Melbourne Stars 8 for 153 (Hilfenhaus 32*, Pietersen 32) beat Adelaide Strikers 8 for 152 (Dunk 35, Boland 4-30) by two wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Thus it felt poetic that Hilfenhaus' fraught, violent innings of 32 saw his team over the line by two wickets and with three balls to spare against Adelaide Strikers at the MCG, moving the Stars to third on the BBL table.
On New Year's Eve, 152 had been enough for Strikers to pull off an unlikely heist against Sydney Sixers. Against the Stars, despite the best efforts of their new signing Ish Sodhi, that same figure - which looked underpar at the innings break - was not quite enough. With four defeats to their name, their hopes of making the knockouts are all but over.
Strikers' fast start ... and slow death
David Hussey stuck the Strikers in and 41 balls later, he'd have been wondering if he made the right call. Ben Dunk, the tournament's second-highest run-scorer, had lost his opening partner Jake Weatherald, but raced to 35, and looked in fine touch. He had run twos hard, and picked the gaps; Strikers were 60-1, and cruising.
But Hussey's trump card, 19-year-old Liam Bowe, tossed the last ball of his first over up and Dunk bit - a touch of dip saw him fail to get to the pitch and he picked out mid-off, where the captain took a fine catch. From there, everything slowed up for the Strikers. With Dunk gone, they failed to score a boundary for seven overs. Brad Hodge and Tim Ludeman struggled for fluency and slogged their wickets away in the same Scott Boland over.
With all Stars bowlers impressing (all six who bowled finished with an economy rate of 7 or 7.50), a low total was always on the cards. It took until the 18th over for Jono Dean to hit the Strikers' first six, but he became Boland's fourth wicket two balls later. In the following over, Ben Hilfenhaus found himself on a hat-trick.
A spinner called elbow
Even Kevin Pietersen admitted it was the first time he had seen Bowe, the bespectacled lad from Bendigo, bowl. But, with his funky chinaman bowling and subtle variations, he proved a triumph - and, as if to prove a point, immediately became Twitter's top trend in Australia. His performance would have eased the Stars' worries about the absence of Adam Zampa for the rest of the tournament.
Ish's instant impact
The big difference between this year and the last - when they topped the table - for the Strikers has been the absence of their spin twins, Jon Holland (injured) and Adil Rashid (with England). So when Chris Jordan went down with a hamstring injury to compound their depleted bowling stocks, Jason Gillespie turned to Ish Sodhi.
His debut could barely have gone better. He belted the final ball of Strikers' innings for six that took the score over 150. Then, in his first over had Peter Handscomb bowled with a topspinner, and shed just two singles. His second went for five. David Hussey hit the first ball of his third down the ground for six, but the second was caught brilliantly at midwicket. In his final over, Evan Gulbis smote a six, then nudged into the leg side, with an eye on two. Sodhi sprinted across to midwicket. Pietersen hesitated turning for the second, Sodhi turned and threw to the bowlers end, where Hodge had crept in to remove the bails. It was a spectacular piece of fielding to complete a spectacular debut. It was not quite enough.
The vital 18th
How often does the 18th over of the chase turn a T20? Wes Agar, debutant and brother of Ashton, had been savaged by Quiney in the first over of the chase, but returned in the 16th, and bowled five dots to Hilfenhaus. Hodge trusted the youngster with another over.
He nailed four down the ground, scampered two to long-on, then slogged four more through square leg. He swung and missed, then two more were slashed through the covers. A slower ball ended the over, and Hilfenhaus flat-batted it down the ground for six.
There was still time for a twist. Ben Laughlin bowled Gulbis and Boland in the 19th, meaning three were required from the last. Hilfenhaus and Beer traded singles, and the game was done.