Thunder strangle Scorchers to make WBBL final
Sydney Thunder Women 6 for 118 (Blackwell 39, Graham 2-15) beat Perth Scorchers Women 9 for 110 (Villani 23, Farrell 3-20) by eight runs
Sydney Thunder became the first team to qualify for a Women's Big Bash League final as they strangled Perth Scorchers to defend an underpar total of 118 in a fascinating finish. Thunder had been the competition's pace-setters, and are greater than the sum of their parts, while Scorchers had crept into the semi-finals, only for their vaunted batting line-up to let them down.
It's hard to estimate how close the Scorchers came to crashing out in the pool stages. But they went into the final weekend of action in Adelaide having lost two more games than they had won, and knowing that if Brisbane Heat beat Adelaide Strikers, or Melbourne Stars won one of their two games, Scorchers were out. But neither of these eventualities played out, and the Scorchers veritably thrashed the competition's weakest team, Melbourne Renegades, twice in two days, losing just two wickets in the process, to sneak into this semi-final.
This, though, proved a bridge too far. Scorchers had bowled stingily and fielded smartly, but their batting - stuffed with top-order class from around the world - lost its way badly after an impressive start. They had twice lost to Thunder in the pool stages, but six of their seven wins came chasing, so it was something of a surprise when Thunder captain Alex Blackwell won the toss and opted to bat.
Katherine Brunt was tough to get away early, and the introduction of Suzie Bates saw Rachael Haynes dismissed as she skied to mid-on. Stafanie Taylor was positive if not fully fluent, heaving Nicky Shaw to leg for six then pulling Bates for four through square leg.
Just as Taylor looked to be settling, Nicole Bolton brought Brunt back to bowl her final over. The first delivery was cut behind point for a classy boundary, but two balls later Taylor edged behind when trying to go inside out off a ball too straight for the stroke. Naomi Stalenberg was promoted to push the rate but was gone an over later, slicing to mid-off off Heather Graham.
Blackwell and Nicola Carey set about a careful rebuild; boundaries were rare, but the strike was rotated effectively and the pair shared 36. They took 13 from a Bolton over, including a Blackwell straight drive and a Carey flick to leg, both for four, the first of which was the first boundary for 25 deliveries. Erin Osborne was run out by some smart work from Bolton and keeper Jenny Wallace. Blackwell met the same fate off the innings' last ball, failing to make her ground running a second, but after she and Claire Koski - who struck Bates for a beautiful straight drive - had pushed the score along.
Thunder's innings never got above a run a ball, and a target of 119 did not look enough to trouble this batting line-up.
How wrong that proved. Elyse Villani had found form since being dropped from Australia's squad for next week's T20Is against India, scoring 72 and a quickfire 43 - both without being dismissed in the romps over Renegades. She was immediately into her work, consecutively pulling, straight-driving and flicking through midwicket for four off Nicola Carey. Charlotte Edwards was in on the act too, cutting Lauren Cheatle beautifully behind point for four more.
But Villani was run out by Maisy Gibson, and Edwards struggled to get going as the dot balls piled up and the spinners started the strangle. Edwards tried to hit Osborne over long-on but was caught, before Gibson had Bolton caught at mid-off and Bates offered a return catch, shortly after Gibson had dropping a simpler chance off her own bowling. Gibson's leggies had produced a mixed bag, often dropping too short or failing to make use of the pitch, but her 2-16 confirmed her status as a star of the future.
After a fine performance with the ball, too much was asked of Katherine Brunt with the bat. Fourteen was required off Rene Farrell's final over, and while Brunt found a lap sweep for four, she was dismissed lbw shortly after. Farrell found a dot to complete a remarkable strangle. It's taken Thunder's male counterparts five shots to even reach a semi; the women's team has a final in the first attempt.
Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp