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Feature

And then there were four

ESPNcricinfo's wrap of the week in the Women's Big Bash League

Geoff Lemon and Adam Collins
20-Jan-2016
Sixers are going vertical
We don't really know what that sentence means, but it is the slogan pink-clad players and supporters have adopted in regular and hashtag forms. If you graphed Sydney Sixers' rise towards the seventh and final weekend of the regular season, it would be a steep incline indeed.
The America's Cup comeback mentioned last week was matched in numerical volume, but it wasn't just a matter of eight wins in a row to surge from last spot. In the end Sixers made the finals from the last ball of their last game on the last day.
Setting up that finale was a run chase that mirrored their season: gone early, steadying in the middle, an improbable final charge with no margin for failure. Sixers kept Hobart in check thanks to Ellyse Perry's two run-outs along with her tidy bowling in concert with Sarah Aley and Marizanne Kapp. But going after 127, Sydney soon crashed to 4 for 20, then 5 for 46.
Over to the experienced New Zealand international Sara McGlashan. Every time Hobart took a wicket thereafter, McGlashan responded with a six, crashing 22 of the 28 runs in a three-over partnership with Aley, then 25 of 33 with Angela Reakes.
Sydney's 7 for 107 then became 8 for 110, and a requirement of 17 from 10 balls became 14 from the last over when No.10 Emma Leys couldn't get off strike. It looked too much.
But Heather Knight, who has captained so well through this tournament, had miscalculated by bowling out her last-over specialist Julie Hunter (0 for 12) and her tournament-leading wicket-taker Veronica Pyke (3 for 22) in trying to wrap up the game early.
Her only option was her own off-spin. McGlashan duly took her for two braces and a six, but made her own miscalculation when she agreed to a single. Three needed from two balls, and a nervous rabbit on strike, but somehow Leys managed to push a run into the covers, leaving McGlashan to clout two just wide enough of long-on to cue delirious celebrations.
It was the culmination of a ridiculous weekend that had required Sixers to defeat the top two sides across three games. On the Friday they staunchly defended 100 in 15 overs against Hurricanes, in a rain-affected game where Duckworth-Lewis tends to advantage chasers.
On the Saturday they demolished Thunder on national television, McGlashan the star again, her 49 from 22 balls driving them to the second-highest score of the comp with 172. But the final stanza would be the most dramatic: a Hurricane captain with the ball, a new Sixers hero with the bat, nervous tailenders and the steep final climb. But there was no trouble scrambling up. Sixers went vertical.
Scorchers creak into finals contention
As they were never really there, it is disingenuous to say they are 'back'. But Perth Scorchers finally did as their talent suggested they should and snuck into fourth spot. Just.
They were desperately lucky. Entering the weekend at 7-5, Brisbane Heat only needed to account for Adelaide Strikers on Saturday morning, or Melbourne Stars had to win one more match, and the Scorchers' weekend would have been purely for show.
What they had up their sleeve was a better net run rate, which stands to reason given the dominant batting displays when they occasionally got their act together. They recaptured that in their last two games against Melbourne Renegades, who were by then out of finals contention and in experimental mode.
Perth lost two wickets across that pair of games, chasing down 130 on Saturday and 108 on Sunday with utmost ease.
Elyse Villani had during the week been dropped from the national squad for the upcoming series against the touring Indians. Her response was emphatic: an unbeaten 72 in 50 deliveries in the first fixture and a fast 43 second time around.
New Zealand international Suzie Bates impressed on her return to the squad after her do-si-do with Deandra Dottin as Scorchers' final overseas import, racing to 42 not out from 26 balls to ensure an early finish.
After starting the tournament terribly, England captain Charlotte Edwards picked up her fourth half century in the second chase, finishing second to Meg Lanning with 444 WBBL runs.
Despite falling into the elimination stages, the fact that home ground advantage counts for nothing means Perth may yet still be the hardest team to beat for the inaugural title.
Stars cool to match a slow Heat death
The big disappointments for WBBL01 were Melbourne Stars and Brisbane Heat. Earlier in the competition Stars led the table, but dropped two games in the last weekend to be dumped out by Perth Scorchers on the last day of the regular season.
There are always expectations on the team with the best player, but on paper Stars didn't have much backing Meg Lanning up. Missing the finals then wasn't a surprise, but what was disappointing was how incapable the rest of her batting order was in backing her up.
While Lanning bossed the competition with 560 runs in 14 knocks, leading the tally by 116 to second place, her team's next entrant came in 23rd. That was Katie Mack, the only other Star to top 200, while only Mignon du Preez made a half-century in an innings. The other big name on the list, England all-rounder Natalie Sciver, barely scraped past 150 runs in 13 attempts. Of seven Stars wins, Lanning was player of the match in six.
Even she tailed off on the last weekend, with scores of 20, 22 and 13. No one took up the slack. The non-Meg batting woes on the final weekend were summed up by her sister: any cricketer would wince in sympathy at Anna Lanning's twin diamond ducks, run out without facing and stumped off a wide.
A miraculous bowling performance kept Stars in the hunt on the last Friday: defending a Duckworth-Lewis readjustment of 64 in 10 overs against Thunder, Gemma Triscari took a hat-trick to finish the ninth over, then a catch to start the tenth. National leg-spinner Kristen Beams bowled well throughout, and it would be remiss not to praise Morna Nielsen's 18 wickets at 11: third-most in the competition with the best average of anyone with more than seven overs. But even the best bowlers need runs to work with, and Stars were fresh out.
Brisbane Heat had a front-loaded end to the competition, playing only once in the last fortnight, but they duly lost that game and their top-four spot. It always looked likely to happen: any one of three teams below them going into the last round was waiting to strike.
But it shouldn't have been that way, with the best roster in the competition and a strong early start. Grace Harris wowed with her early ton but barely fired a shot thereafter. An international core of Jess Jonassen, Delissa Kimmince, Holly Ferling, Lauren Winfield and Kate Cross couldn't stop them dropping games. Former tennis pro Ashleigh Barty was more a curiosity than an influence. Only wicketkeeper Beth Mooney was consistent, with four half-centuries and two scores of 48 in notching 400 runs for the season to finish equal third.
Time for the knockout blow
After 56 games we're down to the three where it will be decided.
Both semi-finals will take place as double headers before the men's BBL, and both will be on free-to-air channel One HD. This wasn't to be the case until the first broadcast games were so well received, leading to Cricket Australia and Network Ten changing tack.
The first in Adelaide on Thursday afternoon features Thunder versus Scorchers. Thunder finished top, but have looked shaky over the final couple of weeks, suggesting that fatigue might be sapping the youth brigade that served them so well.
This was illustrated by their poor bowling in two televised games on the last couple of Saturday afternoons. But they will need to be on the mark with the ball against Perth's powerful top order. No contest-within-a-contest will matter more in determining who proceeds to finals day.
In the second semi, Hurricanes and Sixers face off for the third time in a week. It is hard to imagine how they could top their last epic. Picking a favourite is not enviable. The Sixers have had the faultless lead-in, but Knight's Canes have been the most consistent performers from the outset, and boast three of the WBBL's top nine wicket-takers.
The winners play off on Sunday afternoon, once again as the opening leg of a double-header with the BBL. If last weekend's sudden-death group games were anything to go by, the final stanza should be riveting. After the competition's irrefutable success, it deserves no less.