Hobart Hurricanes 9 for 129 (Short 51, Abbott 3-20) beat Sydney Sixers 104 (Qais 4-12) by 25 runs
Afghanistan's Qais Ahmad delivered a magical spell of wrist spin to sink the Sydney Sixers on an enervating day in Alice Springs and hand the Hobart Hurricanes an opening victory in the BBL.
The Sixers had appeared well placed to run down the Hurricanes' mediocre 9 for 129, but their innings followed a similar pattern to that of Hobart as a strong start was squandered in increasingly difficult batting conditions. Ahmad's brilliance, including three wickets in four balls in his second over, was ably supported by the speed of Riley Meredith and a pair of vital wickets to Simon Milenko.
D'Arcy Short had given the Hurricanes a decent platform after Ben McDermott won the toss and chose to bat, only to see Ben Manenti, Sean Abbott and Ben Dwarshuis combine usefully for the Sixers. They had seemed happy with their looming chase, but reckoned without Ahmad, who already looks to be one of the most watchable figures in the BBL this season.
Short's stay at the crease
On a slow, dry Traeger Park surface in temperatures above 40C, Short made the most of the early overs when the new ball was hard and provided value for shots despite a somewhat spongy outfield. When timing the ball sweetly, Short's languid follow through can recall some of golf's more elegant shotmakers, and this innings offered similar aesthetic pleasures to spectators and television viewers.
The Hurricanes captain McDermott was content to give Short the strike while pushing the ball around and not finding the boundary, and at 1 for 44 after the powerplay and then 1 for 76 in the 11th over there was a more than decent platform. However, the off-breaks of Mantenti accounted for McDermott and then Short in the space of eight runs, opening things up for the Sixers seam bowlers.
Abbott goes to work
Taking the ball in the middle overs, Abbott and Dwarshuis continued to clamp down on the scoring rate as wickets began to fall more regularly against the softening ball and slowing pitch. Dwarshuis enjoyed the notable double of David Miller and the Australian selector-in-waiting George Bailey, while Abbott pinned James Faulkner lbw in a rare straightforward lbw so far for the domestic season. Both pacemen changed their pace and banged the ball into a slowish surface to good constricting effect.
Tom Curran came back for the closing overs as the innings tightened still further for the Hurricanes, and the only boundary in the final five overs came from the bat of Ahmad, who hoisted a straightish delivery to within a couple centimetres of going for six.
Vince, Philippe clear the ropes
James Vince and Josh Philippe had no such concerns early on, and there was something very similar to how Short started the afternoon in the way the Sixers skated away to 37 from the first four overs. A couple of inside out sixes over cover from Vince off Clive Rose bore the aristocratic style that has made him a part of the England set-up for a number of years, while Philippe looked in tune to follow-up his dismantling of the Perth Scorchers at the SCG on Wednesday night.
However, after Ahmad's early direct hit from mid-on had accounted for Daniel Hughes, neither Vince nor Philippe were able to carry on from this promising start. The combination of high pace and artful wrist spin was to provide a bewitching passage of play for the Hurricanes.
Meredith turns momentum, Ahmad turns the screw
It started when Meredith's entry to the attack brought the first plays and misses and miscues of the innings, as he swiftly pushed the speed gun beyond 145kph. His second over brought an off-cutter change-up and a miscalculation by Vince, who was through the shot too early and bowled. Ahmad's introduction brought another key wicket when Moises Henriques' big drive found a lurking Short, and after Milenko struck twice in an over when he replaced Meredith, Qais proceeded to put on a wrist spinner's clinic after the strategic timeout.
First ball, Curran was beaten completely by a sharp leg break that pitched on leg stump before zipping back to hit the top of off, bringing out Ahmad's ebullient front flip celebration. Next ball Sean Abbott was drawn out of his crease by another leg break and alertly stumped by McDermott, and after Dwarshuis averted the hat-track, Qais moved around the wicket and spun a third perfect leggie through a very large gate between bat and pad. That spell was more or less that, even though Jordan Silk and Mantenti tried in vain to salvage something from the last two wickets.