a team containing Rashid that creates freedom. Freedom from a scoring rate. Freedom from scoreboard pressure. And if teams can take toll from other bowlers, as was the case here, it somewhat forces the usage of Rashid reactively. Though he finished with a classy set of figures (2 for 21), his impact felt less decisive given the regular carnage around him.
No Powerplay, No Party for Strikers
The Thunder started with duel slow bowlers, and Devcich claimed the dangerous Jake Weatherald with the last ball of the first over. Shuffling in and bowling left arm around-the-wicket outswingers, Weatherald miscued a square drive that was caught by Gurinder Sandhu. Chris Green was typically miserly at the other end, his darted offspinners conceding only four from his first over
Sandhu then removed Matt Short lbw which brought together the Strikers' two key batsmen: Ingram and Travis Head. Both managed to control then explode after a slow start in the Strikers' last start against the Stars. Could they do it again? Not here. The introduction of Chris Jordan brought immediate dividends, after Head edged a ramp-cut that was too close to him, straight through to wicketkeeper Lenton.
While Ingram was able to clear the ropes, no one could go with him. The innings dissipated as so many of these do, with batsmen meekly surrendering their wickets to longs off and on with the scoring rate at impossible levels. Each Thunder bowler took a wicket, with Arjun Nair picking up three in a collapse of 7 for 22. Stanlake's comical run-out to close proceedings - where his jack-knifed bat had him looking like a 100-yard dasher - gave everybody a laugh at the game's conclusion, including Stanlake.