Women's Big Bash League 2016-17 January 19, 2017

Blessed be the ties that bind

Stafanie Taylor's slaps through the off side turned out to be tie-breakers © Getty Images

Yes, ties, plural. We're misquoting on purpose here. Each season has one game more memorable than the rest, and January 14 was probably it. The two Sydney sides make you think of close matches, after last year's thrilling final, but it doesn't get any closer than two ties in the same match. Once in regulation play, again after the Super Over.

And how the pendulum swung throughout. First the Sixers lost their powerful openers cheaply, then surged back through Ash Gardner's hitting with Sarah McGlashan in support. Thunder's experienced heads kept being influential, Rene Farrell and Stafanie Taylor with the early wickets, Erin Osborne getting McGlashan, then captain Alex Blackwell proving she can do anything, stumping Gardner off Taylor as a makeshift wicketkeeper.

Twenty-three off the last three overs was below-par given the platform, and Thunder should have chased it easily thanks to Taylor's 68 from 51 balls. She was out in the second-last over leaving 11 required from ten balls, but Osborne and Naomi Stalenberg couldn't find the boundary, a succession of singles bringing them level.

Enter Kim Garth, the Irish seamer occupying the Sixers' international rookie spot. She hadn't been near the playing XI until the previous day, but with Marizanne Kapp absent due to South Africa duties, the 20-year-old was being thrown the ball by Ellyse Perry for the highest-pressure job.

She did it with distinction - four singles and a couple of twos. And when Alyssa Healy charged Farrell first ball for a lofted four, that should have been it. But her calamitous running undid that work. Healy drove straight to the bowler and ran blindly; Perry was hesitant, and then, expecting the gathered deflection to be thrown to the struggling Perry's end, Healy didn't bother to extend her bat into the non-striker's ground and was instead run-out herself at point-blank range.

Perry carved two through cover to reduce the target to three, then holed out next ball to long-on. Why the cool head of McGlashan wasn't employed is a mystery, but Angela Reakes skewed a single and was run-out reneging on an impossible second. With one ball to face and two runs needed, Gardner could only slam a single to cover, Farrell standing over the stumps with ball in hand to render the second impossible. Fourteen boundaries to 16 was the countback - thanks largely to Taylor's nine - and Thunder won on that technicality.

The ties that define

The thrill for the Thunder only lasted two days, before they stumbled against Hobart Hurricanes and again undermined their bid for the top four. And so it is down to the frenetic final weekend, a format we have become accustomed to in WBBL.

Eight of 55 games remain in the regular season, and teams pair off to play the same opponent twice over consecutive days on Friday and Saturday. There are four likely candidates to make the finals, though other sides could yet force their way in.

The Sixers are guaranteed a spot even with two losses. Brisbane Heat sit fifth, but can force their way well into considerations with two home games against the bottom-placed Adelaide Strikers.

Perth's Scorchers will finish top-two if they win twice against the inconsistent Thunder, but could be jumped if they lose once and Hobart Hurricanes win twice.

Hobart is indeed where the main action will be, given the Hurricanes and Melbourne Stars are currently third and fourth, and their mid-table clash will dictate fate for so many teams beyond their own.

Hobart is where the action will be heading for the final round © Cricket Australia/Getty Images

The sides that are bound

Earthbound, that is. Those who have struggled to lift off, and now look to snatch the trailing rope of a rising hot-air balloon for a last miracle ascent - Thunder and Renegades.

In short, if the Stars and Hurricanes split their contest one game each, neither of those two sides can pass them. But if either loses twice, and Brisbane loses once, the Thunder can still sneak in by beating Perth twice.

The Renegades would need to beat the Sixers twice while relying on the Thunder to lose one, Brisbane to lose both, and one of the Stars-Hurricanes double to lose both. Tough gig.

Adelaide Strikers cannot make the finals, and are left to work out what went wrong this season and address it for next time.

The side left behind

As for the Melbourne Stars, it's all a bit too familiar. Still in the top four, but after a torrid run of form since Christmas, they're back in the same position as last season: a sudden death last round to qualify for the finals, with no momentum behind them. Last year it didn't end well.

In the penultimate weekend of group games they finished off the Strikers for the second time in a week, Jess Cameron's 42 pushing the required chase above six an over before Adelaide again collapsed.

But the fixture that mattered came later against Perth. It started well - they knocked over the international trio of Elyse Villani, Nicole Bolton and Suzie Bates inside six overs. Then the cavalry came in the form of Lauren Ebsary, unbeaten on 45, and Katherine Brunt's fast 32.

Sure enough, after Meg Lanning was removed early by Brunt, the Stars couldn't rally and were held to a meek 97 in 20 overs. That made four losses in six starts. Melbourne's early-season wins mean their destiny remains in their own hands. Just.

The Stars' destiny remains in their own hands © Getty Images

The sides that fly

Last year the Scorchers underperformed relative to their strength on paper. Second time up they've earned their progress. The Stars limping run chase was in no small part due to Brunt and her England partner Anya Shrubsole pairing off with the new ball for Perth. Duos don't come more frugal or effective.

Perth didn't miss out on more points against the Strikers either, led by impressive 20-year-old Heather Graham, a consistent contributor with bat and ball throughout WBBL02. Her 39 not out in 30 balls steered her side home.

Brisbane's Heat have found form at the right time, coinciding with Beth Mooney doing likewise at the top of the list. Her 45 was enough for an easy win over the Renegades, combining for another half-century stand with Kirby Short.

They lost the reverse fixture due to a Duckworth-Lewis chase, but that wouldn't have cost them much sleep. What will is that Indian signing Smriti Mandhana has torn an ACL, ends her WBBL and potentially a lot more cricket in 2017. A blow for a talented young player.

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes keep on doing what they do best - finding new ways to win. After the Sixers knocked them off to begin the weekend, courtesy of Perry clocking yet another match-winning innings, the pressure was on when they returned home to face Thunder.

Julie Hunter got superstar Staf Taylor for zero, before Kiwi international Amy Satterthwaite reinforced why she is one of the form players on the planet with 5 for 17. The Canes' chase of 116 was never in doubt, and the team is never to be underestimated.

Geoff Lemon is a writer and radio broadcaster on history, sport and politics. He edits the Australian literary publication Going Down Swinging

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