Sydney Thunder 5 for 168 (Ferguson 73, Khawaja 63, Siddle 2-30) beat Adelaide Strikers 9 for 165 (Weatherald 52, Rashid 40, Nair 2-19, Sams 2-32) by 3 runs
Rashid Khan's late fireworks on New Year's Eve nearly helped Adelaide Strikers pull off a spectacular heist but Chris Morris just about held his nerve as Sydney Thunder ended the year with a win by the thinnest of margins.
The three-run win ended the Strikers' unbeaten run this season, and was their first ever defeat on New Year's Eve. While the match was only sealed on the very last ball, it was set up early in the day. Fifties from Usman Khawaja and Callum Ferguson helped the Thunder post a competitive 5 for 168, the latter batting nearly through the innings, pacing his knock to perfection to top the chart for most runs this season.
This, before their spinners stifled the Strikers' reply in the Powerplay. With runs coming in a trickle rather than a torrent, the seamers reaped rewards at the other end, as the hosts were reduced to 3 for 38 in the first six. Although Jake Weatherald (52) and later Rashid fought spiritedly, their efforts weren't quite enough.
Khawaja brings out the Watson playbook
As though he'd just had a re-run of Shane Watson's last two IPL finals innings' on Youtube, Khawaja made just two from his first ten balls. The approach may have drawn scrutiny had he fallen after consuming so many balls, but he found the cover fence off his 11th delivery. That set his innings in motion as he picked up five fours and a six off his next 10 balls. Having settled in, with a platform laid, Khawaja returned to a more calculated approach after the introduction of spin, another tactic that meant that the middle order wasn't exposed to Rashid until the very end of the Thunder innings.
Tale of two contrasting powerplays
Are T20 contests decided in the Powerplay? The eventual result may suggest so, but it nearly wasn't the case. While the Thunder were slow off the blocks, Khawaja managed to tee off just in time to take 52 from the Powerplay. Furthermore, Ferguson hung around to ensure Thunder had a solid platform to launch from.
Strikers seemed keen to follow the same template, picking up just a single off first over, but lost their way thereafter as Phil Salt fell to a cutter from Daniel Sams first ball next over. With the spinners having choked the runs from one end, Alex Carey, one of the top run getters this season, took on Morris in the last over the Strikers' Powerplay. He pulled him for six then swatted him for four down the ground, before nicking one behind in slightly anti-climactic fashion. That ensured that the Thunder had well and truly dominated both crucial passages of play.
Rashid loses it in the 19th. Rashid (nearly) wins it in the 19th
Not often do teams take Rashid for 11 an over. And it probably wouldn't have been the case here had it not been for a belated counterattack from a set Ferguson. He transferred the pressure back on the legspinner, who was presumably held back for Morris' big hitting, but only got one ball at the allrounder. Before that Ferguson bisected deep square leg and deep midwicket for a four on the sweep, and deposited a high full toss and a half tracker into the crowd at deep midwicket. Nineteen came from that over, Rashid's most expensive of the season, as the Thunder carried momentum into the defence.
Ironically, with the match seemingly decided and 28 needed from 9, Rashid launched a counterattack of his own with the bat. That too in the 19th over. And it was done expertly, toying with the field as it moved: first, he squeezed a yorker past short third-man for four, then when the fielder from square leg came in so that the third-man could go back, he fetched a full toss from outside off and hammered it into the 15th row at deep square leg. While the fielder would have been a mute spectator on that occasion, the next one was fetched again from way outside off and swept for four in the same direction. Two consecutive fours of Morris - a full toss swept fine and the next one slice powerfully over point - left the Strikers five to get off two, but his run-out next ball meant that the Thunder could finally breathe.