Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth
Adelaide Strikers 2 for 165 (Cockbain 71 not out, Renshaw 50, Kerr 1-37) beat Sydney Sixers 7 for 161 (Avendano 52, Fawad 3-16, Siddle 2-32) by 8 wickets
In-form Adelaide Strikers locked up a BBL playoff berth with an emphatic eight-wicket victory over two-time defending champion Sydney Sixers, who missed a chance to seal second spot.
Led by half-centuries from Ian Cockbain and Matt Renshaw, an increasingly confident Strikers easily chased down Sixers' 7 for 161 with 15 balls to spare at the Adelaide Oval. Their four-match winning streak is the longest active run in the BBL and propelled Strikers (28 points) into the Eliminator final on Friday between the fourth and fifth ranked teams.
Sixers (31 points) remain equal on points with crosstown rival Thunder in the battle for the coveted second position and a double chance in the playoffs.
Fawad continues hot form
Some wrote off Strikers' playoff chances after talisman Rashid Khan's campaign ended. Fortunately, legspinner Fawad Ahmed is a more than handy replacement and his signing in the off-season now looks well worth it.
Fawad, who turns 40 next month, has taken seven wickets in three games since Rashid's departure and starred against Sixers with three top-order wickets. After Sixers had made a strong start in the four-over powerplay, Fawad claimed the big wicket of Josh Philippe.
He then turned the match on its head in the 13th over with the wickets of Jack Edwards and Daniel Hughes in consecutive balls. It was vintage Fawad when he cleaned bowled Edwards with a gem that drifted in and spun away.
His brilliant four-over spell strangled Sixers and made up for Strikers' errant quicks who too often overpitched. Without his brilliance, Strikers would have been chasing much more with their seamers - most notably a struggling Henry Thornton - relinquishing control in the death overs.
Strikers missed Short's handy off-spin and had to rely on Renshaw's part-time spin, which proved expensive in the latter overs.
Philippe struggles, Avendano puts hand up
Sixers clearly look a far more formidable team when Philippe is rolling at the top underlined when he emerged from a rut with a half-century in their big victory over Thunder on January 15.
But they will be hoping he can rediscover his best form in the playoffs after a tough period marked by his latest perplexing dismissal when he tried to leg glance a Fawad delivery only to be bowled around his legs.
He had started well with a couple of gorgeous straight drives before falling for 22 - the third highest score in his last seven innings. Sixers then stuttered mid-innings before being rescued by Justin Avendano, who was a late replacement for an injured Jordan Silk.
Avendano had become the first player in BBL history to represent two teams in the same season after playing for Covid-decimated Melbourne Stars earlier in the month. The 28-year-old put his hand up for a permanent spot after a late flurry to smash his maiden BBL half-century with a 29-ball 52.
Strikers' batting-order starting to click
Strikers were without injured opening batter Matt Short, who has dominated the four-over powerplay and provided the team's firepower with a strike-rate of 152. But they didn't miss him with Matthew Renshaw in sublime form with 50 off 31 balls at the top as Strikers surged to their best powerplay of the season.
He enjoyed the pace from Sixers' quicks and then also expertly picked their slower balls in an ominous warning ahead of the playoffs. He was well supported by English batter Cockbain, who continued to impress with an unbeaten 71 off 42 balls in his third BBL match after being a recent signing.
Cockbain has strengthened Strikers' shaky looking batting line-up in such a short time in a major tonic for them.
Strikers' batting had often been too circumspect through the season but they showed real intent against Sixers to underline their burgeoning confidence.
Suddenly they are stacked with form players ahead of the expected returns of Ashes heroes Travis Head and Alex Carey for the playoffs.
Sixers' bowling lifeless
An unusually staid Sixers never appeared in the hunt with a flat effort in such a pivotal contest. Their quicks couldn't get going - not even Sean Abbott, who leaked 44 runs in his three overs.
After the earlier feats of Fawad, Sixers badly missed resting frontline spinner Steve O'Keefe and they perhaps miscalculated by not selecting legspinner Lloyd Pope.
Their only bright spot was the milestone of seamer Ben Dwarshuis, whose scalp of Henry Hunt brought up his 100th BBL wicket - just the fifth bowler to achieve the feat.
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