Perth Scorchers 4 for 147 (Bancroft 59, Turner 43*, Bravo 2-18) beat Melbourne Stars 6 for 146 (Dunk 62, Gulbis 37, Tye 4-18) by six wickets
The Perth Scorchers breathed much-needed life back into their stuttering BBL campaign with a comfortable win over the Melbourne Stars at the MCG.
After winning the flip, the visitors charged themselves with the task of restricting the Stars on what looked a wonderful batting pitch. A sterling return of 4 for 18 from Andrew Tye and some clever legspin bowling from Usman Qadir helped the Scorchers achieve this, before Cameron Bancroft and Ashton Turner led Perth's reply to deliver their second win of the tournament.
Despite the Scorchers missing four of their regulars, it was the Stars who appeared rather depleted, starting the game without Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Peter Handscomb and Adam Zampa. All four men are part of the Australia ODI squad to face India from January 12. Legspinning revelation Sandeep Lamichhane had made his exit as well, to play the Bangladesh Premier League.
While Stars openers, Ben Dunk and Evan Gulbis, were able to lay a strong platform, their dismissals triggered a slide that, in keeper Seb Gotch's words, left them "about ten to fifteen runs short". It proved true, as Bancroft's 59 off 42 and Turner's 43* off 22 secured the win for the West Australian franchise.
Stars Take One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
They were a study in contrasts: consolidating wickets but not capitalising with runs. Gulbis and Dunk struggled to find momentum from the outset, making only 31 runs from the first five overs, before launching into Ashton Agar's left-arm spin, taking him for 14 runs to leave them well set at 0 for 45 at the end of the Powerplay.
From there, barring the occasional Dunk spurt and comically poor Scorchers fielding, the home side failed to build momentum. Neither boundaries nor singles were forged with any regularity, as Qadir registered his best performance in the tournament. He made the initial breakthrough with the score on 65, accounting for Gulbis who departed for 37 after miscueing a slog-sweep to David Willey - the Englishman taking a tumbling catch three-quarters of the way to the cow corner boundary. Qadir's sharp wrong'un was a particular feature, rendering him extremely difficult to manipulate around the field. He finished with 1 for 25 from his four overs.
As with most of the innings, there were brief glimpses of light. One Agar over yielded 16 runs for the Stars with Dunk unleashing a trio of low-trajectory, forehanded swipes over the bowler's head and into the boundary. His innings of 62 was a rare positive in an otherwise middling performance.
Tye Too Good
While ODI cricket meant the fixture was shorn of talent, Tye's class shone through. Even on a flat pitch, the short-form specialist had the batsmen in knots with his cool mix of off quick deliveries and knuckle balls. For his first wicket, Tye delivered an absolute brute of a short ball to Stars captain Nic Maddinson, which had him hopping, bopping, and gloving the ball through to Cameron Bancroft behind the stumps. The next saw him set up experienced campaigner Dwayne Bravo with a slower ball clocking in at 112 kph, before the next was speared in some 28 kph quicker: a bullet that cannoned into leg stump and sent the West Indian packing. As further reward for ripping the heart out of the Stars' depleted line-up, Tye claimed the wickets of both Seb Gotch and Jono Merlo in the 19th over, both holing out in the deep, to leave the T20 veteran with his second four-wicket haul at BBL level and the first for any player in the competition this year.
Bancroft Impresses, Ashton Turns The Screws
An opening partnership of 75 laid the foundation for the Scorchers' chase, though they were never too far ahead of the asking rate. Cameron Bancroft, who has steadily grown in both confidence and output since his return to professional cricket, recorded his biggest contribution here with a well-timed half-century.
Despite the strong start, a slight middle-over lull from Bancroft and Michael Klinger meant that nine overs in, the Stars were ahead in comparison. And while Bancroft began to accelerate with reverse sweeps and lofted drives, Klinger was labouring at just under a run-a-ball. He eventually departed for 29 off 30, bringing Turner to the crease.
This ultimately worked in the Scorchers favour. Even though Bancroft fell soon after, leaving Agar and Turner at the crease as two new batsmen, the Scorchers captain was up to the task. Turner went 6, 4, 6 during one particular Michael Beer over, confirming the Scorchers' ascendancy and ensuring they remain alive in the competition for a little longer yet.
Sam Perry is a Melbourne-based sportswriter. @sjjperry