Melbourne Stars 7 for 143 (Larkin 65, Stoinis 58, Sams 3-25) beat Sydney Thunder 7 for 142 (Ross 40, Rauf 3-24) by three wickets
Melbourne Stars survived an almighty scare that rivalled their BBL final collapse last season to beat Sydney Thunder by three wickets and move to the top of the BBL table.
Half-centuries by player of the match Nick Larkin and Marcus Stoinis put the Stars on the brink of a comfortable win as they needed just 20 from 23 balls with nine wickets in hand. But they lost 6 for 19 in a 20-ball stretch that revived memories of their famous collapse to lose last season's final against the Melbourne Renegades. Chris Morris, Daniel Sams, and Nathan McAndrew bagged two wickets each in four overs of mayhem before Adam Zampa calmly hit the winning run with two balls to spare.
Earlier, Haris Rauf made an incredible return to the BBL, taking 3 for 24 in another rapid spell to help restrict the Thunder to just 7 for 142. Having missed the Stars' last two matches due to Dale Steyn's availability, he was allowed to play because of a minor quad injury to the Stars' second overseas player Sandeep Lamichhane, and he tore through the Thunder line-up. He backed up a masterful move from captain Glenn Maxwell, who opted to bowl himself in the powerplay and was rewarded with the wickets of Alex Hales and Usman Khawaja. Alex Ross held the innings together with a composed 40 off 32 balls but it wasn't enough.
Maxwell has only bowled twice in the powerplay in this BBL and both have been match-shaping spells. He opened the bowling and quickly surmised that round-arm quicker balls at the stumps would be most effective on the low, slow surface. The Thunder openers failed to adjust. Both Hales and Khawaja were clean-bowled swiping across the line. The two blows in Maxwell's first two overs gave him the chance to rotate his quicks at the other end. The Thunder slumped to their worst powerplay of the tournament as Callum Ferguson and Matt Gilkes were forced to rebuild. Gilkes did tax Maxwell, though, as he pushed his luck with a third over, taking him for two boundaries to push the score to 2 for 36 in six.
Rauf lets rip
Sydney Showground is usually a spin-friendly surface but with the exception of Maxwell's first two overs, where a lack of turn undid the two openers, spin was easier to play than express pace. Rauf and Steyn proved a deadly combination in the middle overs. Rauf's extra pace accounted for Ferguson as he tried to angle an uppercut to third man but it carried all the way to the fielder. Both men should have had lbws, with Gilkes and Ross given not out when they were trapped plumb in front. The TV broadcasters' ball-tracking confirmed both decisions should have been out but there is no DRS in the BBL.
Ross was able to use his reprieve to make an excellent 40 off 32. He targeted the spin of Zampa launching two sixes and a four. Rauf returned late and smashed the stumps twice in the 18th over with 147kph thunderbolts to remove both Sams and Ross. But Rauf got his last over slightly wrong and Arjun Nair found the boundary twice to finish with 17 not out off 11 balls to push the total to 7 for 142. The Stars were sloppy in the field, dropping two catches and missing three run-out chances.
Larkin learns the lesson
Nic Maddinson failed to learn from the mistakes of Hales and Khawaja, and was bowled trying to pull a length ball from Sams in the opening over, a wicket-maiden. But Larkin and Stoinis did learn from their opponents. They played smartly in the powerplay, opting to play with vertical bats and waiting for bowlers to err rather than searching to create bad balls. The Stars only made 38 runs in the powerplay but they had two set batsmen while the Thunder tried five different bowlers. Larkin had been left out of the Stars' first three games and got a first-ball duck in the win over the Hobart Hurricanes. But he may have settled his place in the line-up for the remainder of the tournament with a classy half-century. He struck just three boundaries in his first 30 balls but then launched two fours and six in eight deliveries, targeting the spin of Chris Green, to accelerate to his first BBL half-century and bring the required rate down under a run-a-ball. He allowed Stoinis to cruise to 50 untroubled at the other end as the Stars needed just 20 from 23 balls.
Maxwell and mayhem and deja vu
The demons of last year's final remain fresh in the mind and in the blink of an eye the Stars lost 6 for 19 to almost give the game away. Larkin and Stoinis holed out in the same over from Morris trying to kill the game off quickly. Maxwell was caught behind in the next over from Sams, having nearly fallen in the same manner first ball, and Ben Dunk was clean bowled first ball by an outstanding offcutter slower ball that gripped and ripped through the gate. Peter Handscomb should have been run-out twice as panic set in. Nathan Coulter-Nile took the Stars to the brink with a calming boundary but then chipped Nathan McAndrew to mid-on with just one run to win in the final over. Clint Hinchliffe was pinned plumb lbw next ball trying to heave the winning runs across the line. Zampa thwarted the hat-trick ball by knocking it to the leg side for the winning run.