Brisbane Heat 4 for 131 (Peirson 47*, Denly 41) beat Adelaide Strikers 7 for 130 (Weatherald 32, Labuschagne 3-13) by 6 wickets
Mitchell Swepson and Marnus Labuschagne spun a web around the flat-footed Adelaide Strikers to push the Brisbane Heat to a rousing victory in the first of the BBL finals and set up a showdown with the Sydney Thunder on Sunday night.
While the visiting Strikers chose to bat first, the dry and bouncy Gabba surface offered up enough assistance for Swepson and Labuschagne to allow the wrist spinning duo to dominate the narrative of the night, particularly after a halting innings by Alex Carey at the top of the order.
Although Jonathan Wells did his best to revive things the Heat were left with a mediocre chase, and the result was that strong spells by numerous of the Strikers attack were able to be shrugged off by the Heat, guided home by Joe Denly, Jimmy Peirson and the dumped Test batsman Joe Burns.
Carey stuck in concrete
One of the things that makes the Heat so watchable is the fact they get to play on a Gabba surface that is undeniably the best white-ball surface in the country, affording just enough help for the bowlers but plenty of pace for the hitters. The early exchanges of this encounter showed that any doubt will be exposed, as Carey struggled to find his timing and himself.
In terms of his standing in Australian cricket and also the BBL Carey should have been loving the opportunity to bat at the top of the order in a decisive game on the Gabba pitch. But instead his timing and poise utterly deserted the erstwhile vice-captain of Australia, leading to the sort of runs-to-balls ratio more commonly associated with a Test or Sheffield Shield match. At the other end, Jake Weatherald was striking rather more sweetly but in need of support. When Carey fell to the immaculate Swepson, Weatherald could last little longer, trying for too much in a second run.
All's well that ends Wells
The chewing gum in which the Strikers' innings was stuck needed some sort of release, and as has been typical over the past few seasons, Wells provided it. While his BBL in 2020-21 was not quite of the standard of Wells' previous couple breakout years, he has remained a constant source of threat for opponents. As much as the Heat leaned upon the outstanding spells of Swepson and Labuschagne, showcasing exactly how much value there was in wrist spin on a dry Gabba surface, Wells was able to salvage a total close enough to competitive - particularly in a final.
Neser must play
Ever since the conclusion of the Gabba Test, debate has bubbled around whether or not the "big three" pacemen Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc should have been refreshed against India. All summer, Michael Neser was treated as the net bowler not up to the level of his peers.
He had something to prove opening up for the Strikers, and there was nothing half-measured about how he attacked the crease here. Chris Lynn, for so long the big ticket for the BBL, was bowled comprehensively by a classic away seamer, answering at least one question about the Test summer just gone.
Burns' solace, Heat's brilliance
Seldom does a vanquished Test batsman get the chance to take centre-stage after being dropped during the international season. This time Burns was in the middle as the Heat took themselves through to the next stage of the finals, albeit in a supporting role to Peirson. Coming together at 4 for 92, the game very much in the balance, Burns and Peirson needed to keep their heads in the midst of a febrile crowd of 20,942 and with their pensive coach Darren Lehmann taking care to look on from outside the team viewing area,
As it was, the Strikers gave their all, with Peter Siddle and Danny Briggs putting in superb spells in a cause that was, if not losing, then certainly unlikely. The test for Peirson and Burns was to keep their heads and let the pace of the pitch and gaps in the outfield show. With the exception of a couple of dropped catches, the latter of the two causing Wes Agar to bare his teeth in exasperation, the Heat held their nerve; no-one celebrated this harder than Labuschagne, for so long something of an outcast to the club's plans.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig