Melbourne Stars 5 for 140 (Clarke 83, Siddle 2-26, Rashid 1-16) beat Adelaide Strikers 9 for 139 (Wells 68, Qais 2-21, Zampa 2-24, Rauf 2-25) by five wickets
Joe Clarke returned in style as a strengthened Melbourne Stars revived their grim BBL campaign with a tense five-wicket victory over Adelaide Strikers at the MCG.
In a clash between the bottom-placed teams, the English import smashed 83 off 58 balls to guide Stars past Strikers' modest 9 for 139 with five balls to spare in a see-saw battle.
Stars have been decimated due to Covid-19 triggering their slide but received timely additions with the returns of Clarke, stand-in captain Adam Zampa and Beau Webster. In their first match since January 3, Stars were still without captain Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stonis and Nathan Coulter-Nile.
Strikers had been mostly unaffected by the Covid-19 chaos engulfing the BBL but top-order batter Matt Renshaw missed the clash after returning a positive PCR test.
Clarke leads Stars in tough chase
Chasing a modest 140, the same score Sydney Thunder ran down with ease in the earlier match at the ground, Stars were pushed to the distance by a strong Strikers attack. They welcomed the return of Clarke, who was the only Stars batter comfortable on the sluggish pitch.
He had been in imperious form with three straight belligerent half-centuries before being struck down with Covid-19 and didn't miss a beat on return. Stars had been in big trouble at 3 for 43 in the eighth over but Clarke steadied the ship with in-form Hilton Cartwright, one of the few Stars players who hasn't contracted Covid-19 and he earlier briefly wore a mask in the field.
But Cartwright's dismissal in the 12th over brought Stars to a halt and they needed 31 runs off the final three overs. But Clarke powered them towards victory and survived a contentious no-ball decision for height when he miscued Peter Siddle to mid-off in the penultimate over. He then hit a six to add salt in Strikers' wounds before departing the next ball with Stars still needing seven runs off as many balls.
But Qais Ahmad coolly hit a six off the first ball of the final over before a wide by spinner Matt Short ended a tense match in an anti-climax.
Rashid stars but it's not enough
On a slow wicket conducive to grip and turn, Strikers fancied their chances armed with star spinners Rashid Khan and Fawad Ahmed expected to do the bulk of the heavy lifting. Quick Harry Conway though had an impact with the wicket of Clint Hinchliffe in the second over before the spinners worked in tandem after the four-over powerplay.
Fawad claimed Nick Larkin first ball and then Rashid picked up Joe Burns to a loose shot as Strikers sensed a stranglehold. But Strikers have been selective with Rashid and he was out of the attack after a couple of overs.
Siddle grabbed the crucial wicket of Cartwright and the skipper brought on Rashid to keep on the attack but the star spinner was thwarted. In his first game at the MCG, the Afghan star finished with 1 for 16 off 4 overs as Strikers had to look elsewhere with the game on the line.
Short had the tough task of delivering the final over and was unable to be Strikers' hero as the visitors ultimately rued a dropped catch by Henry Hunt when Clarke was on 42.
Zampa shines in comeback
Zampa had a strong captaincy debut with two wickets as Stars' trio of spinners relished the favourable conditions with five wickets. Pakistan import Qais was particularly menacing with his flight and sharp turn baffling the batters, including a gem to dismiss Ryan Gibson who was stumped.
Left-arm spinner Hinchliffe complemented him with accurate bowling as Stars turned the screw on Strikers. Zampa returned in the penultimate over and snared the key wicket of Jonathan Wells to cap his stellar comeback.
Wells holds Strikers together
Strikers' batting has been their bane all season and they were shorthanded without Renshaw at No.3. They lost three wickets cheaply before Wells and youngster Thomas Kelly stabilised the innings by playing cautiously.
Kelly has looked the goods in his BBL season debut but once again failed to convert a start falling for 13. It was left to Wells to single-handedly drag Strikers to respectability with a 56-ball 68 where he worked the ball around before accelerating towards the end.
The 33-year-old cemented his status as his team's most reliable batter but needs more support if Strikers - who are now in the bottom place - are going to shake up the playoff race.