Brisbane Heat 5 for 186 (de Villiers 71, Lynn 34, Zampa 3-27) beat Melbourne Stars 115 (Handscomb 27, Swepson 3-31) by 71 runs
AB de Villiers arrived with a masterful display for the Brisbane Heat to lead them to a yawning victory over the suddenly listless Melbourne Stars at the MCG. The Stars have been uncatchable at the top of the points table for a while, but they have now lost three matches in a row.
On a slow surface, the Heat were kept quiet early after shuffling their batting line-up dramatically, but de Villiers bided his time to find the best way to go on the attack, before unleashing a succession of sixes, most of them off the back foot, to rush the Heat to 186 with 88 runs from the final six overs. He had significant assistance from Marnus Labuschagne in the closing overs, as both took a heavy toll on the Stars' replacement paceman Dilbar Hussain.
There was a decided lack of intensity about the Stars in their pursuit of the total, in contrast to the Heat's high level of focus. This was personified by the excellent spells from James Pattinson and Mitchell Swepson, who ensured the Heat have destiny very much in their hands ahead of their final qualifying game against the Melbourne Renegades.
Heat go higgledy piggledy
Needing a victory to stay in touch with the BBL top five, the Heat's decision-makers Darren Lehmann and Chris Lynn unveiled a line-up that might easily have involved names in a hat or at the very least a dartboard. Ben Cutting was promoted to open with Sam Heazlett, de Villiers was handed the wicketkeeping gloves and Labuschagne shunted down to No. 6 in their latest attempt to wring a winning performance from a talented but imbalanced squad.
Heazlett got a few early boundaries away, but neither Cutting nor Lynn could find their timing as the Stars again relied heavily on spin. There was a sense of aimlessness as the Heat drifted to 3 for 98 after 14 overs, having leapt to 38 from the opening three, as de Villiers struggled once more to find the sweetness of hitting that has marked many of his best T20 innings.
De Villiers catches fire
On a sluggish MCG pitch, it took time for de Villiers to figure out that it was not particularly easy to tee-off on the front foot, and to conjure an alternative route to the boundary. He laboured to 13 from 16 balls with six overs remaining and then showed the crowd he could use his trademark wrists and fast hands to swing freely at short-of-a-length spin bowling while sitting back in the crease.
What followed was the acceleration that won the Heat the match, as de Villiers ransacked six sixes and two fours to add another 58 from his final 21 balls. Two other figures had contrasting fates as a result: the beneficiary was Labuschagne, who was able to build into his innings before detonating in the final over with two sixes of his own. The fall guy was Hussain, a left-field choice as the replacement for Haris Rauf, who found his skiddy 140kph seamers landing obligingly in the slot for both de Villiers and Labuschagne.
Heat prosper through classical skills
No lesser judges than Bradman and Benaud always reckoned that the best combinations in cricket involved the use of high pace bowling opposite tantalising wristspin, and there was something of that ilk about the way the Heat were able to ensnare a decidedly sleepy-looking Stars' batting line-up. Though Matt Renshaw's opening over was expensive as he dropped short to Marcus Stoinis, Pattinson bowled with genuine speed and no little fire to coax a mistake from the opener, and then followed up by bursting through Seb Gotch.
The Stars' hopes then rested on Glenn Maxwell, but his stay was swiftly ended by the other half of the classical combo, as Swepson skidded a flatter delivery through his defence, and went on to claim two more. There was very little sense of purpose about the way the Stars undertook the remainder of their chase, with Peter Handscomb running himself out and Nick Larkin's rearguard effort having far too little in the way of support to be meaningful. The Stars are still top of the table but with plenty of thinking to do about the finals.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig