Melbourne Renegades Women 139 for 8 (Priest 57, van Niekerk 29) beat Sydney Thunder Women 103 (Blackwell 45, Strano 3-20, Molineux 3-18) by 36 runs
The early throes of the Women's Big Bash League have delighted and drawn smiles for many reasons. The cricket has been impressive, a meeting of the world's finest female cricketing minds, and the crowds and media coverage have been highly encouraging - this game was on Channel Ten's digital station, while next Saturday's Sydney derby and the tournament' Final have been moved to the main channel. The carnivals at the smaller venues - such as this weekend's at St Kilda's Junction Oval have been well-attended, joyous, captivating affairs, with kids and giveaways aplenty.
But perhaps the tournament's most enticing aspect has been its evenness, and this fixture provided a perfect example. The ladder has been skewed by teams being various stages through their group campaigns, but going into this game, Renegades sat bottom, and Thunder were top. Of course, from the word go, Renegades dominated, and won their second showpiece game in consecutive Saturdays. As a result, all eight teams can still qualify for the finals.
The crowd - which numbered upwards 14,611 by the game's conclusion, another women's domestic record, and more than the attendance at the last AFL game at the stadium - were treated to the best of the women's game; some superb fielding, particularly wicketkeeping, canny spin bowling, and dexterous and flexible batting. And those critics who claim the women's game lacks power need just ask Danni Wyatt.
For the second consecutive Saturday, she was struck hard by a powerful drive when batting at the non-striker's end. Last week, she was struck on the back of the helmet by Sophie Molineux, and this time Rachel Priest hit her on the arm. While she batted on, she did not take the field, instead taking a trip to hospital for an X-Ray, which revealed no fracture just heavy bruising. She will miss tomorrow's match against Sydney Sixers, but this can be filed under "lucky escapes" and provided her a second reminder of the inherent danger those close to the wicket are.
It was Priest's 57, and opening stand of 72 with Dane van Niekerk, that laid the foundations for Renegades' victory. Van Niekerk got after 17-year-old left-arm seamer Lauren Cheatle, slog-sweeping her over midwicket for six, then taking three fours from her next over, including consecutively driving by throwing the hands and sending the ball through the covers. Renegades have used five different opening partnerships in the competition, and this was just the second time they had passed 50 (the same pair had registered 52 against Brisbane Heat before Christmas). This time, they had 56, including seven boundaries, by the end of the Powerplay.
Thereafter their batting stuttered, but plenty of damage had been done. Priest anchored the innings as tight bowling stalled the hosts, with the impressive 19-year-old leg-spinner Maisy Gibson bowling Wyatt, and conceding just two boundaries from her four overs. Sarah Elliott briefly moved things forward in Priest's company, before six wickets fell in the last five overs, including three in Belinda Vakarewa's 19th. 139 was little more than par, but represented an improvement for their tournament's weakest batting side.
Thunder's chase never really got going, choked by Renegades' plethora of spinners. Molly Strano's offbreaks opened up once, and in her second over she dismissed both Rachel Haynes, bowled, and Stafanie Taylor, plumb in front. Naomi Stalenberg was immediately on the attack, ploughing her second ball over the covers for four, but an over later she was gone, skying a catch to Sophie Molineux off Briana Binch.
Renegades regularly picked up timely wickets, with Strano earning a third, and only the experienced Alex Blackwell - briefly joined by Rene Farrell - resisting. Blackwell cleared the leg impressively to swat Kris Britt for four, before becoming the last to go, caught and bowled by Elliott shortly after swiping her for four.