Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
Sydney Thunder 5 for 197 (Hales 60, Khawaja 54) beat Hobart Hurricanes 140 (Cook 4-21, Morris 3-27) by 57 runs
Five Big Bash League teams are down to four and it was the fifth-ranked Sydney Thunder who stormed the Hobart Hurricanes' Bellerive Oval home, wresting the initiative through their opening batsmen Alex Hales and Usman Khawaja and never really looking back.
The opening stand of 103 inside 10 overs pushed the Hurricanes onto the back foot and despite some strong recovery work in the back end of the innings, they were made to look inflexible in their plans and combinations by the visitors. A staunch defence of 198 featured superb spells by the spin bowler Jono Cook - who defeated both Matthew Wade and D'Arcy Short - and the seamer Chris Morris, and summarily ended the domestic career of George Bailey, now to be formally installed as an Australian selector.
In the end the game was not at all close, setting up the Thunder for a final date on Saturday night with the Strikers at Adelaide Oval, a venue where they were narrowly successful against Travis Head's men earlier in the tournament.
Hales, Khawaja hit it out of sight
A beautiful pitch for batting was unveiled at Bellerive, and Callum Ferguson was more than happy to choose to bat first. In Khawaja and Hales, the Thunder had among the most gifted opening pairs in the tournament, even if the Australian had not enjoyed his most prolific event. But in pristine conditions that afforded the batsmen a great deal of trust in the pace and bounce of the surface, both were quickly into stride, finding the boundary with ease to notch 54 from the powerplay.
Khawaja twice angled James Faulkner over the head of fine leg in successive balls, first off the back foot and then off the front, while Hales connected as perfectly as possible with a length delivery from Scott Boland that he sent skyrocketing onto the roof of the Ricky Ponting Stand - not too far, in fact, from clearing it and perhaps landing nearby the Ponting statue that was erected behind it. Such free striking left the Hurricanes momentarily without an answer, as the partnership sailed to 103 before Khawaja swished across the line and was lbw to Faulkner.
Ellis, Hurricanes pull it back
With that platform, a score in excess of 220 appeared possible, and even during a consolidation period between Ferguson and Hales the run rate still hovered around 10 per over. However, an outstanding spell from Nathan Ellis, who did not concede a single boundary in returning figures of 1 for 18 from his four overs, and considerable improvement from Boland over the course of his four over spell, meant that the Thunder ultimately fell short of where they may have wanted to be at halfway.
Still, 93 from the final 10 overs of the innings was still a more than serviceable accumulation, and left quite a task ahead of Wade and Short as the vaunted pair at the top of the Hobart order. The Thunder, of course, were still lacking their talismanic spin bowler Chris Green due to the need for remedial work on his bowling action.
Wade, Short hint at destruction
Arjun Nair and Brendan Doggett shared the new ball for the Thunder, and when Wade crunched the former through cover before powering the latter over forward square leg for a six not that far away from Hales' earlier in the night, there seemed the air of another innings to rate with his century at Adelaide Oval to squeeze the Hurricanes into the finals. But a full, flat delivery from Cook in the third over proved just the tonic to draw a miscue, held comfortably by Ben McDermott after it hung in the sky for some five seconds, and Wade marched off frustrated.
Short endured somewhat longer, and in surging to 33 off 19 balls, including one percussive pull shot off Daniel Sams, suggested he might this time be the one to guide the Hurricanes towards their target. But Cook returned to the attack as Ferguson shuffled his bowlers around in one over spells, and in leaving a tantalising gap over cover, coaxed Short to miscue to the very man he was trying to clear. The Hurricanes had been only one run short of the Thunder at the end of the Powerplay, but Short's exit left them without a major score from their two dominators.
Thunder stifled, Bailey farewelled
For all the useful role players left in the Hurricanes line-up, they have relied heavily on Wade and Short for the uplift to take them into the finals. This much was to be underlined by what followed their dismissals, as the innings played out with a sense of some inevitability. Bailey, playing his final match in front of a home crowd irrespective of the result, provided a couple of well-timed boundaries to remember him by, plus one fortunate edge past a diving Jay Lenton. But his dismissal left the rest floundering for traction.
McDermott and Simon Milenko both made starts, enough to leave one wondering whether the former might have been better placed in the top three, but they were unable to subvert an increasingly dominant narrative of miscues, catches, and a steadily climbing run rate. The proactive nature of Ferguson's captaincy, swinging his bowlers around constantly and looking for combinations to inconvenience specific batsmen, was amply rewarded.