If anyone had any doubts about the quality of cricket the BBL was producing prior to the Christmas break, all doubts were quashed after a thrilling finish at the SCG, as the Sydney Sixers scraped past the Melbourne Stars by two runs.
It was a match that featured many narratives, sub-plots, twists, and turns and left the 27,520 in attendance on the edge of the seats. The Stars' pursuit of 167 came to a head when Clint McKay needed four runs from the last ball with Brett Lee steaming in. Lee held his nerve as McKay could only squeeze a low full toss to mid-off.
Earlier in the over Lee looked a villain. With 15 to protect off the last over he conceded nine from the first three balls. Chris Simpson slashed a boundary through point first ball, and McKay helped a poorly-executed slower ball behind square leg to cut the equation to six off three. But Lee summoned all of his experience. His last three deliveries were full, straight, and quick enough to avoid an embarrassing loss for his side.
In reality, though, for the Stars, it may feel like a game that got away. Cameron White lost the toss and Stars were asked to field. They were in control of the match after 16 overs, having held the Sixers to 6 for 119. All of the Stars' bowlers used to that point had taken a wicket, and aside from Dwayne Bravo none of the Sixers' batsmen had played with any kind of authority.
Dwayne Bravo's innings was impressive and was worthy of his Man-of-the-Match award. He was promoted to open for the first time in this tournament, and he delivered with 52 from 39 balls, striking four fours and three sixes. Bravo's battle with Shane Warne was arguably the most intriguing sub-plot of the night. Warne bowled with the same control, guile, and confidence that he showed against Brisbane Heat. But Bravo was able to launch three sixes off him before holing out to long-off.
Warne's figures were again superb, his 1-27 unjustly inflated by Bravo's three blows. He conceded just nine from his other 21 deliveries. Warne's work in conjunction with the crafty off-spin of David Hussey (2-25) put the Sixers in a vulnerable position. But the experienced pair of Ben Rohrer and Dominic Thornely came together and salvaged the situation exceptionally well.
Rohrer's fine placement and brilliant running complemented the power hitting of Thornely. Their stand of 45 came from just 21 balls, before both men fell for 29 in the final over of the innings. The Stars' batting depth meant that 9 for 166 looked a gettable target. But early wickets hurt them.
Rob Quiney lofted the first ball from Lee straight down the ground for four. But Lee exacted revenge in the third over when Quiney pulled a ball straight to Moises Henriques on the square-leg boundary. In between, Matthew Wade hit a long hop from Thornely's slow ones to Steve Smith at midwicket. Both openers had departed with just 18 on the board.
George Bailey and David Hussey consolidated with a dangerous 59-run stand. But just as they started to blossom, Bailey lofted Smith to long-on to depart for 33. White fell the very next over from Stuart MacGill. He chipped to long-off and Lee charged in to clutch an exceptional catch millimetres from the turf. The Sixers' outstanding fielding may well have been the difference in the end.
Adam Voges joined Hussey and they looked in control, adding 33 untroubled. But Hussey took on Rohrer's agility with an ambitious two. Rohrer chased the ball just beyond the circle, slid as he gathered, and threw down the stumps to catch Hussey short for a well-made 42.
But the match-winning piece of fielding will not be found in the scorebook. With 41 required from 24 balls, Luke Wright swatted Smith high to deep midwicket. Bravo launched himself above the rope, caught the ball and threw it back before landing on the rope. Bravo had turned a certain six into only two runs. Wright tried again next ball and Michael Lumb took a good running catch at wide long-on and the game seemed in the Sixers' keeping. But with 23 needed from nine balls the Stars did not give in. Four fours in six deliveries took the match to the precipice before Lee tilted it the home side's way.